COVID-19 Is Shedding Light On Inadequacies In Humanitarian Aid

Senior Humanitarian Response Specialist Sandrina Da Cruz unpacks the gaps in international humanitarian aid for COVID-19 relief and explains the rationale for GlobalGiving’s response.


COVID-19 is no ordinary virus, which is why GlobalGiving has taken an exceptional approach—global in scope and localized in nature.

The spread of COVID-19 and associated quarantine policies have stressed health systems, stymied economies globally, disrupted people’s lives in unthinkable ways, inflamed existing inequalities, and deepened ongoing and ignited new vulnerabilities. It’s especially taxing on daily wage workers, indignenous communities, women, children, refugees, older individuals and persons with disabilities. Traditional aid response mechanisms have been tested like never before. To address exacerbated risks and vulnerabilities, GlobalGiving has mobilized the breadth of our vetted global nonprofit partners—hundreds of nonprofits rising to meet these unfolding challenges. We’ve also partnered with new community leaders filling critical gaps in different corners of the world.

Our response to this pandemic is one of partnership, adaptation, and innovation.

GlobalGiving launched the Coronavirus Relief Fund in January to support medical first responders and humanitarian aid in Wuhan and surrounding areas. Listening to our nonprofit and corporate partners, we have since continued to adjust our strategy and response as the virus has spread in communities across the world. We look beyond the official statistics and news headlines to inform our needs assessments and grant planning. From the very beginning, GlobalGiving has been working closely with our nonprofit partners to improve our understanding of their evolving needs and develop a dynamic and strategic response.

Our multifaceted geographic and programmatic response to this pandemic is much broader than our typical disaster response.

Through our community of donors and corporate partners, we have raised more than $30 million for COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts, close to $10 million of which comprise contributions to the GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund. We have awarded the vast majority of COVID-19 emergency relief grants to nonprofit partners headquartered in close to 50 countries where they are implementing these humanitarian programs. We’ve also granted $1.1 million from existing disaster grant programs such as the Australia Wildfires Relief Fund and Hurricane Dorian Relief Fund to support grantees now having to respond to multiple crises.

Our efforts don’t end there. We launched a Hardship Microgrants initiative, which has enabled us to provide operational support to nonprofits with microgrants. This includes organizations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic but not necessarily implementing specific responses. Although we’ve continued to operationalize a flexible grantmaking approach, rather than respond to requests for funds, we preemptively reached out to our partners, asking what they needed. We also removed restrictions on previously awarded grants, enabling grantees to use the funds for unforeseen COVID-related issues. In addition, the GlobalGiving team has produced helpful resources for nonprofit and corporate partners to help them navigate the many facets of this challenging environment. And as always—we are consistently gathering feedback from our partners and grantees, not only organizations actively responding to the emergency needs, but also the whole host of nonprofits that have been deeply impacted by this pandemic.

Against the backdrop of our progress, with a mix of hope and frustration, I ask myself: Is it finally time for an authentic transition to localization and community-led humanitarian response?

The numbers aren’t promising.

Preliminary analysis as of early May suggests that 0.1% of COVID-19 funding has been directed to local or national NGOs.

Although the humanitarian sector has long recognized and touted the importance and benefits of local voices in the lead, it’s been painstakingly reluctant to adapt—in this crisis and others. For years, Institutional donors, foundations and internationally-led responders have partnered with local organizations, particularly in conflict zones due to the heightened operational risks and insecurity. Meanwhile, local organizations receive about 3% of all humanitarian funding. Clearly capable and deeply knowledgeable in the most egregious of environments, shouldn’t funding local organizations become the norm rather than what is resorted to in the most extreme cases?

COVID-19 has cast light on the many inadequacies of the traditional humanitarian aid architecture. This virus has severely impacted internationally-led relief operations because of travel restrictions and interrupted supply chains. Programs have been further impacted in cases where expatriate aid workers returned home for safety reasons or understandably to support efforts in their home countries.

As always, GlobalGiving is putting local voices in the lead. From South Sudan to Washington D.C., where GlobalGiving is headquartered, we trust our partners to meet their communities’ most urgent needs. In South Sudan, the Community Skills Development team has set up hand-washing stations and mounted communication campaigns to disseminate information about how the virus spreads via traditional leaders, radio announcements, and microphones. In Washington, D.C., the Latin American Youth Center is offering food, diapers and other basic needs as well as counseling services and online academic programming to meet the growing needs of youth and families in their community.

GlobalGiving spearheaded grantmaking to local responders with our response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.

Since then, we have witnessed time and again the effectiveness of crisis response that is led by local leaders and responsive to the community’s needs. Investing in local communities creates sustainable impact. We prioritize support to community-led responders, endeavoring to align our practices with trust-based philanthropy principles. Beyond emergency relief, we fund disaster preparedness and long-term recovery because we understand the importance of the rebuilding process and strengthening community resilience. Our response to COVID-19 has followed these core tenets of our humanitarian relief and disaster recovery work.

More than 15 years after embarking on this journey to work with disaster and crisis-affected communities, we continue to learn and adapt our approaches. But our focus on community owned and locally-led solutions is core to our DNA. It is this type of feedback from our partners that we commit to everyday: “You understand so much what nonprofits are going through and are there in true solidarity and support,” Tara, a GlobalGiving grantee at Free Minds, recently shared.

On behalf of our diverse and powerful community, we challenge international humanitarian and disaster recovery funders and implementers to take bold steps towards authentically localizing their funding and humanitarian responses.

Learn more about how GlobalGiving powers community-led disaster relief and recovery.


Featured Photo: Emergency COVID-19 support for Kenyan children by Raising Futures Kenya


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