Women Leaders Forging Partnerships in the Face of a Global Pandemic


With International Women’s Day just around the corner, the United Nations has set the theme for this year – “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world“. In this regard, it is only apt that we recognize the organized response spearheaded by women leaders against the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing significantly in the creation of The COVIDActionCollab. Focusing on a multi-sectoral approach collaborating for social good, focused on minimizing transmission and reaching out to those affected. The collaborative has built a strong & agile framework on sharing information among its partners, reaching out and provide high-impact services to the most vulnerable communities in India and take preventive measures to stop the spread of the pandemic.

The 305 partners of the collaborative represent the public, private, civil society, academic and other sectors. The organization has successfully delivered over 17 lakh services, with the support of nearly 2000 onboarded volunteers, mobilizing resources amounting to USD 1.3 crores. The members bring to the table expertise in areas of Public Health, Medicine, Engineering, Technology, Sociology, Behavioural Science, Mental Health, Migration, Financing, Humanitarian Emergencies, and more. United, this collaboration has been a formidable weapon in the fight against COVID-19.

On being asked about the importance of women also being represented in positions of leadership, Shama Karkal, Chief Executive Officer of Swasti Health Catalyst, a member of the collaborative shared, “Pandemic response needs to be holistic and all-encompassing. Leaving out women in leadership during this hour is leaving out an entire population – and we end up risking having a response system that does not work since it does not meet the needs of this population.”

Dr. Angela Chaudhuri, Director of Swasti Health Catalyst and member of the collab, raised a pertinent question, “Take, for instance, women at the frontlines of COVID-19 response. With schools closed and us being entrenched in a patriarchal system where the burden of care and responsibilities towards child and family care is disproportionately placed on most women, would we offer the kind of support required to our predominantly female health workforce if women leaders who see the problem dont lead the change And what happens when our human resources for health struggle with their lives Entire systems for pandemic responses see cracks. The pandemic response is like any other system working with human beings in crisis. It is only as strong as its weakest personnel.”

I think during the pandemic leadership across industries and organizations was highly challenged, irrespective of the gender of leadership. I was as much worried about the sudden disruption in work, donor commitments, negotiations, goal achievement, keeping up the morale of my team, and the uncertainties which came along, as any responsible leader would be. The pandemic period has been a very unfortunate one that no one was prepared for. However, like any other leader, I endured and responded to it the best way I could.” shared Sonali Khan, a partner of the collaboration, who leads Sesame Workshop’s educational mission in India.

Our women leaders have together worked towards overcoming these difficulties and driving the organization to success! As Neelam Makhijani Country Director and CEO, Child Fund India a member of the collaboration would put it, “During COVID-19 pandemic, as an NGO, it was our moral obligation to be out there for our communities. Through much uncertainties, confusion, apprehension, and fear, I was able to lead the organization to fulfil its duty. As a result, we performed at our best, even during the most critical times. Yet again, I was able to achieve this with the support of a tribe – my team, my leaders, and our partners. Imagine what would happen if all girls and women had a tribe like I did, that helped them believe in themselves and land where they want to be!

When asked about the impact women in leadership positions would have on future generations, Rebecca Chandy, Sr. Manager – Counselling & Training, Resilience Works, member of the collaborative said, “In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter whether a woman is running any of the major world organizations. The lower-level employees would not care whether their salaries were made possible by a woman or a man. However, seeing more and more women at the top will encourage young girls to strive for the top positions.”

The partnerships forged have had a deep impact on protecting vulnerable communities and supporting various stakeholders through the pandemic. Working towards supporting organizations and state governments, the women leaders of the collaborative have stood steadfast alongside vulnerable communities such as the transgender community, fisherman communities, and the community of sex workers protecting the livelihood of various sections and building economic resilience for their future.


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