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The impacts of COVID-19 continue to resonate around Aotearoa and the world. Individually and collectively we are trying to understand the impacts of the pandemic on our communities now and anticipate the impacts we may see emerge in the months and years ahead.

It is clear that the philanthropic sector and others investing in social impact initiatives are going to need to revise their practices swiftly to respond to substantially altered social and economic conditions. Pre-COVID-19 policy and operational responses are not going to be fit for purpose in a post-COVID-19 environment.

This crisis creates an opportunity for all of us in the philanthropic and community sector to be brave, and find new and more effective ways to achieve the cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes that are important to us. We need to create new ways of working, strategies and funding frameworks that ensure that our new approaches benefit our communities as a whole, and don’t perpetuate the continuation of inequalities.

The economic impacts of the crisis will increase the social inequities that concerned New Zealand funders when our economy was doing reasonably well. The coronavirus crisis has thrown these inequities into sharp relief. It is evident that the impacts of COVID-19 have not been equally distributed. Māori and Pacific whānau, and whānau who are living in deprived areas, who were already most vulnerable have been made even more vulnerable as a result of the pandemic. Unemployment has increased and will continue to increase significantly. Demand for food bank support has escalated and is likely to remain high as more people lose their jobs.

Many philanthropic organisations have strategies that reference reducing inequalities but this kaupapa now needs to be fully embraced and lived at all levels of the organisation. Critical consideration in the post-COVID-19 world is needed to identify what impacts and outcomes are now really important? For whom? What strategic responses are the best way to achieve these? What equity responses are required? What is the best way to achieve community engagement?

What we have learnt over the last two months is that rapid change is possible if we have the will to make it happen. The effort made as Aotearoa went into lockdown to house the homeless and those in unsafe housing, for example, saw the basic resource of shelter supplied at speed to people in need. Some of those housed had been waiting for months or years to have a secure roof over their heads. As a society, we simply could not afford to have people living in conditions in which the virus could flourish.

While the lockdown housing response may be a short-term solution to a Level 4 risk, it does demonstrate that resources can be found and change is possible when we decide we want to make it happen, when we see those experiencing the ill-effects of inequity as being a part of our community rather than an isolated group on the periphery.

For the philanthropic sector, what we have seen over the last eight weeks raises some challenging questions.

How do we learn from and sustain the commitment to quickly address social needs? How can we apply this same approach to having fast impact to addressing other seemingly ‘impossible to change’ social issues, like poverty?

How do we walk alongside vulnerable communities to achieve systemic change in this new world in ways that honour tino rangatiratanga, and support communities’ visions for their own success? Now more than ever we need to work at a systems level, and increase our focus on effective responses to increasing equity and participation.

In the months ahead, as we try to answer these questions as a society, the philanthropic sector has a role to play as a dynamic change agent. This is a time to put into practice genuine power-sharing and community empowered decision making. It is a time to explore and establish new partnerships, particularly with Māori to support the aspirations of whānau, hapu and iwi. It is a time to build effective and authentic participatory philanthropy, ensuring that decisions about priorities and support for communities are undertaken by those with community mandates.

As we do this, we can look for inspiration to the Māori and Pacific leadership that we have seen during this time of significant disruption. This has shown us that by jointly working together, we can protect and support the betterment of everyone.

Alongside this, we need to reconsider how we identify and nurture whānau and community strengths. Across our communities we have whānau who have deep and often intergenerational experience of surviving and thriving in significantly challenging circumstances. How do we learn from their strengths, and include their wisdom as we redesign and reshape our new world? Listening to whānau and community to understand their aspirations and expectations of success will ensure that philanthropic investments have the greatest impact.

What we experience as a society now, and the choices we make, will affect the lives of the generations that follow us. By being courageous and working differently with communities and other partners, the philanthropic sector is well positioned to play a valuable role in bringing forward and supporting solutions that will make a difference.