State of the Planet

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How Philanthropic Organizations are Addressing Coronavirus Around the World

Workers pack up emergency response provisions in the Philippines.
Workers pack up emergency response provisions in the Philippines. Photo: Asian Development Bank

Weeks before COVID-19 infections were known to spread across the United States, the world was becoming aware of its devastation in Asia and Europe. Now, to varying degrees, the virus is spreading and influencing policies and practices in just about every corner of earth. In just a few months, COVID-19 has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and altered many aspects of life. It has also deepened many existing inequities. Various forms of philanthropy have surfaced in response to the pandemic and its effects.

As disasters emerge, we often see philanthropy materializing in myriad forms – including in the creation of funds, individual contributions of all sizes, substantial gifts from the wealthy, new initiatives from foundations, and more. In the pandemic, all of these activities are taking place.

In a previous blog post, I focused on philanthropic response in the U.S. But we are in the midst of a global crisis. As we continue to adapt to the reality being shaped by COVID-19, what are some ways in which philanthropy is addressing the pandemic beyond the U.S.?

Trends in philanthropy

What is often considered philanthropy is the contributions of large gifts from wealthy individuals and large foundations, often based in the U.S. Traditional conceptions of philanthropy have informed the development of an industry of private giving. This conventional form of philanthropy is even quantifiable. In the U.S., private giving amounted to about $427.7 billion in 2018.

Comparatively, private giving beyond the U.S. is at a smaller scale. But philanthropy is growing globally. There is increased recognition of the need to harness private resources in order to strengthen communities, improve public health or education, take on hunger, etc. In some instances, this is a matter of filling voids government cannot handle. In some others, private philanthropy is an avenue to bolstering the voice of civil society to raise awareness or advocate.

Whenever exploring the concept of global philanthropy, it is important to consider that multiple layers of giving are taking place – from philanthropists in one country or continent to another as well as indigenously within countries or continents.

Philanthropy in Africa

TrustAfrica is an African-based independent foundation that aims to secure the conditions for democracy and foster equitable development across the continent. TrustAfrica has created the COVID-19 Africa Solidarity Fund to garner resources to use in support of emergency response units. These units have been deployed in several countries across Africa in order to prevent pandemic spread. An initial contribution is intended to support the emergency response unit in Senegal, where TrustAfrica is based. The foundation also supports partners in the informal sector in Zimbabwe for community-led responses.

As a pledge to its response during the crisis, TrustAfrica has signed the “Call to Action on Philanthropy’s Commitment During Covid-19.” Under this call to action, the foundation commits to allowing current grants to be used in response to COVID-19 concerns, to easing restrictions on new grants, and to creating more spaces for listening to, sharing, and working with partners. TrustAfrica supports inclusive responses that consider the poor and vulnerable in societies – those most at risk from coronavirus and its impacts.

My book, Philanthropy & Society, elaborates on the efforts of TrustAfrica.

Philanthropy in Asia

Most of the world heard of COVID-19 due to its spread in Wuhan, China at the beginning of the year. As many Asian nations have flattened of the curve of infection rates, philanthropy has played a role.

For example, in South Korea, Seoul-based Hope Bridge Korea Disaster Relief Association is a civil association aimed to help populations suffering from unexpected disasters. In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Korea Disaster Relief Association and the Korean Association of Newspapers are raising funds jointly for COVID-19 prevention and support of those affected. These donations have been used to provide masks, sanitizers, and other related preventative products and to support frontline workers and self-quarantined individuals.

As of March 17, Hope Bridge donated 90 billion won ($71.3 million) to support people and regions impacted by the virus. Over 1.4 million supplies have been distributed to date. These include sanitizers, food, toiletries, clothes, blankets, and other necessary items.

Philanthropy in the U.K. and Europe

Manifestations of philanthropy in Europe and the U.K. correlate more closely with U.S.-based private giving. As Italy has been devastated by the virus, philanthropy emerged in response.

Fondazione Cariplo is a Milan-based charitable foundation that aims to aid social and civil organizations in their mission-based community service. The organization has launched multiple initiatives in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the goal of supporting nonprofit organizations that can provide vital aid to the hardest-hit populations. Cariplo has created a special fund to support efforts to the mitigate COVID-19 and its impacts.

Partnering with 16 local community foundations, Cariplo provides fiscal resources that can be used directly by these nonprofits to create initiatives and provide relief to particularly vulnerable regions in Italy, including the Lombardy region. As of March 11, the pool of financial resources reached 48 million euros. In the initial acute stage of the crisis, the foundation gave some 900,000 euros to the community foundations as a preliminary portion of their contribution. These funds support the community foundations’ direct actions: buying personal protective gear for frontline workers, supporting local healthcare facilities, providing food supplies for those in need, aiding elderly care facilities/nursing homes, and more.

