Volunteering and philanthropy in the time of COVID-19


The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing the world into uncharted territories. In between travel bans, lockdowns and cancellations of all kinds of events, governments are taking unprecedented measures to slow down the pandemic, flatten the curve, preserve national health systems from collapsing and save lives.

Several industries have been overhauled by the Coronavirus outbreak. Some of them—like aviation and hospitality—are on their knees and say that without massive government interventions they face meltdown.

In short, the Covid-19 pandemic is a global health emergency that it’s triggering a worrisome economic crisis.

Unfortunately, scientists warn us that there’s no easy fix. “Social distancing,” a new reality to which hundreds of millions of people have been catapulted in a matter of a couple of weeks, may remain a global mantra for up to one year (see, for example, this sobering paper by the Imperial College).

If you’re enduring some sort of quarantine but are lucky enough to be healthy, have no particular financial concerns and live in a nice house with nice people, there’s plenty of things you can do from the comfort of your bedroom. You life, or an online version of it, can go on.

This includes volunteering and charitable giving. According to American journalist Ezra Klein, the Covid-19 pandemic may usher us into a “social,” as well as economic, recession. Philanthropy may then be a vaccine for the looming “loneliness epidemic.”

In response to the new social measures, remote volunteering is flourishing with new opportunities posted online daily. You can send letters to seriously ill children to help them fill less isolated, give video assistance to blind and low-vision people thanks to an app called Be My Eyes or help Amnesty International crunch data to expose human rights violations. Unfortunately, pre existing problems didn’t disappear with the emergence of Covid-19.

Think of climate change. How can young environmental activists push their agenda now that public gatherings are banned? Protesters are changing tactics, switching to online actions. Gretha Thunberg urged her followers to join a digital strike by posting a photo of themselves along with the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline. 

In South Korea, a country that so far has handled the pandemic remarkably well, a group of 30 young activists are suing the government over the newly amended climate law claiming it doesn’t do enough to meet the goals of the 2016 Paris Agreement. The tactic isn’t new but it lends itself particularly well to this time of self-isolation.

The Internet allows us to act globally but let’s not forget about our immediate surroundings. As highlighted by Charity Navigator, consider supporting local food banks, free clinics on the frontlines of response and educational outreach initiatives about the virus. If possible, check if your neighbors have everything they need.

In all of this, we can’t think of solving this crisis without science and experts. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, an academic institution that thanks to its top team of mathematical modellers is at the forefront of Covid-19 research, has set up a Response Fund to accelerate the research of effective solutions to the pandemic. A donation to them will go a long way in speeding up the pace of research and providing reliable, scientific information about the emergency. 

More about: philanthropy / Coronavirus

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