The sobering reality of just how much disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought in 2020 really hit home to me recently as the world reached the tragic milestone of 1 million deaths from the virus. Beyond the grief over these losses, those of us who survive are affected in other ways. Growing occurrences of disability, erosion of livelihoods, challenges to schooling, and mental health issues have accompanied this stark mortality rate; not to mention the ongoing social disruption. Sadly, these circumstances contribute to the “new normal” too many are forced to endure.
As a global health expert and clinician, I’ve been deeply moved by the profound impact the pandemic has had in my own community in Ghana. Beyond the physical effects my patients face, many are feeling overwhelmed by not only uncertainty and anxiety about the virus, but by financial pressures due to shutdowns of our local economy and the emotional toll of ongoing social isolation.
I am also the Worldwide Chair of the Board of Trustees for United Way, the largest privately funded nonprofit in the world. In this role, I have been encouraged by the tremendous work of our local United Ways to address the needs of families and communities during this time, and by the courage and resolve demonstrated by my fellow Trustees and the vast majority of our worldwide Network to ensure that we approach all of our work through the lens of equity. At a time when the pandemic is disproportionately hurting people of color, equity is an imperative that cannot be ignored.
This commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been decisively affirmed, adopted and codified in strengthened United Way membership requirements; and is already beginning to inform United Way’s work on the ground. For example, Community Chest of Korea – United Way’s partner in South Korea – is investing in educational, assimilation and other social supports for Korean citizens of diverse backgrounds. And United Way South Africa is working with the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment framework to help undo the ongoing effects from the systemic economic exclusion created during apartheid.
I take pride in the leadership this organization has demonstrated, and the actions we have taken together to affirm that racism and ethnic discrimination have no place in any of United Way’s impressive global work. This will be crucial to helping those who have been affected by the pandemic to not only survive but thrive.
The daily reality of the pandemic’s disruption can be disheartening, but I have been inspired by the work being done by those on the front lines to support, extend, and enhance, lives. This includes the amazing response of so many United Ways.
Across our global footprint, United Ways are stepping up to provide immediate relief and support long-term recovery for communities hit hard by the pandemic. This includes vulnerable populations – those of color, the aged or those just scraping by with limited means – whose struggles with the pandemic and its aftermath have been exacerbated. I am heartened by how United Ways around the world have mobilized resources from corporate partners, government entities, and individuals to provide vital support, including much-needed PPE for healthcare workers; timely and accurate information about COVID-19 and how to stay safe; and access to food and personal care items.
There are numerous examples that showcase United Way’s global relief effort:
- United Way of Broward County (Florida) is providing an array of support services for vulnerable populations, including housing for homeless families and at-risk veterans, delivering fresh food to neighborhood foodbanks and daily meals to children and the elderly; and resources for suicide prevention and mental health.
- United Way Centraide (Canada) and United Way Romania are providing much-needed help for senior citizens whose access to social services has been disrupted by providing food deliveries, transportation to medical appointments and mental health support to help them cope with isolation.
- United Way Nigeria has supported urban, peri-urban and underserved communities that have been identified as high risk for COVID-19 by providing food, personal hygiene supplies and, importantly, safety information on ways to avoid infection.
- United Way India has partnered with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to provide grants to develop, deploy and scale innovative solutions that can help combat the impact of COVID-19.
As I take a step back and reflect, I am hugely proud to acknowledge the thought leadership of this organization and the caring support from those on the ground helping communities through this crisis in a way that helps them recover with resilience.