A sign that reads "Together It Is Possible" in large letters

Updated: 28th May, 2020

Resilient giving: pandemics & portfolios

Recovery. Re-opening. Resilience.

Sign at the Kafue District Hospital, Kafue, Zambia, February 26, 2007.

While COVID-19 continues to spread in countries around the world, we are beginning to see how communities, states, and countries are emerging from weeks of lock downs, pauses, and stay-at-home orders. We have signals ahead — in some US states we see the familiar red, yellow, and green symbols indicating how we might proceed. But there is no precise blueprint. We are reminded that we are barely six months into knowing about this virus and its course is unchartered territory.

So how do we plan and prepare for what is to come? Businesses are learning to adapt to new protocols. School districts are exploring ways to bring children back safely to their classrooms. Plans are being made.

How do we make those same plans for philanthropy and our personal giving?

For so many members of our community the impact of COVID-19 will have a lingering impact — from food insecurity to homelessness. The outpouring of support for those in need has been tremendous. Our partners at Candid have reported more than $10.5 billion in funding from private and corporate foundations. At Gates Philanthropy Partners, we have seen the rapid outpouring of generosity firsthand. Since March, we have received more than $5.8 million from nearly 3,000 donors — more gifts than we received in all of 2019.

A DNA sequencing lab at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

I will be honest that I worry about how to sustain that momentum. We are all familiar with philanthropic response to disasters. A hurricane strikes and relief workers bring aid to communities. A tornado or wildfire rips through a neighborhood leaving families homeless. Funds are quickly raised and distributed, but we move on — even if recovery efforts are ongoing. We similarly know the pleas of food banks to receive just as many donations in June as they receive at Thanksgiving time when we are all a bit more tuned into acts of generosity. These patterns are familiar to us.

But we are living in unfamiliar times.

How do we sustain our energy and empathy to prepare for a potential second wave of infections? How do we support our neighbors in the months ahead? How can we support research and development through trials and failures and not give up? How do we build resilience in our ability to give?

Giving is of course deeply personal and so there is no right answer. That said, I’ll offer an approach to giving that we talk about on our team at the Gates Foundation. We think about a portfolio approach — much like one would use with personal finances. Whether you have budgeted $50 or $5000 for your giving, the same approach can be applied.

A few questions to start your giving portfolio:

  • What are the issues you care about and how would you divide your funding between them?
  • Do you have tried and true organizations that form the foundation of your giving?
  • What is your tolerance for risk? Are there new organizations you’d like to explore?
  • Is there a percentage of your giving to allocate for emergency response? Asks from friends and family?
Pie charts of examples of giving categories

Having a plan can help you make strategic decisions about your giving throughout the year — and re-balance your portfolio as circumstances arise — including during a pandemic.

As we enter the recovery phase of this crisis, we have the opportunity to reassess so many aspects of our lives.

We have heard that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s think of it as a relay. We have passed the baton from crisis to recovery. We see resilience ahead of us and need the continued energy, momentum, and generosity to get us there.

A dirt road through a rural area of Serenje District, Zambia

A rural area of Serenje District, Zambia

Speaking of portfolios…

Gates Philanthropy Partners’ Combating COVID-19 Fund includes portfolios for research and development, vulnerable populations, and now US education. These are organizations within our portfolio:

Vulnerable Populations

  • India: Uttar Pradesh is one of the largest state in India with a population of more than 200 million. The public health system’s capacity to diagnose, isolate, and clinically manage COVID-19 cases needs to be ramped up significantly. The objective of the Transforming Rural India Foundation, an initiative of Tata Trust, is to support the state’s COVID-19 clinical management capacity by converting two hospitals into COVID 19-ready centers of approximately 100 beds each.
  • Yemen: The health system in Yemen has been devastated by years of conflict and displaced families are already suffering from malnutrition. Outbreaks of cholera have further depleted health resources and now COVID-19 cases have started to mount. Oxfam is working in Yemen to improve water and sanitation conditions to prevent disease spread of both cholera and COVID-19. The organization is also working to improve safety for women and girls who have faced increased violence and vulnerability.
  • Ethiopia: Aga Khan University is leading a remote training project called Tele-ICU with multiple hospitals across India. The foundation is supporting the expansion of this model to strengthen the capacity of healthcare workers in Ethiopia to provide critical care for patients with COVID-19.
  • South Africa: Despite lockdown measures and more testing than many neighboring countries, South Africa faces an ongoing need for testing as the country starts to ease restrictions. A grant to Wits Health Consortium focuses on rapidly scaling PCR testing by redeploying existing healthcare staff for COVID-19 response.

US Education

  • Many college and university students find themselves at risk of for food insecurity, homelessness, and financial loss as a result of the pandemic. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, a leading research and technical assistance provider, is contributing to the evidence base of how to administer emergency aid and the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable post-secondary students. The goal of this project is to codify processes that more equitably and can more efficiently administer emergency aid and ensure student success.
  • Edquity, an equity-focused education fin-tech company, offers cash-flow management, resource referral, and emergency aid for post-secondary students. Further funding will help accelerate Edquity’s product growth among those institutions committed to student success, and to make their product affordable and available to students and institutions committed to serving first-generation students, students of color, and other vulnerable student communities.

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