Cariplo also recognizes the impacts of coronavirus on nonprofit organizations. Due to government public health protection measures, such organizations that provide key social services are struggling in the face of public health protection measures. Cariplo looks to provide resources to these organizations to help them strengthen community services for vulnerable and isolated populations. In the long-term, the foundation predicts that resources will also be needed to reinitiate community-based socialization and cultural programs, such as those provided by the nonprofit sector.

In the U.K., another foundation featured in Philanthropy and Society, the Lankelly Chase Foundation, has been responding in the pandemic.

Lankelly Chase outlines a three-tier response to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic: supporting existing partners, adapting planned 2020/21 activity, and building capability and capacity for renewal processes. For crisis support in the U.K., the foundation has lifted restrictions on existing grants to enable partner flexibility, established a rapid response fund to address partners’ financial resource capacities, and established a fund that enables additional capacity-building for partners’ crisis response. Lankelly Chase has made funds available to six areas within which they are currently working.

In adapting their planned activity, Lankelly Chase recognizes that equitable approaches are even more necessary in this response process, as the impacts of coronavirus exacerbate inequities and fragilities that currently exist. The foundation hopes to continue its plans while prioritizing COVID-19 and developing new approaches to network building, governance, sustainable economic models, and racial justice, among other areas.

Lankelly Chase hopes to build for renewal by ensuring that emerging work is supported by resources, led by diverse actors, and created through collective action. The foundation endeavors to stay transparent and communicative about its processes during the crisis through weekly reflections of philanthropic work, weekly updates of philanthropic sector response to COVID-19, Twitter takeovers highlighting frontline responders, and media support to ensure diversity in COVID-19 coverage.

Philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Instituto Phi, Banco da Providência, and Instituto Ekloos are three Brazilian nonprofit organizations that have banded together through the initiative União Rio in order to minimize the impacts of the coronavirus crisis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through a voluntary civil society movement called Rio Contra Corona, the organizations receive donations, buy food, and deliver the food to communities that live in extreme poverty. The organizations have a strategic partnership in which each nonprofit manages a different logistical proponent of the initiative. Instituto Phi receives financial donations through the Rio Contra Corona fund. Banco da Providência uses the fund to buy food and transport it to communities. Instituto Ekloos, working with local organizations, receives and distributes the food to families within the community. As of April 16, the movement donated 309 tons of food to 300,000 families in less than one month.

The Grace Kennedy Foundation is a corporate-owned foundation started by Grace Kennedy Limited. The foundation provides financial grants for charitable purposes to organizations in Jamaica. Most contributions impact education, the environment, and the health of communities. The Grace Kennedy foundation has donated J$2 million to the country’s fight against coronavirus. The donation was made to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and the Council of Voluntary Social Services COVID-19 Jamaica Response Fund. These resources will be used to purchase 3D printers and supplies to support the Citizens Response Jamaica (CRJ) initiative against the virus. CRJ creates personal protective equipment and repairs medical equipment across Jamaica. As of April 30, more than 300 Jamaicans have been infected by coronavirus.

Philanthropy from the U.S. to elsewhere

Global giving by U.S. foundations has adapted in response to the pandemic. Philanthropic foundations such as GlobalGiving and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy have created new emergency response funds and focused their support to their nonprofit partners dealing directly with the crisis. Many other U.S.-based initiatives have been mobilizing resources to support efforts across the globe. Some U.S.-based foundations have increased their international giving in response to the virus as well.

GlobalGiving is a public grantmaking charity that leverages crowdfunding to connect nonprofits, donors, and companies in their countries of impact. Based in Washington, D.C., GlobalGiving has supported projects in 170 countries across the world. The charity’s Disaster Recovery Network has created a Coronavirus Relief Fund to gather donations to support immediate and long-term relief and recovery efforts in vulnerable communities. The goal for the fund is set at $5 million dollars. The donations are helping to bring services to affected communities and help terminate the spread of coronavirus. The first phase of the intervention is to focus on immediate needs such as healthcare, food, and water with the organization’s nonprofit partners. Current donations are being used to send doctors, nurses, and other frontline responders to vulnerable communities, to obtain lifesaving medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, to deliver needed items to struggling populations in quarantined cities and refugee camps, and more.

