In recent weeks, inspiring stories have emerged around the world of individuals, communities, and organizations rallying together to respond to the singular crisis presented by COVID-19. From 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore raising over £32M via walks in his garden to manufacturers restructuring factories and assembly lines to produce personal-protective equipment and hand sanitizer, an unparalleled collaborative network has risen to meet this challenge.
As COVID-19 overburdens our systems, challenges education continuance, and drives up unemployment, the importance of social impact organizations in these sectors is thrown into sharp relief. However, in the rush to support these critical services for communities in need, one cannot ignore the vital work that organizations in other social impact sectors continue to drive forward. Environment, gender equality, human rights, sustainable agriculture, and arts organizations, among others, are challenged by COVID-19 as well—but they risk being overlooked amid the urgency to aid a few key sectors.
Last month, Pyxera Global surveyed former Global Pro Bono host organizations to understand their outlook on organizational resilience in the face of COVID-19 and to identify how Global Pro Bono can assist. Of 129 responding organizations from 42 countries, 96 percent said COVID-19 presented moderate to significant challenges. Organizations are stretched as they shift to remote and virtual operations while trying to address the increasing needs of vulnerable populations, and many must simultaneously seek new sources of funding as revenue has dried up overnight.
“We lost financial support because of the crisis and projects that were underway were canceled due to social isolation. We are redesigning our projects to be virtual in an attempt to keep our mission alive.”–Survey Respondent from Social Good Brasil
However, despite similar levels of challenges, organizations’ confidence in their business continuity and ability to make it through COVID-19 diverged when looking at individual sectors. While 58 percent of organizations in the healthcare sector reported they were fairly or completely confident in their ability to survive COVID-19, this confidence dropped off for sectors less relevant to the immediate COVID-19 response—only 33 percent of agricultural organizations and 25 percent of environmental organizations were similarly confident. In a world where climate change threatens the future of our environment, economy, and society, imagine a situation in which only one in four of the organizations fighting for our environment’s future continues to exist after this pandemic is over.
The challenges to social sector organizations not involved in the immediate COVID-19 response is corroborated by a variety of examples. Taking the environmental sector as one such case, while greenhouse gas emissions may be down, other important efforts are being negatively impacted: reductions in tourism dollars may result in the reversal of vital habitat restoration initiatives, governments are taking COVID-19 as an opportunity to dial back environmental protection and enforcement, and recycling rates are declining. Similarly, the already tenuous circumstances of smallholder farmers have been exacerbated by COVID-19, with lockdowns and travel restrictions resulting in food wastage, a decline in demand, and threatened livelihoods. Yet as COVID-19 deepens poverty and food insecurity, smallholder farmers—who supply up to 80 percent of food in Africa and Asia—are an integral part of supporting their community resilience in the face of pandemics and other crises. Before they can do that, the support provided by the social sector must be continued and strengthened.
This body of evidence raises an important point: the COVID-19 response needs to go beyond responding to only COVID-19 itself. For those working in Global Pro Bono, it is vital to empower organizations in all social impact sectors to continue their important work during and after this pandemic. With so many sectors facing a wide variety of challenges, there is an opportunity for every industry and specialty to contribute now.
“We are carrying out a series of app developments, and it would help us to have mentoring about strategies to conduct human centered design processes while not being physically next to our users and beneficiaries.”–Survey Respondent from Mexican agriculture nonprofit NUUP
In the same survey, Pyxera Global asked organizations if virtual Global Pro Bono would be beneficial to them at this time. While there has been uncertainty among Global Pro Bono stakeholders on how virtual programs could fit in during this tumultuous period, the response was clear: these programs are needed now. Organizations laid out a wide range of needs and specific requests, from support with data analysis to guidance on social media campaigns. While two key needs stood out—support in transitioning to virtual product/service delivery and assistance with fundraising—even these areas require the engagement of diverse experts. For instance, in transitioning to virtual programming, specific needs included organizing an online conference, developing apps, digitizing learning materials, and training educators in best practices for online education. No matter what expertise an organization or individual has, that knowledge can translate into an important contribution to the social sector.
At a time when individuals and businesses are seeking ways to help, it is critical to identify and support the social mission-driven organizations that find themselves in increasingly precarious circumstances. While the needs are significant, this expertise is needed to help humanity emerge from this crisis more resilient than before.