India has a major presence in the tech world. Silicon Valley is full of members of the diaspora, including currently the heads of Google, Microsoft and dozens of other companies, start-ups and tech teams in the space. Now, as India battles a devastating wave of Covid-19, many from the tech world have been making efforts to drive contributions and support to those in need.
Last week, Google’s Sundar Pichai pledged Rs 135 crore in funding to aid relief efforts in India, while Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Indian-American venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said they would support the purchase of oxygen-related resources.
Retail giant Walmart, which owns Flipkart and PhonePe, said it would support India’s vaccination drive and donate Rs 148.2 million to various NGOs, senior director Randy Hargrove confirmed in an emailed statement.
Amazon, which has over 100,000 employees in India, is importing 100 ventilator units and has partnered with various organisations to bring in 10,000 oxygen concentrators and BiPAP machines into the country, the company said in an email. This includes over 1500 oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment that will be donated to hospitals and medical facilities. The e-commerce giant’s business in Europe has also committed over $2.5 million to support Indians impacted by Covid-19.
These are just a few of the stories of tech companies, startups, crypto fans and civil society organisations banding together to help stem the crisis in India, which has lain bare the inadequacies of the country’s political leadership and its healthcare systems.
Filling in the gaps
In recent weeks, major software companies have stepped up their efforts to play a part in the pandemic response.
Many technology companies have a corporate matching donation system through which the company matches an employee’s contribution (1:1) to a registered non-profit, up to a limit. But a major financial software company so far only authorised donations to non-profits within the United States.
This upset a Berkeley, California-based Indian executive, who said that India’s skyrocketing case numbers and horrific images of suffering make it “impossible not to feel hollow.”
“I wrote an email to HR explaining the magnitude of the problem in India and how we needed all-hands-on-deck,” she said. They quickly altered the language on their match programme and set up an India Covid relief initiative where they would match any donation in the ratio of 2:1. This meant that any donations would be tripled by the firm, she said.
She added: “I made a split-second decision of posting this on Instagram, and within a day, we donated $5000, which adds up to $15,000 after the match – and we are still collecting funds,” she said. The firm is donating the funds to nonprofits such as GiveIndia.
“I think people are feeling really helpless because there is almost no way to help outside of donating,” Kaushik Subramanian, a London-based senior executive at a social media giant said. Earlier this week, Subramanian announced that he would provide mentorship to anyone who donated to the cause.
He added: “We (in the UK) have been in lockdown for six months and are just coming out. There is a sense of positivity that has emerged here. But at the same time, if you open Twitter or Instagram, it feels like Dante’s Inferno.”
As an Indian abroad, you have to deal with the duality of slowly returning to normal lives while our families and friends suffer at home, he said.
The situation has also led to some questioning the need for India to turn to this sort of philanthropy to get it through a pandemic that political leaders had declared victory over at the start of the year.
The “underestimation and under-preparedness” of governments in anticipating the second wave of the virus and the toll it would take on existing healthcare capacity has created a huge need for individuals and companies to step in, said Vineeta Gupta, a human rights lawyer and global health equity advocate, who is currently co-leading India Covid SOS, a diaspora volunteer organisation.
Philanthropy is necessary, but overdependency on individuals and corporations shifts the focus away from health as a right, and disempowers vulnerable communities, she said.
India doesn’t lack the capability to respond to the situation, Gupta argues. “India exports the best minds and is rich in expertise, technology, and resources. The pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of the political leadership in being prepared as well as to mount a rapid response to save lives.”
Global crypto funds
Global cryptocurrency entrepreneurs and groups have also been appearing to pull their weight amid the burgeoning pandemic.
Veteran Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan took to Twitter and said that he would match donations made by the global cryptocurrency community towards medical resources.
Srinivasan is working with Indian crypto-entrepreneurs Sandeep Nailwal of Polygon and Nischal Shetty of WazirX.
“I think our government needs all the help it can get. We need as much international support as possible as a nation, and it’s okay to use these kinds of mechanisms to make sure that our people don’t suffer,” said Shetty, the founder and CEO of cryptocurrency exchange WazirX.
According to Shetty, the global campaign by Nailwal and Srinivasan has raised at least $5 million so far.
This has never been seen before, Shetty said. “Sandeep’s campaign has been able to quickly get funds from all around the world – that has never happened with one single tweet,” he said, adding that WazirX has donated around $1.1 million to the fund. The crypto-exchange raised Rs 8 crore towards the pandemic relief efforts as of May 2.
The advantage of these donations is avoiding complex banking channels and conversion charges, as well as the ease of use and transfer. He added that if regulations were eased, it would considerably help bring in more donations into the country.
“Everyone’s pitching in, which is the most important thing… Every organisation needs to contribute,” Shetty said.