In collaboration with funders across the region, Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia has launched a new COVID-19 Prevention & Response Fund, which will invest in neighborhood-based solutions related to COVID-19, and address equity imbalances exacerbated by the pandemic.
A group of 15 grassroots representatives living and working in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are serving as Community Investment Advisors for the Fund.
In this funding model, these advisors helped set priorities, established fund eligibility and criteria, and shaped a streamlined process to be used to award grants up to $25,000.
Each Community Investment Advisor received a stipend for his/her/their time and made key decisions on how dollars are allocated.
“As community investment advisors, we can support economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as COVID-19 has increased the day to day struggles they faced,” said Eliezer Vila, of the Norris Square Community Alliance in Kensington. “To overcome this health crisis, it is imperative to start off investing in the most vulnerable communities, and I am glad to be part of many voices leading this change.”
Shira Hodges, VP of strategic initiatives and partnerships at Philanthropy Network, said the idea of starting a fund to respond to the current need came up during a discussion at Philanthropy Network’s 2020 SPARX conference in December. One of the sessions was on Philanthropy’s Role in Vaccine Distribution, and it was at this session that several funders realized the importance of doing something to help support COVID-19 vaccine access in the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
It was the “what” needed to be done that had to be finessed, Hodges said.
“Philadelphia’s public health infrastructure has largely left low-income, Black, Latinx, and Asian communities behind in their COVID-19 prevention and response efforts,” said Joe Pyle, president of the Scattergood Foundation, which is a lead donor to the fund. “In our role as funders, it is critical that our action prioritizes community-driven, trust-based approaches that will bridge the access gap.”
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After that meeting at the SPARX conference, William Penn Foundation and Scattergood Foundation began reaching out to several of their colleagues to see if there was interest in creating a pooled fund.
Once they knew there was, Philanthropy Network took the lead in coordinating the planning and outreach.
“We had several conversations with community-based organizations to discuss ideas,” Hodges said. “After a focus group discussion and several one-on-one conversations, it became clear that whatever we did, it couldn’t just be community-informed, it had to be community-led.”
“Everyone understands the situation is changing rapidly and that we needed to be adaptable and have an ear to the ground,” she added. “To do this, we decided that an equity-based pooled fund that used trust-based principles and was community-led would be the most successful model.”
Hodges said the fund is progressing faster than many thought possible, using this participatory model.
Their first grant round opened April 8 and they closed applications April 19. All grantees will be notified on April 29 and information about the grantees will be posted to Philanthropy Network’s website in May.
The next round will open for applications June 3.
The Community Investment Advisors are comprised of people who are living and working in the community, representing Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties.
“We’ve had four, two-hour meetings with the group so far and they have been amazing,” Hodges said. “We engaged Praxis Consulting (Nelson Parrish and Linshuang Lu) to help build trust among participants, facilitate the process, and ultimately ensure decisions were made at the end of each meeting.”
The first meeting focused on getting to know each other, creating community guidelines, orientation to the fund, and goals.
The second meeting was a discussion about the fund priorities and grant application.
“During our third meeting we finalized fund priorities and discussed eligibility criteria and application process,” Hodges said. “During our last meeting we voted to determine the eligibility, application process and application. We also discussed next steps and agreed to revise the process in May as we learn more.”
So far things have gone smoothly considering they created the process from scratch in a short period of time. One challenge they faced was related to the short lead time.
In March, the Community Investment Advisors were deciding on funding priorities at the same time as Philanthropy Network and the lead funders were working to secure additional funding. There were a few funders who couldn’t commit to contributing until they had a clear sense of the priorities, which was difficult since these two things were happening simultaneously.
“We have tried to make this process as streamlined as possible, while also ensuring we are collecting information that helps inform decisions moving forward,” Hodges said. “Our hope is that the simplified process makes organizations that might not normally apply feel empowered to do so.”
She added that they’re learning and adjusting the process as they go, “so community feedback is really helpful.”
Initial applications exceeded their expectations, with requests far outpacing the amount of funding they had earmarked to grant in this first round. Some applicants will be moved into the next round as they work to secure more funds for the next granting round in June.
Beyond grant dollars, they are also partnering with the City of Philadelphia’s Philly Counts office, which will support grantees and cultivate a community of practice.
Philly Counts will provide information, training, and resource materials ,as well as logistical and operational support that will allow Fund recipients to maximize their efforts, and leverage every dollar, to raise awareness in communities and increase uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.
More information about the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Fund can be found here.-30-
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