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March 27, 2020

Supporting Our Communities During COVID-19 Crisis

When I joined HU three months ago, this is not how I imagined I would introduce myself. After two decades in the social sector, a big part of what drew me to Humanity United were the organization’s values, including shared humanity, humility, commitment, curiosity, innovation and creativity, diversity and inclusion, and my personal favorite, joy. I spent my first week in Nepal and was eager to learn more about HU’s work around the world. Like so many of us, I could not foresee just how profoundly the emerging COVID-19 crisis would impact us.

And now I find myself as the Managing Partner of Humanity United at a time that is simultaneously demanding that we embrace those very values and testing our ability to do so. History has taught us that challenging times have the ability to bring out either the best or worst in us. It’s also shown us that the most vulnerable amongst us often feel the impact of a crisis most acutely.

While some have succumbed to xenophobia or greed, we are also witnessing acts of great compassion, unity, and cooperation. COVID-19 is testing the strength of our social fabric—this is a moment to embrace our shared humanity. We are truly in this together, and how we choose to show up for each other matters in these moments. Whether it’s checking in on an elderly neighbor out of concern for their well-being, or simply staying home to protect our communities, we all have a role to play.

As a philanthropic organization, we are in a position of great privilege, and it is incumbent on us to make sure our community is well supported. To that end, I want to thank our many grantees and partners from around the world for staying in touch with us and sharing your thoughts and needs over the last two weeks. We’ve heard you, and we are doing a few things to respond:

  • We are adjusting our grant timelines, postponing reporting requirements, releasing funds as early as possible, and supporting our grantees in adjusting grant allocations to cover any costs that may arise as a result of the crisis, including covering employee salaries. To this end, we signed the Council on Foundations philanthropy pledge to make a public commitment and hold ourselves accountable at this time.
  • We are reallocating resources in order to support our grantees with urgent needs during this crisis. We created an emergency response fund and are in the process of assessing needs and distributing resources from that fund.
  • We are working to strengthen response to the crisis in the communities where we live and work. In the Washington, DC area, we are supporting the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, which is responding strongly to the COVID-19 emergency, with an emphasis on supporting families and teachers, and on preventing an uptick of violence. In the Bay Area, we are supporting four organizations providing services to specific at-risk populations during this crisis, namely Self-Help for the Elderly, Legal Services for Children, La Clinica de la Raza, and United Farm Workers. Additionally, in New York City, where we have a number of staff and partners, and which has become the epicenter of the crisis, we are supporting the New York Community Trust Emergency Fund and the North Star Fund.

We are also encouraging our staff to take care of themselves, work remotely, be flexible with their working hours, take deep breaths, and take time to be there for their families and one another.

We want to thank everyone at the frontlines of these epidemics including doctors, nurses, and first responders; to grocery store workers keeping food stocked; to janitorial staff putting in extra shifts and working to keep us safe; to delivery workers, and the farmworkers who continue to put food on our plates despite the crisis. To each person that has taken a moment to recognize the humanity of those around them when addressing the frustrations inherent in this situation. To those who have checked in on neighbors and friends, parents who are stretched thin and working to homeschool their children, and to all who are staying home to protect your community—thank you.

We will emerge from this stronger and more united because of that commitment to strengthening our social fabric, looking out for one another, and choosing every day to engage with others, leveraging the best of ourselves.

This is perhaps the most important time to reflect on the spirit of Ubuntu, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words that are etched on the walls of our office:

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

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