Over time, the organization expects to shift to long-term education and recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations in affected regions. They hope to help build stronger response capacities in global communities to face future outbreak threats. As one example, the donations from the Coronavirus Relief Fund are used to help the Direct Relief nonprofit organization deliver personal protective equipment and medical supplies to health facilities in the U.S., China, and other countries affected by the pandemic.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is a U.S.-based public grantmaking charity dedicated to pooling financial resources for targeted global disaster-related relief. CDP has created the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund to support nonprofit organizations that are working directly to respond to the coronavirus crisis. These nonprofits work among the most vulnerable populations, such as hourly wage earners, workers in the gig economy, immigrants, older adults, and people with disabilities. To provide this support and build the capacity of nonprofits to respond to the pandemic, the fund aims to target current and emerging needs, including supporting healthcare workers to obtain necessary medical supplies, supporting quarantined and vulnerable individuals, and supporting hygiene promotion activities.

CDP grantees to this date include Americares, which received $250,000 to support its COVID-19 pandemic response, which aims to address local clinical needs. Americares looks to support frontline healthcare workers and clinics both in the U.S. and abroad. Another grantee, the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, received $200,000 to support telehealth expansion, provide testing and equipment, and provide operational and technical assistance to member clinics based in vulnerable localities. While current grantees mostly initiate U.S.-based responses, CDP foresees the use of COVID-19 response funds globally due to the nature of the pandemic.

Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) is a transnational fundraising and grantmaking nonprofit that commits to strengthening Latinx communities and Latinx leadership, voice, and equity throughout the Americas through philanthropic resources. With offices in San Francisco and Mexico City, the organization works to create impactful investments and foster development in Latino communities. HIP has announced two emergency funds as response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their Rapid Response Migration Fund will aid frontline migrant-serving organizations in developing and launching emergency responses, covering unexpected costs due to coronavirus impacts, increasing flexibility in services and advocacy, and addressing other impacts that arise. The fund will award at least $200,000 in mini-grants toward this aid. HIP commits to offering rapid response funds to its current grantees under their Migration and Forced Displacement program, which is providing frontline humanitarian, social, legal, and advocacy services to migrants. The Civic Participation Fund looks to address the issues at stake for a fair and accurate 2020 census, ensuring that Latinos are counted. As organizations have been forced to shift from the field to digital operations due to COVID-19, this fund will help grassroots nonprofit organizations ensure that Latinos are counted.

MedShare is a humanitarian aid organization that works to improve the quality of life of populations around the globe by sourcing and delivering surplus medical supplies and equipment to global communities in need. Such contributions are especially important during the current crisis, as mass need for medical equipment and supplies has led to deficits in many areas. MedShare has donated more than $1.3 million towards crisis relief, which includes more than 3.1 million masks and about 250,000 isolation gowns. The organization has created a fundraising campaign to garner support for its efforts and ability to respond quickly to help healthcare professionals, clinics, and hospitals around the world.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is well-known as the largest private foundation that provides global support to improve healthcare and reduce extreme poverty conditions, among other priorities. The foundation works in Africa, China, India, and elsewhere. To date, the foundation has committed to funding more than $250 million towards combatting the coronavirus crisis. Through Gates Philanthropy Partners, the foundation has created the Combating COVID-19 Fund which aims to develop vaccines and diagnostics for the virus while protecting the most vulnerable populations in their areas of work. The fund aims to advance work in research and development, focusing on diagnostic tools, therapeutics acceleration, vaccine development, and protecting vulnerable communities.

* * *

Overall, philanthropic responses around the world are happening on many levels — at the grassroots, through substantial gifts, and everything in between. Beyond the U.S., we are seeing continued growth in philanthropy, and the stimulation of further giving through a tragedy that is turning out to be a galvanizing event.

As this philanthropic activity transpires, it is important to increase the likelihood that the resources will get to the constituents in greatest need and to the organizations led by and serving those communities. It is worth repeating that inequality has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Consequently, the communities that were most vulnerable are now even more precariously positioned.

Within developed nations where the virus has taken hold, we have seen this dynamic explicitly. Racial inequities have become increasingly evident. Those with compromised health, the elderly, and those with physical disabilities are facing particular challenges during this period. In the developing world, a global pandemic and its repercussions can be absolutely tragic as limited health infrastructure cannot handle major outbreaks. Furthermore, access to food and other resources can be seriously disrupted. Whether in developed or developing nations, there is a need for philanthropic resources to get to those in greatest need — populations that can be partners as well as recipients of funds. It is also crucial to invest for the long run. Disaster relief should be more of a beginning than an end. Perhaps this moment of active philanthropy is an opportunity to channel the mobilization of resources for deeper, lasting change.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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