In a Covid-19-hit world, there is a whole new parallel socioeconomic ecosystem that is emerging, and in a way that is turning more than our health system on its head. We now have a mask for every occasion and dress type, a sanitiser to suit every mood, a Facebook challenge (covering saris and books and film scenes and other random subjects) for every type of bored mind, a Zoom meeting for every situation, a charity for every conceivable need, and a joke for every twist in the story that is playing out in our lives. 

Basically there seems to be a solution for every roadblock that has the potential to hamper business, and a business opportunity in every roadblock. So there are solutions, and then there are solutions. Not every solution purported to be one is a solution though. We just have to learn to read in between the lines, in this case the press releases. 

Not being able to get customers to the car showroom? Give them a three-dimensional, virtual reality-driven experience of the car, and voila, you got a sale there. Scared that the funding from the corporate’s CSR kitty will come to a grinding halt, since how are you going to be running your education training programme out there in the field—at least in the immediate future? One way can be to issue a series of press releases announcing your ‘remote learning’ initiative supporting 10,000 or more students and more than 500 teachers, engineered to deliver 5,000 hours of online learning. How? By getting 5o experts to do the job, silly. How again? Zoom of course. But do those children and teachers have smartphones or computers or laptops? Oh well.

Here at CauseBecause, in the first few weeks of the nationwide lockdown we received hundreds of emails announcing so-and-so’s massive donation exercise (relating to food kits, PPE kits, hygiene kits, education kits, the PM-Cares Fund, etc.) and outreach efforts (to spread the word on hygiene, precautionary measures, and suchlike). We decided that whoever had first said anything about there being ‘too much of a good thing’, did not know any better. 

Yet, despite the very public outpouring of love, in cash and kind, the tidal wave of poverty, hunger and displacement hit many millions, and how. The images of the walking people – pictures of extreme stoicism, oftentimes not even betraying that most basic of sensations, hunger – will haunt for a very long time. And I believe we should hold on to those images, as a reminder of the things that need to be corrected before we next go out in the world tom-tomming our achievements in this field and that, which may be true even but let not that put a veil on the other truth that is abject poverty, widespread illiteracy and a grossly unequal social security apparatus.

Talking of education, a global technology company announced its intention to deliver ‘a combination of educational, engaging and fun online and printed content which support remote teaching and learning.’ (The press release also mentioned 2D Augmented Reality content.) Sadly, against the backdrop of such ambitious (and hopefully well-intentioned) plans, they still did not have answers to our rather straightforward queries on how they planned to reach children from poor families, since currently these children had no means to access learning material, and whether they would be partnering with schools. I suppose the the questions were too simple for their liking.

Chocolate brands distributing chocolates for free (saying it’s their way of showing gratitude to our frontline workers) and then expecting media mileage from that leaves a bittersweet taste in the mouth, doesn’t it? Ditto for the footwear brand donating footwear to migrants, apparently to ease their journey back home. (They all do have advertising budgets to take care of branding needs). Why is any entity that is doing good for the sake of only doing good, as they themselves claim, even looking for publicity? Some may say such acts of charity help to differentiate the brand and establish it as a brand with a heart, so to speak. After all, brand strategists do tell us that millennials in particular want to see the caring side to the brands they patronise. Yet, making a killing with what is really a humanitarian tragedy seems to be anything but heart. Some may say the reason is to inspire others to follow suit. Don’t know. Nobody has said that until now, and hopefully I am not giving them ideas here. It may be that I am naive in thinking along these lines. It may be that altruism and commercialism cancel each other out.

But why just the corporates with their well-oiled PR machinery? Many NGOs are making what at times feel like tall claims too. After all, not many want to be left out of the race to make quick programmes, quick beneficiaries, and quick publicity (and therefore quick money too?). It’s an opportunity for them too, and all’s fair in helping and resource pooling, but let’s go easy on the media blitzkrieg, shall we? Why is there a need to flaunt one’s feeding of the ‘poor millions’? By all means feed them, but there is no real need to have that channeled to the media through an expensive public relations machinery. Instead, divert that money to the cause you claim to be serving.

For all the good work that is happening here and there, let’s be clear that all NGOs are not made equal. One gets the feeling that the one who shouts the most about their so-called good work is not necessarily doing that much good work – it may be that they have the funds, the access, and the means to get themselves heard. 

Good work will get noticed. Period. Let’s not be quick in self-congratulating ourselves – the journey towards recovery is yet to begin and should be punctuated by insights and foresights. For now, let’s remember that the crisis is far from being over.

If the pandemic and the lockdown has taught us anything, it is the need to slow down. We all (should) know by now what that means.