May 13, 2020

Racial Equity Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Opportunities for Philanthropic Response

This memo elaborates on how the pandemic disproportionately affects communities of color and suggests opportunities for philanthropists to address inequities as they respond. It builds on Bridgespan’s “Opportunities for Philanthropic Response to the COVID-19 Crisis” and on our research on racial equity in philanthropy

By: Sonali Madia Patel , Alexandra Hughes Smith, Gayle Martin

Introduction: Racial Equity Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Opportunities for Philanthropic Response

The COVID-19 crisis, like so many before, is revealing and compounding deeply entrenched inequities in our society—inequities rooted in long-standing structural racism. In the United States, communities of color are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s health and socioeconomic consequences. This document, which builds on Bridgespan’s memo on “Opportunities for Philanthropic Response to the COVID-19 Crisis” and on its research on racial equity in philanthropy, elaborates on how the crisis is disproportionately affecting communities of color and where there are opportunities for philanthropists to address inequities in their response.

Critical Memo Updates
The updates "Mitigating Socioeconomic Impacts in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs)" [PDF] and "Addressing the Global Human Rights and Governance Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic" [PDF] take in-depth looks at arising areas of philanthropic need and opportunity based on the progression of COVID-19 globally.

As funders move quickly in response to the crisis, they should seek to avoid and reverse racial bias in the funding process. Organizations led by people of color face differential barriers to funding and are at greater risk of closure due to this crisis. An equity-centered response can ensure that organizations serving highly impacted communities have the resources to survive this crisis and continue to provide essential services.

Moreover, prioritizing racial equity will help funders maximize the impact of their giving. A race-neutral approach would fail to account for the ways that existing disparities and structural racism affect outcomes. In a recent newsletter, the racial justice organization Race Forward underscored this point: “In this moment, explicitly naming race as a factor that informs how we assess ‘Who is most vulnerable? Who is burdened? Who benefits?’ will ensure that emergency response practices and policies proactively integrate racial equity into local government responses to COVID-19.” And deliberately prioritizing racial equity will further benefit the rest of society through the “curb-cut effect,” which has shown that laws and programs designed for vulnerable groups have positive impacts on others.

This document also highlights a subset of credible actors with a racial equity focus who might serve as partners and effective channels to deploy capital swiftly and responsibly. However, it is not a compendium of the universe of organizations and initiatives in these areas (particularly at local levels). We have begun to compile a list of other actors actively engaged in the areas outlined in this update, which we can share upon request and augment with your suggestions.

This is a snapshot of needs and opportunities that we have come across to date. In a rapidly changing environment, we anticipate new needs, opportunities, actors, and channels will emerge.

Download the full memo


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