How Philanthropies in Asia Can Transform for the New COVID-19 World

Date

May 5, 2020

3 min read

As the global pandemic escalates, we are seeing new challenges and previously unimagined responses arise on a nearly daily basis. From school closures to fines for non-essential outings to mass job losses, COVID-19 is disrupting life, business and the economy in unprecedented ways. While COVID-19 affects all echelons of society, we are already seeing evidence that vulnerable and marginalized populations will be the hardest hit.

As the crisis continues, the philanthropic sector will need to rapidly adapt to a changing landscape in order to meet the monumental needs of the time. Already, the philanthropic sector is facing rising demand for needed social services, while at the same time the likelihood of a global recession threatens to reduce the availability of philanthropic funds.

While the current crisis certainly poses new challenges, it is also an opportunity for transformation. Here are three ways philanthropic organizations can adapt to the new COVID-19 reality in the short, medium, and long-term.

1. Short Term: Develop an outcomes-based framework to help prioritize immediate needs and resources

Many foundations are receiving a barrage of requests for new program and increased funding as caseloads increase and vulnerable populations suffer from greater needs. Funders will need to make tough decisions about how to prioritize among their existing portfolios while also being responsive to immediate needs and new requests. This will require new frameworks and tools to evaluate the impact of social programs and compare social outcomes across multiple opportunities in order to identify priority areas. Furthermore, given the lack of track records for new programs that are being developed in response to COVID-19, philanthropic actors need to be creative in how they disburse grants, measure impact, and create fast feedback loops to ensure their funding is most effective.

2. Medium Term: Use evidence to decide what interventions and practices to keep for the recovery period

As the immediate crisis transitions to the much longer task of rebuilding, the philanthropic response should also adapt accordingly. Some of the needs in the crisis phase will persist, while new social needs arise that now need to be addressed, such as economic and job creation programs. Philanthropies here should have a rigorous process to sieve out which of the innovations they tried should persist and be built on, both at the intervention level as well at the level of their own grant-giving practices.

At the intervention level, many programs will have transitioned to digital delivery, so it will be important to understand whether they retain their effectiveness in this new medium and could form the basis for future delivery. Data collection will also be a challenge, so philanthropies will need to rely on creative statistical techniques from the social science world to help make the most of their existing data.

At the grant-giving level, new practices will likely have been tested during the crisis phase, such as flexible funding and rapid grant processing. While the natural inclination will be to revert to previous practices, philanthropic sector leaders should consider a strategic review to understand the impact of these processes and whether they should become part of business as usual.

3. Long Term: Refine giving areas and tap on new giving modalities to maximize impact in the new reality

In the aftermath of the pandemic, governments, businesses, and citizens will be asking hard questions about their respective roles in addressing social issues. Philanthropy will correspondingly need to adjust its role in this new world.

On the one hand, philanthropies and their grantees may face a resource constrained environment for the conceivable future, requiring a more targeted giving strategy to play to the unique strengths of each philanthropy. On the other hand, the increased awareness across sectors of the need to address social issues is likely to unlock new opportunities for cross-sector partnerships and methods for sustainable giving. These could include innovative modalities such as recyclable grants, market-based business models, or pay-for-success contracts with the government. By diversifying themselves in this way, philanthropies can become be more sustainable, more resilient to crises, and more effective in their everyday work in the new world.

The COVID-19 crisis will turn philanthropic innovation from a buzzword to a watchword. Fortunately, the raw materials for this innovation already exist. By drawing on the sophisticated toolbox of global innovations, and by propagating emerging best practices across the region, we believe that Asia’s philanthropists will be able to transform their giving – to meet the needs of the current crisis, and of the new world to come.

Tri-Sector will be discussing these themes in detail in a webinar with the Majurity Trust. Find out more!


About Author
Kevin Tan
Kevin Tan Founder Tri-Sector Associates

Growing up in Singapore and having lived in Hong Kong, Kevin founded Tri-Sector Associates to help develop new ways for the public, private, and people sectors to work together on solving complex social issues across Asia.

He previously served in the Boston office of Third Sector Capital Partners, where he led Pay For Success (PFS) engagements across the US in diverse issue areas. He also helped contribute to the development of the Social Impact Guarantee, a variant of PFS beyond the Social Impact Bond.

He holds an MPP (Business and Government) from the Harvard Kennedy School, a BA (First Class Hons) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. In 2019, he was listed by Forbes Asia as one of its 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs.