This Crisis Must Lead to Change that Benefits Everyone
Our global society is more than six months into the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Some countries have contained the virus better than others. In the United States, case counts and deaths lead the world. Millions of people are out of work while government benefits threaten to lapse. Renters are on the verge of being evicted from their homes, and property owners may follow. We’re seeing long food lines, overwhelmed hospitals, anxious parents and students, and any number of related complications that occur when people cannot meet their basic needs.
By Brian Gallagher,
It’s a mess – and I feel for anyone wondering how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and secure.
If we’re able to get COVID-19 under control, count me among those individuals who don’t want society to go back to normal. After all, the virus and ongoing race and equity protests have highlighted our society’s inherent inequalities and shortcomings. We’ve been forced to question decades of underinvestment in schools, hospitals and public health, leaving people and systems unprepared for this fight.
“Our goal is to make sure every UPS driver in the U.S. has the knowledge needed to spot and report on signs of trafficking,” said George Willis, president of UPS U.S. Operations. “We know that reliable tips to law enforcement are critical to making arrests and rescuing victims,” Willis continued. UPS’s new Brakes on Trafficking Steering Committee, led by Willis and comprised of leaders from across the organization, will help strengthen the company’s strategic approach to ending human trafficking.
It’s clear that in the U.S. we aren’t going to see a “V-shaped recovery” that will rebound our economy to new heights. Surveys of businesses and the unemployed show that more and more people now realize, regardless of what government interventions occur, that many of their jobs are not coming back. Globally, the situation isn’t any brighter. Studies show COVID-19 and its economic repercussions exacerbating inequality and unemployment in places like South Africa and Brazil.
So how do we re-imagine our society and build back differently? And how can the non-profit sector help lead the way? We’ll need to look at how we work with companies, governments and technology.
First, there are immediate solutions. In May, United Way expanded our Ride United program to bring food to where people live, instead of making them wait in lines for hours on end. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, we partnered with Door Dash to launch a “last mile” delivery program that brings food and supplies to vulnerable populations. The program is supported by 211, a vital service that connects people to resources and assistance. To date, we’ve facilitated more than 400,000 meal deliveries.
The Community Chest of Korea is supporting a similar program in Indonesia, where COVID-19 disrupted the food supply chain. Now, low-income farmers can use an app to connect with local truck and motorbike drivers and have their products delivered to volunteer kitchens and families in-need.
As we move forward, these kinds of programs that bring sectors together to solve collective problems need to be scaled up. Yet while non-profit and civil society organizations around the world are working incredibly hard right now, resources are finite and most non-profits expect to raise less money this year than in 2019. To alleviate the situation in the U.S., United Way and other groups are picking up our advocacy to ensure Paycheck Protection Program loans are available to more non-profits and pushing for the charitable deduction to be increased and available to more tax filers, among other provisions.
This is a critical moment for charities, as nonprofits are likely to face a difficult giving environment for the foreseeable future as bank accounts are stretched by the pandemic and resulting economic recession.
For nonprofits to help society build back stronger, with new health, economic and social systems that allow everyone a fair shot at a successful life, we must embrace new ideas and ways of working. Just as digital technology is currently helping to connect people with critical resources, so must nonprofits use it to connect with new donors and show them the impact we are making in communities. It will also be critical, even as we focus on immediate need, to have a vision for the future and demonstrate that our sector is fighting for better lives for everyone.
When COVID-19 is finally under control, the hard work will just be beginning. As a result of the pandemic, global poverty is expected to increase for the first time since the 1990s. Millions of individuals and families will have ricocheted from one crisis to another, having tried to get by in a socially distant world. Small businesses that survive the crisis will operate differently, and those that don’t make it will be disproportionately minority owned. People’s trust in traditional institutions will be lower than ever.
There will be no better time to think differently. Governments have struggled to meet people’s needs. The Black Lives Matter protests are shining bright lights on society’s racial and ethnic inequalities. If we, as individuals, nonprofits and society, aren’t prepared to listen and honestly debate big ideas and big solutions, we’ll return right back to square one.
All of us must look in the mirror and learn from the tumult of 2020 in order to rebuild as a stronger, more inclusive and more sustainable world. The work starts now.
About Brian A. Gallagher
Brian A. Gallagher is President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way Worldwide, the world’s largest privately-funded nonprofit.
Gallagher launched his career at United Way in 1981, serving at five local United Ways before becoming the President and CEO of United Way of America in 2002 and of United Way Worldwide in 2009. Today, Gallagher leads a global network that supports the health, education and financial stability of individuals and families in more than 1,800 communities thanks to the support of nearly 3 million volunteers, more than 8 million donors, and $4.8 billion raised every year.
Gallagher joined United Way because of his belief that lasting community change at scale takes place when the public, private and non-profit sectors work together. Under Gallagher’s leadership, United Way has shifted to a community impact model that creates sustained change by bringing a wide range of stakeholders to the table. His success with such a model in cities like Columbus, Ohio taught him the value of examining root causes of problems, embracing innovative solutions and finding people’s inner passions to make a difference.
Gallagher is responsible for several advancements at United Way. Upon assuming the role of president and CEO of United Way of America, he quickly established new membership standards that required internal consistency and public transparency in financial reporting. Gallagher also elevated brand stewardship to the highest priority. In 2008, United Way launched the LIVE UNITED campaign to engage communities in a more inclusive strategic effort. He has also built United Way into a digital organization and that embraces the power of technology to connect people with causes they care about through initiatives like United Way Digital Services and platforms such as Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud.
Today, United Way is engaged in 40 countries and territories around the world, focusing on fighting for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. Gallagher shares his experiences and insights at several high-profile gatherings, including the World Economic Forum (WEF), focusing on the value of public/private partnerships and the importance of strong communities to heal divisions and create greater opportunity for all.
Gallagher leads WEF’s Global Civil Society Advisory Board, is a steering committee member of the WEF’s “Promoting Global Financial Inclusion” initiative and is a founding member of WEF’s NGO Advisory Committee and the Global Gender Parity Group. He served as a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is former Chair of the Independent Sector, and serves on the boards of America’s Promise Alliance and Leadership 18. He is also on the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Ball State University.
He is the father of two daughters, Katie and Maggie, and lives with his wife, Ramona, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.