During the onset of COVID-19, our community knew that the pandemic would expose and exacerbate inequities around the world. Echoing Green mobilized quickly, recognizing many organizations, including our own, needed to pivot to support those already on the front lines of the pandemic’s reverberating impact. With the rapid economic decline, we anticipated funding retrenching from the philanthropic space; however, we knew that unrestricted grants would be crucial to continue advancing equity work in the social sector. Thanks to the generous support of our funders, we piloted an emergency grant process in May to disburse 222,500 USD to 24 Echoing Green Fellow organizations responding to COVID-19; our second round of emergency grant funding opened to Fellows on July 22.
A Global Response
We opened our first round of emergency grant disbursements to all Fellows and encouraged those addressing COVID-19’s impacts to apply. Our criteria focused on Fellows serving communities particularly vulnerable to or highly impacted by the pandemic globally. We learned from Fellows that among their responses, most frequently their organizations were working on “distributing information” and “mitigating economic impact.” From sharing the stories of incarcerated people in detention facilities—to saving jobs and programming that support refugees, women, and youth—the majority of grantees’ priorities focused on disseminating knowledge and resources to create empathy and understanding, as well as stabilizing and sustaining existing or re-imagined programming.
The fund, which comprised both unrestricted grants and monies provided by the United States African Development Fund (USADF) for African Fellows working in Africa, was distributed across 24 Fellow organizations. The top three locations of grantees were the U.S. (33%), Uganda (25%), and Kenya (21%). Grantees from the U.S. are based in Baltimore, MD; Mesa, AZ; Oakland, CA; Sacramento, CA; Bridgeport, CT; and Washington, DC.
The Funds Disbursed
As a major part of our Fellowship program, Fellows receive unrestricted seed-funding to support their leadership and the growth of their social ventures. While this initial funding is crucial for emerging social enterprises getting started, unrestricted emergency funding, available at any time, is just as important to keep these organizations afloat. Knowing that those with immediate access to capital are most likely to survive crises, we focused our selection process on organizations that had the most urgent cash flow needs to remain in operation. Fellows shared their responses to the pandemic and the amount in funding they needed (2,000 USD; 5,000 USD; 10,000 USD). The majority of grantees (88%) requested and received USD 10,000 each. All of our unrestricted funds went to those with less than 1–3 months of operating runaway remaining. In addition to the unrestricted funds, USADF disbursed 130,000 USD to African Fellows working in Africa.
Empowering Populations on the Front Lines
During this pandemic, we have seen compounding inequities affecting proximate leaders and communities that are closest to the solutions. The top populations that grantees reported serving included those who are economically disadvantaged, racial minorities, and youth. These findings align with the intersectional inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and its impacts. To get out of this crisis, we must funnel our support to those who were addressing injustices and breaking down systemic barriers well before the pandemic.
Our Fellows, and other front-line leaders, will continue to support those facing inequities in employment, education, health care, the criminal justice system, and more through programming addressing the root causes of systemic injustices. We must ensure these leaders have the resources necessary to future-proof their work for the long term.
In addition to launching a second round of emergency grant disbursements, Echoing Green is determined to continue building an ecosystem, informed by our moral imagination, that supports leaders on the front lines for the coming weeks, months, and years. In order to fully address any global crises and prevent harm to vulnerable communities, leaders need long-term, unrestricted support to re-build and reimagine systems that address inequities and injustices rather than exacerbate them.
Thank you to Antionette Carroll, Eric Dawson, Rohit Malhotra, Hadiyah Mujhid, Ben Smilowitz, and The Pollination Project for providing their insights and guidance for this emergency grant process.