The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt far and wide across the nation. The first wave nearly crippled healthcare infrastructure and caused the economy to shrink by 7.3%. The second wave wreaked even more havoc, making it near-impossible for many to gain access to life-saving supplies and healthcare.
Amid the chaos, a group of Flipkart employees, sensing the urgent need of the hour, took it upon themselves to be a force for good. Each with their unique skill sets, they volunteered to form the Flipkart COVID Warrior group to aid COVID-affected individuals in every way – from locating oxygen cylinders, arranging for hospital beds, medication, and more.
“We wanted to make sure that there was an easy point of access for anyone who wanted help at any point of the day, at any time of the day,” says Ishadarshi Mishra, Lead HR for User Acquisition and Retention. This rationale was a key motivator that inspired the Flipkart COVID Warrior group to rise above the call of duty.
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Krishna Raghavan, Chief People Officer at Flipkart, believes this culture of going the extra mile is an ingrained value of the Flipkart way. It’s also one of the key cultural tenets that have led to Flipkart receiving multiple accolades, including the Great Place to Work® Institute (India) ‘Gold Standard’ certification.
“Strong culture plays a crucial role in shaping the behavior and growth at any organization. The culture at Flipkart strives for our people’s continued growth, giving them the freedom to explore new ideas and an environment where they feel supported, challenged, and valued,” says Rajneesh Kumar, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Flipkart. It’s these principles of support and value that formed the foundation of the Flipkart COVID Warrior group.
The founding values
In order for any initiative to succeed and achieve its goals, there must be structure. Flipkart’s team members recognized this need and worked toward establishing 3 binding principles.
- Ease of accessibility
- Being empathetic in all interactions
- Quality service to be provided and only by those with the required expertise
Centered on these beliefs, the Flipkart COVID Warrior group also acted on values that Flipsters stand for. These include proactive involvement in any task undertaken, a bias for action to prioritize the goal against all odds, the zeal to provide end-to-end solutions, and a strong focus on the individual needed support.
Manjula Sridhar, a member of the strategy team at Flipkart, recalls an incident where these key tenets guided her and the entire team’s actions. She was approached by a fellow Flipster in need of COVID-19 medication which was in short supply. After exhaustive efforts to arrange for these medicines in Bengaluru without any success, Manjula turned to another team member in Delhi. In a matter of 2 to 3 hours, she managed to have the medication flown across states and delivered in Bengaluru. “I thought the proactivity, and willingness to commit to an interstate collaboration between 10 people to get that one injection was amazing,” she says.
The Flipkart COVID Warrior group employed a meticulous operational flow to achieve results. Entirely orchestrated through a WhatsApp group, it had a buddy system in place that was responsible for carrying out the legwork, and in some cases, even helped overcome language barriers. Volunteers, at stage one, would acknowledge a request, and assign a buddy. Each request was tracked and logged, and the team maintained a 2-day redressal period. This meant that care was prioritized at every turn, ensuring no requesters were left unattended.
The human element
Soon, volunteers of the Flipkart COVID Warrior group inadvertently became heroes for many families. In the initial stages, the group was a modest size of 30 people, with volunteers making between 100 and 200 calls in a given day, arranging for hospital beds, oxygen tanks, or medication.
Upon achieving a few initial successes, the Flipkart COVID Warriors were emboldened to do more. The squad added another 120 volunteers to its roster and was able to greatly widen its reach to those in need. Towards the end, 150 team members volunteered to be part of this group in hopes of improving the situation as best as they could.
The COVID Data Source Warriors were crucial members of this initiative, working tirelessly in the background. These volunteers aggregated data regarding oxygen supplies, hospital beds, plasma availability, medications, and other crucial information. These data banks were then used as resources by volunteers when offering solutions to requesters. This unified coordination was critical to the success of the cause.
A day in the life of a Flipkart COVID Warrior
A typical day for a volunteer usually began with a call from someone in need. Checking logs and open requests was the next part of the routine before embarking on the mission to deliver a solution.
Swapnagandha Rao, part of the One Tech team at Flipkart, says, “I remember an instance where I started making calls at noon and continued to do so until a little past midnight. Again, in a couple of hours, at around 7 in the morning, I resumed calling and contacted around 120 hospitals before finally securing a hospital bed for a requester.”
From calling over 90 ambulance services to arrange an ambulance for a Flipster’s mother to organizing for medication to be delivered at 3 am, the relentless spirit of these volunteers reveals both the purpose and commitment that drove them to action.
“All of us were in this together, and I just wanted to help out in any way I could,” says Mudit Mall, an intern in the User Acquisition and Retention team at Flipkart. “I remember checking the statistics to see how many cases we were able to address. When this group started, within the first two weeks itself, we were able to close 75% of the cases. After that, the number of requests that we were able to close reached 85%. The results kept motivating me and everyone else.”
‘The right thing to do’
“It was just an idea in my head. There was no template to follow. The only thing that I knew, at the core of my heart, was that this is the right thing to do, and if I don’t do it now, we will lose the opportunity to help people. The intent was crystal clear; the modality was not. All we needed was sheer intent and the force of goodwill that each of the volunteers had in their hearts,” reveals Ishadarshi Mishra.
With her intuition as a guide, Ishadarshi and the rest of the Flipkart COVID Warrior group were able to assist over 200 families in 3 weeks.
“I wish I was a frontline warrior, a doctor or a cop, who could be out there and help people,” says Swapnagandha Rao, as she looks back on all that the group did. When this group formed, I saw these amazing warriors working day in and day out. That’s when I realized that the ability to help another human being isn’t a favor — it’s the responsibility of every individual, and what makes us truly human.”