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Who Will Keep the Lights On? Equity, Philanthropy & COVID-19

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
Who Will Keep the Lights On? Equity, Philanthropy & COVID-19

By SVP Partner Larry Fox

In the 24/7 din and confusion of COVID-19, a light was recently shined on the virus’ grossly disparate impact on communities of color. The statistics were stunning but not shocking. And the reasons behind the data are so well known that they barely got mentioned amid the body counts, recriminations, and, most importantly, amid the daily heroics of so many people bearing the brunt on the frontline.

But for a couple of brief news cycles, there it was. The data said If you were a person of color you were significantly more at risk of exposure and death because of conditions that have left whole communities less able to avoid, be treated for, adapt to, or survive the current disaster. It was a sad and persistent fact surfaced by tragedy. A virus—fast-moving, deadly, and invisible—highlighting a racialized scourge—entrenched, destructive, and hiding in plain sight.  

In the end, the one will be cured with a vaccine; the other, that’s a different story.

But the question here is: When COVID and post-COVID stories cease to dominate the news, who will keep the lights on the plague of racial injustice? Who will raise up in uncompromising support for those heroes who dedicate their lives to eradicating its causes and its institutional grip?

For me, if ever there was a need for philanthropy to heed this higher calling it is now, when our shared vulnerability reminds us of our common humanity; and when a mindless virus that we cannot control reminds us of the injustices that we can.  

This is a time for caring people to lift an inexhaustible torch of clear thinking and moral clarity to keep the lights on in the fight against this historical infection. More, this is a call for philanthropists to shed their qualms about sounding “uncharitable” and “too political.” In short, it is time to be more muscular and uncompromising in shifting power to (and respecting the wisdom of) those who bear the brunt of racial injustice. Our political and economic systems are too stuck to do this. This is philanthropy’s time.

I belong to Social Venture Partners International and I am proud to be among so many engaged philanthropists who recognize this calling and commit to the work required. We join a rising force of others who are doing likewise. For example, multiple SVP affiliates (including SVP Portland) joined over 650 other funders in signing the Council on Foundations’ Call to Action, demonstrating philanthropy’s commitment to communities during the COVID-19 crisis. 

COVID-19 has indeed radically altered the present moment. We, as leaders in philanthropy, now face an opportunity to name these disparities, and leverage our power and resources to mitigate them. We must collectively work toward a future in which the color of your skin, or zip code in which you are born, does not predict your life path.

For an excellent guide to how serious philanthropists can engage in meaningful ways today with a more just future in mind, see this article by Sudha Nandagopal, Executive Director of Social Venture Partners International. 

See here for a window into the ways SVP Portland is stepping up to the demands of these times.


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