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Beyond the pivot: Which organizations have used COVID as an accelerant for transformation?

March 22, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
It’s safe to say that no one will emerge on the other side of this pandemic unchanged.

Some of those changes, born from heartbreak and the tragedy of loss, will linger long after we stop lining up for vaccines. This is as it should be. As the poet Stephen Spender put it: “what is precious is never to forget.” We will never forget the people we lost; never forget the dreams that COVID frayed, or delayed.

Still, it is important to acknowledge that not all the changes the virus wrought have been bad ones.

We all know Dr. Ala Stanford‘s name now. The founder of the Black Doctors COVID Consortium responded brilliantly to the impact the pandemic was having within the Black community.

Stanford blazed a trail — with COVID as an accelerant — modeling how to put together a highly effective, efficient and responsive testing and vaccinating organization that reached deep into the most impacted neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

Generocity asked some of its most engaged readers — our weekly and daily newsletter subscribers (become one here) — who else has done something comparable? Who has changed how services are provided; how programs and people are deployed? Which organizations have used COVID as an accelerant for real transformation?

A number of those who responded pointed to Mighty Writersthe literacy nonprofit that teaches writing skills to Philadelphia students at five sites in the Philadelphia area — whose COVID trajectory Generocity traced in an article on March 3.

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Debra Weiner suggested that there was a story worth telling in how Loree Jones, the CEO of Philabundance, had led that organization to “accommodate a 60% increase demand while many of their (senior citizen) volunteers could not work and the shelves in many supermarkets went bare so food donations from them were down.”

Kelsey Ruane and “the Great Learning Program” team from William Penn Foundation highlighted eight organizations (including Mighty Writers) that “evolved their approaches in a very short amount of time.”

Health Federation of Philadelphia, Ruane said, “helped home visiting programs change from in-person to virtual visits, and in so-doing charted a new way to support families. With a rapid grant from WPF, HFP purchased internet-enabled tablets for families enrolled in home visiting programs so they could continue to have regular contact with the nurse, early childhood professional, or other supportive expert they rely on.”

Another health-centered nonprofit the learning program team singled out was Puentes de Salud, which Ruane said “used WhatsApp to keep families connected with each other and to continue to share resources about how to support young children and their early learning.”

The team also felt the City’s PHLConnectED effort, in Ruane’s words, “swung into action to coordinate philanthropic resources and ensure that every family with a child in K-12 can access the internet at no cost. After discussing internet access for decades, within a few months the city made it happen for most families.”

The other organizations mentioned:

Thinking about the work done by the organizations she mentioned in her response made Ruane and her team “feel more positive about the state of the world.”

Tom Mahon pointed to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia‘s COVID-prompted establishment of a Habitat Guesthouse in North Philly, where families can stay, free of charge, while the nonprofit’s team completes work scheduled in the home-repairs program. “Instead of putting an indefinite pause on the critical home repair work,” Mahon said, “Habitat Philadelphia found a way to continue to work safely alongside homeowners to ensure their homes were safe, warm, and dry.”

Whether any of these changes remain in place in post-pandemic Philadelphia is a question that can’t be answered fully yet. It is hard to imagine walking back some of the transformative, intentional, strategic thinking that has taken place at nonprofits this past year. Stanford and the BDCC, for example, have fundamentally altered the way public health initiatives are understood — and can be provided — in Philadelphia.

And that can’t help but keep resonating into the foreseeable future.

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