As the disruption and devastation of the COVID-19 crisis unfolded early this year, Unorthodox Philanthropy temporarily paused our search for social impact ideas that can scale with finite philanthropic capital. We remain open to efforts directly related to COVID-19 response. UP initially focused on supporting efforts to directly alleviate health or economic hardships for communities most impacted by the pandemic in the near term. We prioritized organizations with which we had existing relationships and were well-positioned to act. UP continues to search for new opportunities that are meeting the needs of vulnerable communities as well as novel approaches to pandemic mitigation and response.
UP's COVID-19 response grants include:
The UCSF Global Health Group, to develop and disseminate community-based response efforts in low- and middle-income countries
NYU Marron Institute’s Graduated Reintegration team, to encourage rapid release and supportive reentry services for people incarcerated in jails and prisons
Coming Clean, to improve food access and security to low-income Americans living in food deserts
The Native American Community Response Fund, to provide rapid response grants to Native-led organizations serving Indigenous communities impacted by the pandemic
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, to support the work of Dr. Michael Osterholm in providing accurate and timely information to inform pandemic response policy and practice
Representative Testing Study in Western Kenya, to understand the prevalence and transmission of COVID-19 in low-income, rural settings and to validate low-cost surveillance methods
See below for more information on each of these efforts.
UP's COVID-19 Response Grants
UCSF Global Health Group - Pandemic Community Response and Resilience Initiative Developing and disseminating community-based response models in LMICs
Low- and Middle-income countries (LMICs) need to urgently develop their own pandemic playbooks. They need to design new models for testing, tracking, and infection containment that are specifically tailored to the realities of their rural and urban areas, leveraging knowledge and experience from other fields of health and using community structures that are likely to survive when most of the health sector is overwhelmed. Optimal pandemic response models for low-income countries must focus heavily on community-level interventions. With partners IDinsight and Evidence Action, the Global Health Group at the University of California San Francisco will rapidly develop, assess, and support the uptake of new community-based COVID-19 mitigation models designed for LMICs. Specifically, the collaboration is working on a three-pronged approach around surveillance and tracking, therapeutics, and diagnostics. The partners will be able to leverage their collective reach to rapidly gather data on the pandemic, trial new interventions in communities and, most importantly, feed the outputs to key decision-makers shaping the pandemic response in many LMICs.
Graduated Reintegration Supporting rapid release and supportive reentry services for jails and prisons
UP previously funded the NYU Marron Institute to pilot a Graduated Reintegration (GR) model with the Illinois Department of Corrections to provide a more supportive reentry process for incarcerated persons transitioning back to the community. The pilot demonstrated the feasibility of the model and resulted in meaningful policy change around access to public housing. Given the extreme risk posed to people in jails and prisons and the growing crisis of COVID-19 spreading in these facilities, there is an urgent need for mass decarceration. The NYU Marron team will be working directly with state and local agencies around rapid release and reentry to provide technical support and guidance, facilitate peer learning, and identify areas of collaboration among service providers, community organizations and government agencies.
Coming Clean Campaign for healthy, local food procurement at dollar stores in the US
Dollar stores feed more Americans every year than Whole Foods, yet offer little to no healthy or fresh food options. Many dollar stores are located in low-income neighborhoods that have limited or no access to healthy foods or a full-service grocery store nearby. With the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, food security is an increasing priority for people in this country. Coming Clean, along with several other key partners such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), and local Albuquerque, New Mexico area farmer cooperatives Agri-Cultura Network and Los Jardines Institute, are working together to encourage and help Dollar General plan and execute a pilot for procuring healthy, local produce that can serve as a model for expanding nutritious and quality food offerings at dollar stores nationwide. Coming Clean was previously under consideration for a UP award and the current situation underscored the importance of this work and provided a strategic opportunity to push this campaign forward.
Native American Community Response Fund Providing rapid response grants to Native-led organizations serving Indigenous communities
Native American and Indigenous communities were already facing extreme disparities across employment, education, health, and safety before the pandemic. The current health and economic crisis is exacerbating and accelerating all of these issues and yet federal aid has been slow to reach tribal agencies. The Native American Community Response Fund (NACRF) is providing rapid response grants to urban and tribal Native-led organizations serving individuals and families affected by the pandemic. The original focus was on the 78% of Native Americans that reside off-reservation - in urban centers, where there were higher rates of infection. Now that tribal communities like the Navajo Nation have become hot spots, NACRF has expanded its focus to include these areas. NACRF is working with Native Americans in Philanthropy and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition to identify and rapidly deploy resources to local partners responding to the most urgent needs in their communities.
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) Providing accurate and timely information to inform pandemic response policy and practice
The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDRAP) has long been a trusted source for information about public health preparedness and emerging infectious disease response. Led by infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm, CIDRAP addresses infectious disease threats through research and the translation of scientific information information into real-world, practical applications, policies, and solutions. CIDRAP is tracking and analyzing the latest news and research regarding COVID-19 to inform public health and government officials, as well as the public. Dr. Osterholm and his team are dedicated to providing up-to-date and factual information about the spread of this virus, assessing the latest research on mitigation and treatment strategies, and providing clear and concrete recommendations regarding pandemic response.
Representative Testing of COVID-19 in Western Kenya Understanding prevalence and transmission in low-income, rural settings to tailer response
There is currently little data about the spread and behavior of the COVID-19 virus in low-income countries. While reported cases and deaths in many places remain low, it's unclear if this is due to a lack of testing and reporting or a difference in the epidemiology and transmission. Nobel-laureate Dr. Michael Kremer (University of Chicago) and his collaborators, Dr. Amy Pickering (UC Berkeley) and Dr. Sammy Njenga (Kenya Medical Research Institute), will be conducting a large representative testing study in Western Kenya to understand infection prevalence, transmission rates, and risk factors for infection, while also validating the utility of mobile phone surveys as a low-cost surveillance tool. These elements will be integrated into an existing child health study of 14,000 households (~70,000 individuals) across 240 villages in rural Kenya. The study will contribute valuable data to generate more accurate future transmission models for low-income, rural settings and help governments optimize tradeoffs between the health benefits and negative economic impacts of public health control measures such as travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and school closings.