People in Alexandra, Johannesburg, were urged and dismissed by the SANDF to go home to maintain social-distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, on March 27 2020. Picture: THULANI MBELE
People in Alexandra, Johannesburg, were urged and dismissed by the SANDF to go home to maintain social-distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, on March 27 2020. Picture: THULANI MBELE

Development foundations and philanthropic organisations should play an indispensable role in the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have proven track records of working with communities that can be leveraged during this period of immediate action but, as importantly, in the rebuilding of a post-coronavirus society.

Covid-19 is placing extraordinary strains on health systems and economic resources of countries across the world. Despite the major advances in the management of infectious diseases made in recent decades, this outbreak has laid bare our collective vulnerability to the impact of a rampant virus.

It is in this environment in which the co-operation between the public and private sectors, as well as broader civil society, has become essential. Developmental organisations should not attempt to duplicate what the public sector is doing in terms of prevention or treatment. Neither should they step on the toes of major corporations or global charities that are launching high-profiled campaigns.

The Eskom Development Foundation has been active for more than three decades in initiatives that benefit grassroots communities across a spectrum of activities, from healthcare, to education, to the environment, to support for emerging entrepreneurs.

It shares this space with many similar foundations established by state-owned entities, the private sector, and the international donor community. Despite budgets being under pressure, they are making invaluable contributions to the country and supporting the broader momentum towards social cohesion and a more equitable society.

The single most important requirement of organisations involved in philanthropy and social development is to demonstrate long-term commitments

This accumulated experience is what they offer to a country and a society engaged in a struggle to overcome the biggest crisis it has faced since the democratic transition of 1994.

In joining the national effort, such organisations should focus on their own strengths and unique capabilities. They should draw deeply from past experiences gathered over decades of involvement with communities. They should activate the networks they have established and reinvigorate the relationships that have, in the past, overcome other crises.

They should use their access to communities to promote awareness, distribute correct and verified information, and combat fake news and rumours. They should leverage their relationships with community leaders and activists to support their vital efforts and offer guidance, support and resources.

Their focus areas and priority programmes must continue, but they must also be agile enough to identify and address new situations that might arise in the coming weeks and months.

Through strong relationships, they are in a prime position to improve communication between healthcare providers and communities. They can emphasise the importance of essential preventive measures, such as hand washing, personal hygiene and social-distancing, which can limit the spread of the virus.

They can counsel families and provide vital societal support to families that have to deal with issues related to social isolation, stigmatisation, anxiety and grief. Mental health issues will grow in importance as the disease spreads into communities.

The long-term societal impact is likely to be as disruptive as the disease itself. And, as the World Economic Forum has noted, even prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the largest losses will be caused by cascading consumer reactions, labour scarcity, and future shortages in supply chains even after the world has recovered from the health impact.

The single most important requirement of organisations involved in philanthropy and social development is to demonstrate long-term commitments.

Covid-19 will be with us for months to come, most likely for many, many months. Without a doubt, the immediate focus must be on containment, medical interventions and the mobilisation of society to overcome the adversity.

But development organisations and foundations must already have a much longer-term perspective. They should already be planning for what they want to achieve once the threat has subsided and our country returns to some semblance of normality.

Long-term thinking will be required to restore the economic damage already caused by Covid-19. Small businesses will have to be rebuild from scratch, supply chains will have to be re-established, and entrepreneurs will need to find new and innovative opportunities to create jobs in a post-virus society.

Developmental organisations may lack money and financial resources, but they have built up a wealth of experience, a treasure trove of credibility and integrity, and an abundance of networks that stretch very deep into the communities they have partnered with over many decades.

• Ramonotsi is the CEO of the Eskom Development Foundation.