The power of community volunteering
Many of the volunteers at Covidwidows.in try to find jobs for the widows using their own connections
Amid the fearsome second wave swamping India, I saw the trauma of a recently deceased friend’s family — his widow and two small children — and the thought of doing something to help Covid-affected people began to form in my mind. This idea crystallised into a plan of supporting women widowed by Covid by enabling them to find employment. I realised that being a senior executive in the software industry, I could go to a lot of CXOs (chief experience officers) and CEOs (chief executive officers) and ask them to do some dedicated hiring for these women. I came up with the term ‘humanity hiring’. I would ask them, “You hire thousands every year; can you hire a few people — 1 per cent, 2 per cent, 5 per cent — for humanity?”
The Covidwidows.in website was launched as soon as the idea took shape, and the response has been overwhelming. I never realised the intensity of this issue before the website launch. About 2,000 women reached out to us within days. And people came out saying, “Hey, we’re eager to help.” So, 7,000 volunteers registered with us to help these women.
The core team of Covidwidows.in consists of four people — I, founder Yudhvir Mor, country manager of the IT company Zuora; Anu Jayaram, co-founder of Women’s Web, a contributor-led website; Himanshi Tandon, who is in brand marketing; and co-founder Karan Parvesh Singh, who runs RapidLeaks, a news platform. I started with a post about this initiative on LinkedIn, where a lot of volunteers saw the post. Then it was shared on other social networks, such as WhatsApp. We didn’t spend a penny on marketing.
We start our day very early. I start around 5am, when I look at which volunteers would be matched with which candidates. Then, I get into my day’s work. And again in the evening, I look at responses received by the initiative. We’re very new; we probably learn every day — how to match volunteers and the widows; how to do follow-ups; how to write FAQs. The primary intent is to make sure that a woman with a formal education can get a job. Within the first 15-16 days, we were able to submit 200 CVs to the recruiting companies. We assume that out of this 200, many will get jobs.
As for the volunteers, anyone is free to sign up, but there’s some preliminary screening before they’re assigned to work with any of the widows. The women are informed via e-mail that a certain person will call them as a Covid Widows volunteer — this ensures that they talk to the right person. Then, the volunteer’s task is to gather more details from the widows, finding out their preferences related to job type and location. They relay that information to us, and then we reach out to the employers, saying that these are the profiles we have. We are connected with companies in almost every sector all across India, so it’s a large database.
One of the amazing things we’ve seen during this initiative is that many of the volunteers try to find jobs for the widows using their own connections, so I don’t even need to look at my own database. That’s the power of community volunteering.
We also have dedicated volunteers who specialise in grief counselling. If the assigned volunteer thinks that a widow is not actively looking for a job right now, then they reach out to us, and then we assign a grief counsellor to take it forward.
At the end of the day, we have very mixed emotions: on one hand, we feel that even if we can help one widow, it’s worth it; on the other hand, when we get hundreds of WhatsApp messages asking for an update on hiring, we have to tell them that it’s a process that takes time. I just wish there were more hours in the day, so that we could reach out to more employers.
(Yudhvir is a senior executive in the software sector based in India.)
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