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. UP has focused on supporting efforts to directly alleviate health, economic, or other hardships for vulnerable communities most impacted by the pandemic, as well as novel approaches to pandemic mitigation and response. UP continues to search for new opportunities and efforts that address the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic, especially those that are solving for problems that will persist after the current crisis subsides.
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
Saga Education, to provide high-quality tutoring to vulnerable students by adapting its program for remote and hybrid school settings
TalkingPoints, to improve school-family engagement through a dynamic, multilingual communication platform
GiveDirectly, to deliver direct cash assistance to vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic
Evidence Aid, to summarize and deliver the best available evidence on COVID-19 to decision-makers to inform pandemic response
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.
Saga Education Fighting educational inequity through the power of tutoring relationships
For every ten children from low-income families who enter high school in the US, only seven will graduate on time. Eighty percent of students who drop out of high school cite course failures as their top reason. Algebra I is the course most commonly failed: only 20% of students who fail Algebra I in ninth grade will go on to receive a high school diploma, compared to 85% of those who pass. Saga Education has developed an in-school math tutoring program that targets ninth grade Algebra and raises academic growth by as much as two and a half years in one year, according to research conducted by the University of Chicago Urban Labs. With a proven model, Saga is now exploring ways to expand across the US, including through the acquisition of an online platform, Woot Math, to improve virtual deliver and lower costs; a consulting model to help other nonprofits and school systems to adopt the model; and, a direct-to-student model to reach those most at need during the pandemic. The shift to remote and hybrid learning is putting many low-income students at risk of falling further behind in student achievement; at the same time, it is creating an opportunity for Saga Education to deliver a high-impact virtual tutoring model to more students in need.
TalkingPoints Enabling school-family engagement through a multilingual communication platform
In the United States, more than 40 million children lag behind in educational outcomes; this achievement gap particularly affects students from low-income families. Research has shown that parental engagement is a strong predictor of student academic success, twice as much as families' socioeconomic status. Strong parent-teacher partnerships are key to student success in the classroom, but many families face challenges to effective school engagement. TalkingPoints has created a multilingual engagement platform to enable two-way communication between teachers, schools, and families through text messages or a web/mobile app. It uses human and artificial intelligence-powered translation and personalized supports to eliminate language, time, and other barriers to school-family connection. With nearly a quarter of US students speaking a language other than English at home, providing information in multiple languages is essential to reach families in an equitable way. Family engagement has become even more critical with the shift to remote and hybrid learning and without solutions that facilitate effective school-family communication, educational gaps will continue to widen leaving vulnerable students behind.
GiveDirectly Delivering direct cash assistance to vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic
As part of our default strategy for 2020, UP is supporting GiveDirectly to provide direct financial relief to communities impacted by the pandemic. As countries around the world imposed lockdowns and other public health restrictions, millions saw their incomes drop or disappear and few had financial resources to cope with the crisis. GiveDirectly developed both a domestic and international response effort targeted at populations most impacted by the pandemic so that they can meet their most immediate needs. GiveDirectly is currently delivering emergency cash relief to vulnerable communities such as SNAP recipients in the United States, families living in urban informal settlements in Kenya, pregnant women and lactating mothers and multi-drug resistant TB patients in Liberia, and more.
Evidence Aid Providing high-quality, summarized evidence on COVID-19 to decision-makers
Evidence Aid, the winner of our original Unorthodox Prize, prepares and disseminates short summaries of systematic reviews to provide decision-makers with access to the best available evidence for humanitarian action. The COVID-19 pandemic has created demand for high-quality, trusted evidence on how to combat and manage the disease and how to cope with the consequences of the measures needed to stop its spread. However, with over 70,000 scientific papers on COVID-19 published this year, gaining an understanding of what the evidence tells us has never been a greater challenge. Faced with making urgent decisions that have profound impacts on lives and livelihoods, decision-makers need short, accessible, yet robust summaries of evidence to help guide their actions. Evidence Aid's brief but comprehensive plain-language summaries of evidence on a wide variety of topics related to COVID-19 have been accessed by more than 400,000 people and its COVID-19 Resource Center makes these freely available in multiple languages to inform pandemic response policy and practice. Agencies such as the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization have cited Evidence Aid as a source for their own global guidelines.