When US-based Indian Michael Khanna's mother was left stranded in a foreign country due to the COVID-19 lockdown, he set up SOS Global Indians on Facebook to help millions of Indians caught in a similar struggle by providing them with COVID-19 resources, curating immigration and travel rules, and more.
This article has been sponsored by Facebook
At a time when the world was facing the mega-crisis of COVID-19, India was grappling with the need for adequate resources. The pandemic saw many Indians stranded either trying to enter the country or go back to their country of residence.
That’s when Delhi-based Michael Khanna created an online community of Indians who could provide emergency support and guidance to fellow Indians travelling to or from foreign countries.
In March 2020, he started a group on Facebook called SOS Global Indians with a network of NRIs, who have since been providing emergency relief support to Indians facing critical life challenges due to the pandemic. Their work involves procuring and delivering COVID-19 resources, providing information about immigration and travel rules, filing petitions to the government for speedy redressal of issues arising out of the pandemic, providing medical assistance and mental health counselling, etc.
All this began with one man’s moment of crisis.
“Just before the pandemic hit, my mother had gone to the US from India. As things began to get worse, we were worried that she would be stranded or stuck there. How would we travel? How safe was she there? What would be the immigration issues that would befall us, if she overstayed? All of these concerns propelled me to dig deeper. It was during this time when I realised that we were not alone in this situation and that thousands of people were suffering the same fate,” Michael recalls.
So he roped in friends and colleagues and started a WhatsApp group through which they created a networking community to help people cope with all the problems that the pandemic was posing.
Within just 30 minutes of starting the group, a total of 270 people had joined, trying to help each other in every way possible. Eventually, they decided to move the community to Facebook to expand their reach and network. Today, the online community has more than 1.9 lakh members on Facebook.
“This was a time when we were hearing about cases of students being locked out of hostels, people stuck in transit, or stranded in foreign countries. There was a lot of confusion and chaos, and everybody needed information. That is what prompted us to file a petition in March 2020 with the Government of India for clarity on repatriation flights, especially to transport the remains of the deceased,” says Michael.
The community has since become a beacon of hope for Indians in need of emergency support, or those struggling to deal with critical life challenges since the start of the pandemic.
Having impacted almost 2 million people in the last year, SOS Global Indians has set a precedent like no other. But Michael is quick to add that all of this impact would not have been possible without the support of Facebook.
SOS Global Indians were selected as one of the 13 finalists from India in the Facebook Community Accelerator Program 2021. As part of this programme, SOS Global Indians will receive training, support, and funding of up to USD 50,000 from Facebook to advance their community’s growth.
“I come from a career-oriented background as a marketing person and found my purpose while working on this social impact initiative. Just like the switch that took place in my personal life, SOS Global Indians has also undergone a transformation post the accelerator programme. We had embarked on this journey with a perspective of creating a community to help others in times of crisis, and that is why we came to Facebook. Becoming a part of the accelerator programme has put us in the right mind frame to understand ways of being sustainable and scalable. We had a lot to offer and recognising this potential, Facebook helped us hone those attributes and helped us continue to create more value,” he adds.
Owing to the deep learnings through the accelerator program, the community has now expanded its scope of work from emergency relief to becoming an online information resource for NRIs or Indians moving abroad. From visa issues to immigration laws, opportunities for education abroad, job listings, providing resources for child support and helping women excel in their professional careers, SOS Global Indians provides help to whoever asks for it.
You can find more about this initiative on their Facebook page here.