Calibrated Response: In conversation with Anand Kumar of PHIA Foundation




PHIA Foundation is a charity tackling poverty in India. They have been helping stranded migrants as part of the CovidActionCollab. The CAC Team spoke to Mr. Anand Kumar of PHIA Foundation to learn more about their work as part of the COVID-19 response.


What have been your key actions, initiatives and outcomes around the COVID-19 response?

PHIA Foundation, in collaboration with Jharkhand’s Ministry of Labour and Employment, helped set up a helpline to reach out to informal labourers and migrants stranded across the country. Through the helpline, they provide counselling, medical advisory, information on lockdown and transportation services, and connections to local CSOs for food and rations. So far, from 20,000 calls, around 713,000 people have been found to be stranded, according to Mr. Anand Kumar.

The organisation is also working with Tata Trusts, Google and Friend to leverage existing programs. The Internet Saathi Program, for instance, is a program to digitally enable rural women, wherein each saathi (friend) provides 700-1200 rural women with basic internet knowledge. PHIA Foundation is tapping into the 20,000 internet saathis across 4 states to (a) empower saathis to share only officially approved messages on COVID-19, (b) procure and relay to governments information on vulnerable populations and (c) educate populations on best hygiene and WASH practices.

What are your biggest learnings/challenges?

Unconditional cash transfer is the best way for one to help these workers right now so migrants can buy what they need themselves. We could also find a mechanism to recharge this money with mobile apps- GooglePay, PayTM, etc. This will lead to revival of economic activity, especially if people are buying from small shops.

Challenge: However, the government can only facilitate cash transfers to registered people and an internal sampling study found that 80% of stranded people are not registered.

  1. Existing government employment schemes (ex: NRLM) should include a waiver or new mechanism to include migrant workers that would allow advance payment of wages now, in promise of work at a later stage
  2. A proper mechanism for reverse migration should be set up.

Have any stories/insights emerged from the field or from your work?

In Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, if people go too far for food, police are sending them back because of lockdown. Migrant families have been walking for days and weeks- elders and children alike. In many states, when police want to rescue stranded migrants, the workers had no idea where they were so no one knew how to reach them.

How did you leverage the COVID Action Collaborative? How do you plan on doing so in the future?

So far, the collaborative sparked the tele-medicine idea for PHIA Foundation and helped them find synergies with organisations supporting frontline medical workers- partnerships which we are now exploring. Moving forward, we can leverage the collaborative to raise money for migrants who are running out of savings, facilitate social protection schemes and recruit volunteers to capture migrants’ stories.

Photo by Patrick Beznoska on Unsplash


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