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OPINION: Philanthropy and the Corona Reset

 The COVID-19 pandemic has been the moment for philanthropy. Will it be the start of a new philanthropic age? 

The global pandemic has reset so much of our society and the way we operate across the world. We have more time to think; spending time with family or often in even more isolation than we have ever experienced or will experience again. This time to reflect and slow down has also given a chance for many to reflect on the value of our time. 

From my own experience I have traded five round-the-world trips a year for daily two-hour walks in the countryside with my wife, two young children and dogs. This has been a moment to reflect on how important our natural environment is and how it squares with the race around the world and burning fossil fuel at such a fast pace 

Because the whole world is in the same boat, the guilt of not travelling or working extensively from home has gone and we are finding that this works well (although five Zoom calls a day, without the coffee breaks and chit-chat, can be exhausting). But the bonus is that it is without the massive negative environmental impact.   

It has been a profound moment to reflect on how we are as a human race: how interdependent we are on each other; that we are not immune to mass disease; and how vulnerable we are. It has also been a moment when the best of humankind has come out of all of us: looking out for neighbours (some of whom we have never met before), doing their shopping or collecting prescriptions.  

The love of humankind is the definition of philanthropy and the pandemic has also had a profound impact on how we give and see giving. What we have witnessed is a recalibration of our awareness of human interdependence and our own vulnerability 

Philanthropists have stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19 in many ways. For example, the solidarity fund set up by the United Nations Foundation quickly attracted several hundred million dollars of donations from across the world. Philanthropists provided additional funding to a range of organisations (not just health) with some reaching into their endowments to provide much needed emergency funds to a range of organisations and providing emergency relief 

Philanthropists have also led the global initiative to find a vaccine, with initiatives such as GAVI playing a critical role to bring governments, UN agencies, scientists and funders together in a way that governments have been unable to do in recent years. Millions of philanthropic dollars have flowed into universities, research initiatives and areas of public health to tackle the challenges of the pandemic. While in some ways the international community seems to be disabled and retrenching, this has become the moment for philanthropy.  

It has also been a challenging moment for many charities who are not in the health space or have been adversely affected by national lockdowns.  Unable to secure support through contact with donors, these organisations are having to adapt quickly and connect in new ways. It is even more important that these organisations get the philanthropic support they need across society. Although many will have less, it is critical that donors give even more in these difficult times. The need to foster more generosity across society has never been greater.

Will the change in dynamic that has been forced on us all lead to more philanthropy? Perhaps, as we all realise our own vulnerability.  What is clear is that government initiatives without partnerships will be weaker after this.  Will the private philanthropist step up and fill the void left?  Having found that private intervention through philanthropy can make a huge impact on the lives of millions, if not billions, of our fellow human beings. Will we apply the same tools to now tackle the massive environmental challenges the world faces, as we emerge out of this health crisis? Will philanthropy continue to step in where government either cannot or will not go?

The pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives. What is clear is that it has also been the moment for philanthropy.

Will it be the start of a new philanthropic age? The answer to that is in our hands; we all have the choice to make this happen if we so wish.

Some of these issues are the subject of the next Talking Philanthropy forum to be held in May 2021 in Singapore. The fourth forum brings together international philanthropists to discuss the philanthropic ecosystem, to envision the next role of philanthropy in health, education and the environment, and to examine how government can support the development of philanthropy, particularly in Asia. The event is in partnership with Billionaire and is open to all. You can register your interest at