If you ask me, the urge to communicate, and to constantly build channels to do so is what sets the human species apart from all others. The advancement on this end is also what probably makes a pandemic in this era so different from any others in the past. Being able to still communicate with our loved ones miles away, and the world at large has prevented many of us from losing our livelihoods and complete peace of mind.
While the amplitude of the situation took everyone by surprise, the virtual world was ripe with ready solutions in many domains: payments, remote meetings and even relief. I read somewhere that there had been a 30% spike in digital payments through this era, and this felt heartening, not only because it is the crux and core of what we do here at Milaap, but also because it implies how this opened up a world full of possibilities amidst the limitations and obstacles of the real world.
On our end, we saw kindness flow unhinged like never before. Having opened up our platform for relief work during disasters in the past, it wasn’t the kindness that surprised us. It was the sheer extent of it. Given that the whole world was reeling under the impact of the problem, those coming forward to help this time did not have the liberty of being untouched by it. Within less than two months, over 4500 people have set up fundraisers and been supported by more than 1.7 Lakh people across the world. The total funds collected are soaring towards a whooping Rs. 100 crores. On the back end, we saw unprecedented volumes in terms of requests, queries and even fundraisers, and this was coming at a time when we were still equipping ourselves to work from home as an entire company.
Here are some simple things we learned from this tough era of hurdles that might be helpful:
- Expecting the unexpected: Despite having flexible work timings and an existing work from home policy, there was an aspect of novelty in this particular experience. Within days, we built a special Covid task force to ensure highest priority was given to the fundraisers under this banner. Since there is no way to be fully prepared and equipped for such emergencies, the closest we can is to always be mentally prepared for the unexpected at this time when uncertainty becomes the new norm. We have found that being prepared for an unforeseen circumstance is usually the best way to not only tackle it, but also sometimes create an opportunity out of it. These are tough times, and have an inevitable negative impact on everyone. So there is no harm in looking for silver linings!
- Defining non-negotiable parameters is of utmost importance: During tough times like this, it is important to lay down ground rules, or a 0th principle for your brand if you haven’t done it before. Laying down a list of non-negotiable parameters helps the team stay focused and on the same page. When in doubt, we always go back to our 0th principle: donor’s choice and user experience. To ensure trust and transparency amidst situations of panic is critical. This is one of the reasons we decided to waive off our platform fees. The focus was on ensuring that irrespective of the increased volumes and challenges of not physically being in the same office space, the members across board were working to achieve the same objective through their respective functions.
- People will still be good if given a real chance: The most overwhelming part about this entire campaign was the sheer magnitude of kindness that flowed around the world. Amidst the panic and fear, people still brought out so many reasons to hope. First of all, those helping others were not very far from adversities themselves, and secondly, they were not, in the least intimidated by the size of the problems they were addressing. All it took was a transparent and credible avenue. The onus of keeping up people’s trust was greater than ever before, but their high spirits and grit were huge before our own responsibilities.
- All kindness and compassion begins at home: While compassion is the natural need of the hour and calls for no glorification as such, it’s also important to ensure that those taking care of others are also taken care of. While we saw a 5X increase in user interactions and a 4.5 X increase in fundraiser set-up requests, our teams started working longer hours to ensure our topmost priorities: user experience and trust. At a time like this, more than ever before it is important to not take factors like mental health and job satisfaction for granted. Providing additional support and being empathetic to care-givers is essential. We found that providing additional counselling services and taking care of essentials for our employees went a long way in bringing out the best in us all.
To sum it up, it’s important to stay in close touch with your team and community of users. We, as a platform, have always had these two defined as our utmost priorities, but when it came to a crisis, we found that re-emphasising these criteria became key. The Rs 90 Crores + raised under this initiative is easily the highest Milaap has ever seen on it’s platform within the short span of 2 months. In the face of unexpectedly high volume, these priorities looked like the greatest challenge. For example, upholding donor trust by staying accountable for each penny contributed towards a fundraiser and ensuring a seamless experience, for example, ensuring timely fundraiser review and fund transfers, despite increased volumes. However, staying actively in touch helped gain prominence as an anchor of safety in these tough times. While there is a lot of scope to reach out to new users at this time, one can never overlook the power of an existing user. We have often seen that established trust goes a long way to win new ones.
At the end of it all, everyone is fighting some battle of their own through these times. As the flag-bearers of a world full of potential answers online, e-businesses inevitably become custodians of trust and hope. It might not be possible to be perfect, so that’s a pressure not worth taking. But having said that there are always small things we can do to make these daunting times a tad bit easier for those around us. Often, these are just un-quantifiably small gestures. But I strongly believe that the idea of problems we cannot solve must never hinder us from addressing those that we can.
Anoj Viswanathan, President and co-founder, Milaap: South Asia’s largest crowdfunding platform.
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