The Puggle: April 2020 edition

If you are like us, it is probably challenging to think of anything other than the COVID-19 global pandemic. We are anxious about its impact in our communities and what the next phase of this global crisis will bring. It dominates most of our conversations, work, the news cycle and social media streams. So rather than pretend we are not preoccupied with COVID-19, we thought we would share what we are learning and thinking about this crisis as it continues to unfold.

On the top of our minds is trying to understand what are the gendered aspects of this pandemic and how to mitigate them. When we look at the essential workers called into action to keep our communities safe and functioning a disproportionate number of them are female. Broadly, women make up the majority of workers in the health and social care sector – 70% in 104 countries analyzed by the World Health Organization (WHO). They also earn 11% less than men in the sector according to the WHO.

However, as we have all been realizing, the definition of essential workers is broadening to include caregivers, educators, food-service industry workers, small businesses, and others. Many of these sectors as well have a majority female workforce. Furthermore, much of the caregiving work is unpaid. According to the International Labor Organization, globally women perform 76.2 per cent of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men. 

It is worrisome that in previous crises, the impact on girls’ education was profound. The Malala Fund, drawing on data from the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea where schools closed for six to eight months, estimates that approximately 10 million more secondary-age girls are at risk for remaining out of school after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. Hard fought gains to make progress in school parity may be quickly wiped out. As Malala says, “In a crisis like COVID-19, girls and young women are the first to be removed from school and the last to return. But educated young women are also critical to public health and economic recovery. Malala Fund is calling on governments to start planning now to ensure all girls are able to return to school when the crisis has passed.” 

The challenges when girls are out of school are numerous and often prevent girls from going back to school once they are reopened. Many girls go to work and start to earn much needed income for families, others enter into early marriages, and still others become pregnant. We saw the overall teen pregnancy rate doubling during the Ebola epidemic. And as UNICEF warns from past crises, we will likely see increases in violence, abuse, exploitation and reduction in access to reproductive health and protection services for girls. The longer this crisis goes on, the critical protective services should become part of the COVID emergency response efforts for girls who are at risk without the protective shield of school. We know several of our NGO grantee partners that are now conducting outreach by phone to continue to monitor girls safety and stability, similar to how we see many organizations do with the elderly population. 

We hope the silver lining might be after labeling the work so many women do as essential and the dependency of society on that work becomes apparent that equal pay for women will just make sense.  Is it possible as governments and communities try to reboot their economies they will be cognizant of the potential economic lift that comes from educated women and will double down on their commitment to ensure girls are re-enrolled in schools. 

Welcome to the biggest experiment in online learning ever imagined! For all of us in the education sector, we are watching how the education sector is responding to the fact that 90% of the world’s students are out of school for what may very well be a long hiatus. Will the silver lining for education be a greater willingness to experiment with how to better incorporate technology? There has been a surge in sharing distance learning resources, like this one collated by UNESCO, much of it for online learning. Or this list from HundrED that focuses on online innovations with potential to work in different contexts and scale. It is good to see that a great number of the resources are free, or being offered free during this time, and increasingly cater to multiple languages. And, as we all know, breaking down silos to work together will be required in the face of this unprecedented crisis, so it has been heartening to see the technology, education, and business communities come together through the Global Business Coalition for Education Response to COVID-19 by offering their service, tools, and knowledge to help mitigate the disruption to education. 

As we think about “reimagining” education and shifting from classroom and teacher-centered models to online ones, we should not forget that “quality of learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. After all, only around 60% of the globe’s population is online.”  Of course, the important questions to ask during this global experiment is how we ensure access to technology for the most marginalized and how do we reach those who don’t have access to technology at all? Remote learning doesn’t only have to be about online learning — Radio and TV should not be forgotten as often more accessible technologies for a wider audience and ways to keep children engaged in learning. As the World Economic Forum shares, unless access costs decrease and quality of access increases in all countries, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated. The digital divide could become more extreme if educational access is dictated by access to the latest technologies. In the rush to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we are likely to unintentionally exacerbate underlying inequities and social issues. We will need to work hard to mitigate this by thinking through strategies that focus on inclusion of marginalized children, especially girls, in access to technology and other distance learning opportunities. In their blog “Equity-Focused Approaches to Learning Loss during COVID-19” Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares offer some ideas that hold promise as equity-focused approaches to learning continuity. 

How will the private philanthropic sector rise to meet this challenge is also weighing on our  minds? Echidna Giving has signed on, along with 675 other foundations to date, to the Call to Action: Philanthropy’s Commitment to COVID-19 Response pledge by the Council on Foundations. The pledge encourages foundations to loosen grant restrictions, make new grants unrestricted, contribute to community-based emergency relief funds, and more. In many ways, we see the pledge as supportive of the broader trust-based philanthropy movement, which is reimagining traditional funder-grantee relationships. Could another silver lining be that this crisis builds momentum in the philanthropic sector to more widely recognize the power imbalance between funders and nonprofits and work to create a new normal centered more on the quality and depth of our partnerships? 

The new normal we could create is one based on understanding our collective strength and challenging the inequities we have yet to be fully addressed. Building resilience will require us to break down silos and work across disciplines to develop comprehensive solutions. We are inspired to see how the whole social sector—both nonprofits and funders—are working to respond quickly in this time of great need and uncertainty. In a global context, here is an example from India and here is one in Africa. Any crisis, and certainly one of this magnitude, also provides opportunities for longer-term systems change. As Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, wrote “We must ask: “What can philanthropy do now?” If the specifics are still hard to grasp, the principles are clear. Now is the time for leadership and action—for common cause and common effort.”

Social change is often said to be a marathon, not a sprint. Yet, a lot of us feel like we are sprinting in the middle of this marathon now, and it feels overwhelming to think about the rapid response required in the face of the pandemic as well as the long road ahead of us for recovery. So, our final silver lining is the potential for crisis to inspire resurgence of creativity. We at Echidna are trying to pace ourselves by finding solace and rejuvenation from the creativity we are seeing emerge around us. For  example, a retired teacher, Kitty O’Meara, from Madison, Wisconsin in the U.S., turned to writing in an effort to curb her own anxiety amid the nerve-wracking news of the COVID-19 pandemic. We end with her poem as our final reflection:

Poem by Kitty O’Meara (Untitled)

And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art,
and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again,
they grieved their losses, and made new choices,
and dreamed new images,
and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed.

(And if you are looking for more child appropriate creative resources check out this article on picture books to explain coronavirus – “My Hero is You” an excellent example.)