An accountant’s first-hand experience inside a COVID-19 war-room

  • Hi! I am Rishi Doshi, a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Financial Analyst. I work with KPMG and specialize in Financial Fraud Investigations.
  • Day by day, the COVID-19 pandemic conquered more and more countries with such momentum that it left me in anxiety as to what is happening to the world.
  • At that moment, it dawned upon me of ‘How’ grateful I should be for being equipped with all the facilities in the comfort of my home!
  • I imagined if I was a medical professional I could have contributed in some way or the other however being a finance professional, meant little to no scope for me to help on the frontline…but I was completely wrong!
  • On the 24th April, I joined the COVID-19 War-Room team at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (RS Ward) helping them in data management and reporting!’
  • Here is my story.

Desire to help – Think of what you can do, rather than what you cannot do

With the increasing impact of COVID-19 pandemic, conquering more and more countries with such momentum I was anxious as to what is happening to the world.

It was agonizing to learn that every day the death rates were increasing, people were losing their jobs, lives and mental peace!

Imagining the burdens of stranded migrants and people living in slums, it’s a bliss to have the ability and resources of necessities getting delivered to your door-step. It made me feel grateful for whatever I had!

This also arose a genuine desire to provide my support in some manner to manage this crisis…but the big question was ‘How’?

I imagined if I was a medical professional, I could have contributed in some way or the other however being a CA and CFA, meant little to no scope for me to help on the frontline.

And hence, like the majority of us – volunteering was another wishful thought!

Opportunity to contribute – Manage Patients Data!

Serendipity struck while browsing across social networking websites I noticed a tweet from Mr. Uddhav Thackeray (#CovidYoddha). He was inviting volunteers to assist the Maharashtra Government in their efforts to manage public health! 

I clicked on the application form and as expected, I saw the requirements were primarily for Medical Professionals, Tech experts and Public health administration professionals!

Luckily there was one category which read as ‘Other’ volunteers.

I spent a few minutes introspecting how can I help as a Chartered Accountant? 

And then I realized that my extensive experience (7 years consulting with a Big Four) of project management, data management, working at top speed under high-pressure situations and qualitative reporting can be helpful to them in these pressing times. I added it to my application and hit send!

I was not very hopeful of getting a callback after all, who thinks a CA would be needed on the frontline, but I was wrong!

After a few days, the COVID management team reached out to me saying that ‘the local ward government administrative office needs my help for data management and reporting!’

For some time, I was unable to decide whether this was a genuine call or just another scam call, occupational hazard of being a fraud investigator!

After analyzing and conducting some checks, I realized it was a genuine call and I immediately joined the War-Room team at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (RS Ward).

I was very overwhelmed to have received this opportunity and my excitement level had reached the zenith!

My journey in the COVID -19 war room

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”

I started working with them on 24 April 2020 and continue to do so every day to date.

The war-room team comprised of our frontline commandos that were Doctors, Nurses, Senior public health administration staff, travel and logistics support members, and other members of the BMC staff.

The War-Room team is responsible for appropriate management of Covid-19 positive cases, contact tracing, containment and quarantine, running large scale screening tests in suspected areas, quarantine center capacity and facility management, test kits requisitions amongst others.

Day One: I was introduced to the work I would be doing. I was asked to confirm if I would be available for a few days to ensure continuity of resources and plan the further course of action!

My responsibility was to bring order to the disorder! I had to put together unstructured data that we received from various places in a format that we could put to use and report the numbers to the BMC HQ on a daily basis.

I immediately said a ‘Yes’ and without further ado, I applied for personal leave from my employer to give my full support to this initiative. After all, this was my opportunity to give back to the community in some form!

In a couple of days, I was hooked and working on massive data of patients, contact tracing, capacity utilization of quarantine centers and others.

I was fully aware of what was at stake, any gaps in my work would lead to a possibility of a patient not being tested or detected at the right time or may lead to inadequate capacity utilization at quarantine centers!

It was a stressful but fulfilling and enriching experience.

The silver lining in the toil was when the personnel heading our War-Room was appreciated by the Chief Minister’s office…for the quality and speed of information put through by the ward! 

People from other wards started reaching out to me to learn and seek information on best practices followed by us for data management…now, the responsibility of timely and accurate information reporting was on my shoulders and it was a job well done!

The experience of being associated for a long time with a ‘Big 4’ helped me here in a big way – Right from the technical skills of MS Excel, Share-point and understanding the nuances of converting unstructured data to structured data to the macro-level understanding for the usefulness of data gathered for planning, foreseeing challenges and ability to deliver quality output in desired timelines!

It was here that I realised that even as finance professionals we can do so much!

Lessons Learnt in the COVID-19 War room

This was my first time inside public administration.

I saw first hand the real functioning, the challenges they face – lack of updated technology, restriction in the use of aircon’s to save costs, amongst others!

  • I learnt the nuances of public administration.
  • I learnt how critically the employees in public administration need support both technological and from an infrastructure perspective.
  • Crisis makes us adapt, learn and grow. Some of the staff were Civil or Electrical engineers but were working in public health support.
  • Amidst this chaos, I conversed with a lot of members of the war-room and realized how empathetic they were of the people’s problems.
  • The biggest learning is – how they are able to surpass all the challenges with their ‘desire and attitude’ to help the nation.

 Wrapping Up…

Families of the staff members were apprehensive about them going to work every daybut these ‘Warriors’ (in the true form) did not budge and were at it relentlessly and tirelessly.

To add to their challenges, the government ordered a freeze on Dearness allowance (DA) for its staff – DA is an allowance paid to government staff to mitigate the impact of inflation.

With all these on their minds, I will never forget a statement by a war-room member – “Hum nahi karenge toh kaun karega” (Translated – If we don’t do it, then who will?)

I think we as CAs or whichever profession we are into, it is imperative to understand our duties as a citizen and give back to society in every manner possible…funds are getting donated across the world, but to use these funds people and skills are needed!

Rishi Doshi is a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Financial Analyst. He currently works with KPMG and specialize in Financial Fraud Investigations.

If you need more information on how you can help in the COVID -19 War Room, Rishi Doshi is more than happy to guide you.

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