In a short period of time, ACF has been able to quickly respond to COVID-19 and reach out to, educate and support over 6 lakh community members across remote, rural India. How did they do it? Thrive finds out, in a detailed discussion with ACF CEO Pearl Tiwari â€¦ understanding their unique approach - having a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in each community.
How have you been able to reach such a vast number of people in quick response to COVID-19?
"Initially we had our teams on the ground - staff, our Sakhis and health team that we could quickly mobilise to talk to people about COVID, providing preliminary information. But once the lockdown happened we realised that our people couldn't get into the villages as they were stuck in their homes. Frontline people could step out with precautions, but everyone else had to be at home.
"We started looking at alternative ways to reach the villages and decided that because we had so many people led institutions - ie farmer producer companies, women's federations, SHGs and BCI Farmer Groups among others - that they could be our primary point of contact.
We decided the best approach was to choose one or two people who we could liaise with and that they could be the ones to relay information to their communities on our behalf."
With SPOCS in place, what did you decide to do to move into action?
"The first thing we did was organise Conference Calls to brief them in clusters. We chose to have 2 SPOCS per village and informed them of their critical role during this crisis in protecting their local communities." Pearl Said.
"We began by crafting and relaying Mobile Messages to spread accurate information and awareness about the disease, the Government regulations surrounding lockdown, and the location of relevant health services. Additionally we set up 2509 WhatsApp groups that our Field Team use to share messages." She said.
"6 messages per day were sent out in either voice or pictorial format and to date we have sent out over 250 types of messages to inform people, in local languages, about the situation. Knowledge is power and we wanted to ensure that everyone was equally informed about the severity of the situation." She said.
"Vinayak Sonawane, our Head of Health compiled all messages using material from good sources like the Government. However we also had a collaboration with Noora Health to help with content. They were interested in our outreach and they shared a lot of good messages they had created. We started in English and Hindi and then translated into regional languages." Pearl said.
"All messages were run through all necessary district health officials for approval." She said. "These were unique voice calls recorded by ACF using Government iEC content, which Health Officials liked and shared among their existing network of over 3106 ASHA and AWW workers."
How have you harnessed Technology to support your response to the crisis?
We created a detailed tracking system where program managers log and track all activities - how many masks were made and distributed, and how many messages went out, how many ration kits were delivered. So technology has played a key role in helping us monitor our activity and has also supported us in this unique situation where we are all in isolation - to push out key information via mobile messaging.
As things have changed and evolved on a daily basis, how have you altered strategy?
"We started at a point when nothing had emerged in rural India - COVID 19 was mainly affecting cities at that point - but we knew we wanted to prepare our communities and that our challenge to overcome was that they are so diversely spread across geographies and terrain." Pearl said.
"In order to commence work on keeping the rural community safe, we created our own internal, high level, COVID Coordination Team and started doing daily conference calls between the 5 of us. As things evolved we would decide the next steps and how we would roll out in each community." She said.
"As things have changed, this daily contact and network of SPOCs enabled us to quickly change strategy. Whilst we started with information and awareness and the making and dissemination of face-masks, we soon realised that daily wage earners and vulnerable families were facing hunger and so we pivoted and added the distribution of ration kits to the most needy."
"Working with over 1.40 lakh farming households, when the Government altered regulations to enable farmers and farm labourers to attend to harvest, we were able to hone in on this group and support them with information about how they should minimise risk of infection whilst going about their work." Pearl said.
"We also enabled them with location specific directories about essential and emergency contacts including public distribution system and helpline information."
"This has been a great win for us because we've been able to relay everything to our entire villages via these SPOCS and move into action quickly. Our SPOCS have risen to the challenge and been incredible in how they have committed to serving their communities during this uncertain time." Ms Tiwari said.
How have you been able to target particularly vulnerable communities using this strategy?
"As elderly people are vulnerable to the virus, we conducted a special mapping of this target group across 11 locations, identifying 2.83 senior citizens whom we targeted with unique mobile messaging and images on a daily basis."
"In areas with large numbers of daily wage earners, we were able to quickly work through our SPOCs to mobilise the distribution of ration kits to 9808 families to avert hunger brought on by loss of wages." Pearl outlined.
"SPOCs has been an effective strategy and has once again highlighted the value of people's institutions on the ground, the empowerment of local people to play a role in their own development and our extensive work in this area, building their capacity, has paid off at a time when the country needs it the most." She said.