Creativity Throughout Crisis: 3 Ways for Social Organizations to Improve their Impact During COVID-19

May 22, 2020


For social organizations, the coronavirus pandemic is shaping up to be a time of reflection, assessment, and responsiveness as much as one of practical intervention. As new needs are exposed while old ones reach their breaking points, we’re led to reflect on the way crisis can often sharpen instinct and breed innovation, from rapid response interventions using unexpected creative tactics, to all-hands-on-deck coalitions that leverage global authority and expertise

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Widespread testing for coronavirus has proven to lower the death rate and slow the spread of infection. However, some governments are better at implementing this than others. Brazil has been one of the slowest countries to respond to this crisis – promising hundreds of thousands of tests, but delivery a fraction of that. Our team in Brazil have launched @janeladapressao to pressure the government to follow through with its promise for MAIS TESTES JÁ (more tests already!) before it's too late. Brazil needs to guarantee more tests, and they need to be accessible especially to the most vulnerable populations. The campaign launched yesterday with simultaneous projections on building gables in 5 different cities. If you are in Brazil, or if you simply want to know more, then you can find the Janela da Pressão website in our bio or follow them at @janeladapressao.

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Even as we struggle with the tragedy and inequity of this disaster, this is an opportunity for the social sector to reexamine its approaches and plan for increased efficacy in a world that’s likely changed forever. 

Here, we explore our observations about where leading social organizations are focused on pushing their efforts now: 


1.Uplifting the work’s community context.

With the social structures around each one of us revealed to be strong indicators of our chance of survival during crisis in addition to our quality of life everyday, the significance of community has never held so much weight. In this moment, organizations who can successfully tell their impact stories through the lens of how they help build healthy, safe, and thriving communities may find it easier to make a case for their value amidst competing funding and donor priorities. As the social impact sector has always known, the success of a community is connected to its ability to withstand and grow through adverse situations. Now is the time to embrace messaging that helps donors and funders effortlessly make the connection between your offering, social systems, and their support.

We’ve seen this approach start to manifest for organizations like KABOOM!, whose community-first impact framing sets up their work as a priority for any supporter looking to help communities rebuild in the months and years to follow this crisis.


2. Centering equity and access in outreach plans.

By now, the sector shares an understanding of how intentionally we need to correct for systemic inequities when issuing new campaigns and innovations. In working with partners today, we hear concerns that vulnerable communities in need of important COVID-19 information may not be receiving engagement opportunities as often or as easily as more privileged communities with multiple points of digital access and other personal resources. As we talk about the risk of further exacerbating inequities across infrastructure and social programming, it’s important to recognize the danger of this happening in our communications and plan to avoid it. Across every consideration, from your content’s creators and messengers, to stories and data points that speak to different communities’ coronavirus realities, to distribution plans that account for audiences’ varying points of access, to language translations for assets shared with multilingual communities, it’s important to be thorough and realistic when engaging audiences around crucial public health information.

Purpose’s Brazil team took a thoughtful approach in its messaging for COVID-19 campaigns, which includes diversified messaging through podcasts, out-of-home projections, and an information distribution campaign for those living on the outskirts of major cities, led by members of those communities. As you might imagine, these communities are among the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil. By having a diversified strategy led by authentic messengers, the #SalveCriadores and #JanelaDaPressão campaigns secured a wide distribution of accessible information that reached even the most vulnerable citizens.


3. Creating cross-sector collaborations.

In the wake of COVID-19, the connections between complex social issues like public health, homelessness, education, criminal justice, food supply, and the digital divide are much more obvious, even to those outside the sector. These systems feed each other. In our work, issue spaces like these often end up operating in separate silos and competing for resources, instead of working together to unlock resources that can waterfall through all the changes that we need to make societies stronger. Leaders in our network are noticing that, by envisioning a larger social impact initiative that encompasses multiple issue areas, we might galvanize more widespread support for progressive social issues on the whole. In practice, this may look like more cross-sector funds, coalitions, or initiatives that bring together diverse issue areas. In public storytelling, this could mean highlighting the systemic links between these issues to help supporters understand how it’s all connected, and why focusing on education and domestic violence during a public health crisis, for instance, is relevant and essential. The interconnectedness of COVID-adjacent issue spaces can be the impetus to help us normalize a new collaboration style that prioritizes cross-sector cooperation and solidarity.

With an eye to the future, we believe the sector can use insights from even a moment as trying as this to become ever better and stronger in making meaningful social impact around the world.

Catherine Addo Co-Head of Office, New York & U.S. Equity Chair