Now, more than ever, people around the world are concerned about the impact that the current health pandemic will have on their daily routines and lives. Service providers, including schools, gyms, transportation companies, conferences, restaurants, and public service providers are closing or reducing accessibility and employees are being sent home. Beyond getting sick, people are flocking to stores to buy dry goods and toilet paper, medicines, and other items they may need should they be mandated to stay at home for extended periods of time.
What is increasingly clear is that no one is ready for this degree of global uncertainty — and global economies, financial markets, and communities are being hit hard in these still early days.
The measures that the Canadian government unveiled over the last few days seek to address that uncertainty, by applying a familiar playbook. What isn’t being discussed right now is the pressing need for a responsive social impact strategy beyond loans (which only worsen this divide) and tax breaks (that are nowhere near instant) to address the distinct socio-economic dividebeing exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And very few are talking about how these topics will be addressed.
There are no shortage of questions.
How are people and communities supposed to interact when cash is tight and isolation is encouraged?
How are governments to manage and predict the needs of their citizens?
As the tax base further shrinks and companies become insolvent, how will public services be resourced?
How are charities and front-line community organizations supposed to serve the vulnerable and soon-to-be-vulnerable populations needing their assistance when times get tougher?
Despite the critical questions, there remains a shortage of answers.
These questions represent only some of the social impacts that will be felt and to avoid serious social equality regression, they require a strategy that puts those affected most first. Our cash resources are finite and our government’s bandwidth is stretched thin. To address these impacts, we need to get creative with how we allocate all of our other resources — our time, our skills, and material goods — an ecosystem of actors aligned on an agenda of social innovation.
Since the last global crisis, there has been a doubling of billionaires, economic stagnation of the middle class, an ongoing migration crisis, global technological advancements, and the introduction of technology solutionsto create digitized economies of scale that do not rely on cash. We have also seen the emergence of social impact and social innovation efforts that persist at the grassroots level, awaiting the awakening of leaders who realize how much they are needed in times like these.
During times like these, big corporations and global billionaires have cash fluidity to weather such uncertain economic times considerably easier than people who are less equipped to handle rapid disruption — provided they maintain their health. However, as we’ve just begun to realize, those without such resources, those who keep our economies and communities afloat, like small and medium businesses and their employees, the shrinking middle class, those without savings or stockpiled resources — people living paycheck to paycheck — do not have the means or social safety nets for the same resiliency.
Soon, charities and community service organizations will be called upon to address the various pressing needs coming from many places. With the current disruptions to status quo life, many goods and services aren’t going to be available or used as frequently as they normally would be. This means large amounts of potential waste that could be redirected and put to good use.
Grocery stores have already seen a shift in what people buy, which makes it difficult to avoid over-stocking and waste. Similarly, professionals in self-isolation have valuable abilities that will be under-utilized in the days to come, which could be shared with community members in need. The elderly and vulnerable in our communities have the most pressing need for support right now and this will only become more acute as time goes on.
What if we could leverage a community of professionals to help them?
At the core, we have little idea of what exactly is needed right now or what will be needed tomorrow because we don’t have a coordinated communications system to give us the landscape of constantly changing community needs in real-time. We have local and national news, social media and the Internet, but getting a clear view of what every community needs, based on what each charity and nonprofit serving that community is reporting has not been scaled for times like these — but it is built.
Let me tell you about a Canadian-made social impact platform to help people now.
Kind Village, an online technology platform made by skilled volunteers, was designed to address the persistent misalignment between needs and available resources before this crisis was ever known. The goal has been to inspire efficient and effective giving during economically challenging times, unexpected natural disasters, and climate change. At the heart of this social innovation is a belief that if community organizations, businesses, and citizens are interconnected to help each other out in times of need and in times of prosperity, they will be able to leverage the platform tool and build a collective resilience to manage any crisis together.
The platform does this by matching specific needs with a pool of donors that have readily-available resources of time, talents, and basic goods to fulfill the needs. This can mean the difference between someone worrying about where to get the next meal or medication and being empowered to enhance their own resiliency. Inspired by peers sharing music and exchanging value through technology, the Kind Village platform enables peers to help one another with a bottom-up societal response framework that creates efficiencies of scale and puts human lives front and centre.
Giving isn’t restricted to the wealthy. Giving isn’t even restricted to money. In-kind acts are often some of the most simple and pure of gestures, yet can have some of the greatest impacts, with the right knowledge. By giving what you have in your hands today, anyone can play a role in creating some of the greatest impacts in our communities and globally, with a little help. If we work together in a thoughtful way, we can both address the needs now and prepare to respond to upcoming challenges today.
Mental health and well-being cannot be neglected in times of isolation.
With our current focus on physical health, we must not let maintenance of mental health fall to the wayside. Giving is not only good for our community; giving is directly linked to mental well-being and a strong sense of purpose. In fact, giving can actually predict happiness. Studies have also shown that when donors see the specific impact their giving has, they are more likely to behave generously in future, meaning happiness and giving run in a positive feedback loop.
The Kind Village platform facilitates the democratization of philanthropy by helping every citizen to engage with their community and track the good they are doing. An in-kind gesture can be as simple as shopkeepers or other organizations and professionals delivering groceries to the nursing home in your community or delivering diapers and toiletries to a shelter or hospital.
Right now, people are in need of comfort and are going to technology for answers. Instead, they are greeted with a rapidly evolving situation and fear, rather than a focus on what can be done. With markets in a crash and uncertainty spreading, it is important to focus on what each and every one of us can do and have to contribute.
Now more, than ever, peer response is key.
Let’s take this opportunity to build social innovation the right way, by re-orienting the systems to serve people first and bridging the socio-economic divide in creative and inclusive ways. Rather than seeing society at its worst, (i.e. hoarding and supermarket rage) let’s see what we can do to create society at its best.
This article was published on Medium March 19, 2020.