Engaging Philanthropy in Response to COVID-19

Content Manager • 26 August 2020

      The year 2020 marked the beginning of a Decade of Action to deliver the 2030 Agenda. Yet, with the COVID-19 pandemic the global context for development has fundamentally changed. The world faces the greatest health and socio-economic shock in almost a century, coming at a time of a severe inequality, ecological fragility and growing distrust within and amongst our societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer us a common language and framework to respond to the crisis as well as to plan for a better and more sustainable future. Governments, private sector, philanthropy and citizens are being called upon to utilize the SDGs as a blueprint to articulate their efforts and actively collaborate in order to build back better. 

    The United Nations has developed a Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 that highlights the multiple challenges that lie ahead and supports countries' path to socio-economic recovery. In this blog, titled "Engaging Philanthropy in Response to COVID-19 and the SDGs", Marcos Neto (UNDP), Paloma Duran y Lalaguna (OECD), Hillary Pennington (Ford Foundation), Lauren Bradford (Candid), Benjamin Bellegy (WINGS), and Arif Neky (SDG Partnership Platform) reflect on the role of philanthropy in the socio-economic response to COVID-19. This collection of viewpoints is the first of a series aiming to explore how philanthropy can be included in the global COVID-19 response and recovery effort lead by UNDP and what actions must be taken in order to emerge stronger from the current crisis. 

Marcos Neto (Director, UNDP Finance Sector Hub)

How has the SDG Philanthropy Platform promoted multi-stakeholder partnerships to address the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and achieve the SDGs? 

      The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a collaboration platform, led by UNDP and WINGS, with the aim to connect all relevant actors, including the national governments, private sector, philanthropy and citizens, to address the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 as well as achieve the SDGs. The platform is a global and national facilitator that helps optimize resources and efforts in response to COVID-19 and the SDGs by promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships and enabling effective collaboration for collective action at the country and global levels. The SDGPP provides access to information on what partners and other likeminded organizations are doing, real-time data on COVID-19 response and recovery efforts as well as progress towards the SDGs, events, and innovative solutions that funders and others are supporting. 

     In accordance with the famous quote of Winston Churchill: "never let a crisis go to waste" - we must use this opportunity to come together and actively collaborate in order to build a better and more sustainable future for all. The good news is: we already have a platform, aiming to facilitate the role of philanthropy, that can help us achieve these goals! 


Paloma Duran y Lalaguna (Head of Division Global Partnerships and Policies - OECD). 

What is the role of philanthropy in advancing the sustainable development agenda and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

      Philanthropy organizations are development actors in their own right, with their important role in sustainable development acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. With assets estimated at 1.5 trillion US Dollars, foundations play a critical role in supporting sectors that are at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including health and education. Foundations reporting to the OECD dedicated 41 percent of their resources to projects and programs in the health sector, with some prominent organizations increasing their contributions during the pandemic. 


Hillary Pennington (Executive Vice President of Programs, Ford Foundation). 

How can the high level of philanthropic giving in response to COVID-19 be sustained and continued into the recovery phase in line with the principles of the "Building Back Better" movement - in particular as the latter requires very different types of funding in order to achieve systemic change? 

      A number of the principles list below should become a common and sustained practice in philanthropy, and if they do, it will facilitate the recovery phase and "Building Back Better". Some examples include: 

  • Privileging voices and communities closest to the issues when we seek input and determine strategies;
  • Diversifying away from funding primarily large INGOs based in the global North, and choosing grantees led by people from the most impacted communities, especially from groups traditionally marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender, or disability; 
  • Being strong partners for these (and all) grantees by increasing resources for organizational strengthening, leadership development, and multi-year general operating support; 
  • Looking at how to help grantees blend funding streams - how can philanthropic capital complement government fundings; fees for services; private sector and individual contributions; 
  • Funding policy advocacy and narrative change work to broaden our vision and lift our sights about what kind world is possible. 

Lauren Bradford (Senior Director Global Partnerships, Candid). 

What is the role of data in the philanthropic response to COVID-19? 

      Collecting data, drawing insights from it, and turning it into knowledge is crucial to the COVID-19 response as it allows us to understand the needs, opportunities and challenges that the sector and community is experiencing in real time, and therefore shows us the potential ways to better support philanthropy and civil society to find funds, alter strategies, undertake flexible grantmaking and make quick but smart and strategic decisions. 


Benjamin Bellegy (Executive Director, Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support - WINGS).

What are the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the philanthropic sector? 

      Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, new leadership and new philanthropy actors/types are taking a more important role in the response and the importance of interdependence and a strong infrastructure has become obvious. This means that we will see the acceleration of the development of a global philanthropy market, while at the same time a stronger focus on community agency and local assets mobilization. The field will embrace more proactively the deep transformation it needs to undertake and turn the punctual flexibility, trust, responsiveness, volumes, we have seen during this crisis, become the new norm. 

      Pressure to spend down and give more will increase and it will be even more difficult for donors to decide what to give to. It will become apparent that philanthropy's highest impact is in articulation to other sectors that can take their work to scale or influence the rules of the game. The complexity, scale and emergency of the issues we are facing will push philanthropic actors to become more political and to engage in some form of advocacy, either directly or through their partners, and to adopt a clearer vision of the society they want to build and of how they can best contribute to it. 


Arif Neky (Coordinator, SDG Partnership Platform Kenya). 

How has the SDG Partnership Platform in Kenya responded to both the short-term and long-term socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

      The SDG Partnership Platform in Kenya has been instrumental in co-founding the National Business Compact against COVID-19 which has already set up 4000 handwashing stations in over 43 counties approximately 7.4 million people per month. Additionally, TV ads with key influencer have so far reacher 1.8 million households with BCC messaging while billboards across Kenya reached 10 million. Moreover, the SDGPP has partnered with the Kenya Private Sector Network to launch the Finance, Trade and Investment Initiative (FINTRINET). In collaboration with the private sector, government and development partners, FINTRINET will focus on accelerating economic stabilization, recovery and future growth with a special focus on saving livelihoods for youth, women and marginalized populations in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 contexts. FINTRINET is a Marshall Plan to mainstream and upscale ten economic sectors between 2020-2030, with future ten-year project cycles to be determined. Phase I will last three years and focus on COVID-19 Economic Recovery to regain GDP growth at 6 percent while Phase II will last seven years and focus on accelerated growth and transformation to target GDP growth eventually at 10 percent. The focus sectors include agriculture, wholesale and retail, construction, ICT, real estate, tourism, manufacturing, financial services, health, and transport and logistics. FINTRINET will advocate for an enabling environment, create a 10-year sector growth strategy with specific outcomes, create demand for capital and investment, scale up production of goods and services to match increasing trade and markets and organize the sectors to be fit for purpose with the ability to convene and lead an entire sector growth and transformation agenda. Additionally, the SDGPP has helped to support the UN Flash Appeal for $267 million which aims to support 10 million of the most-needy Kenyans on emergency COVID-19 supports, develop the Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET) six months Rapid Response Initiative for COVID-19 and a three years build-back-better strategy, and procure PPE and ventilators for counties. The Platform is also investigating local vaccine manufacturing and driving the design of Kenya's first social impact bond for health under the UN Joint Fund. Moreover, the SDGPP is leading the establishment of a National Advisory Board for Impact Investment and continues to explore innovative financing methods such as conducting a study on Islamic Financing and partnering with the African Venture Philanthropy Alliance as well as FINTRINET to develop deal share platforms for Kenya. The Platform is also carefully supporting key enabling environment issues of policy that can unlock greater private capital investments and financing in Kenya.

Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh