Steering Vulnerable Communities Through Crisis
COVID-19 has presented unparalleled challenges to the global community. How can NGOs continue to serve their communities when the entire world needs help?
- By February 08, 2021
- Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced NGOs around the globe to find creative ways to serve communities most in need, who face heightened social and economic challenges due to a worldwide emergency.
Three NGO leaders from around the world gathered virtually to address this topic as part of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation’s Social Impact Leadership Series: Bowie Lam '20 (AXP-19), founder and executive director of Teen’s Key - Young Women Development Network; Georgette Tan, president of United Women Singapore; and Dorri McWhorter, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and nonprofit engagement executive in residence at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In a conversation moderated by Rustandy Center Executive Director Caroline Grossman, ’03, speakers shared how their organizations, which work with women and children in vulnerable communities in Chicago, Hong Kong, and Singapore, have changed course in response to the pandemic and offered valuable insights for other NGOs.
Good morning, good evening. Thank you so much for joining us. We're just going to give people a few more minutes to hop into the webinar, and we'll get started momentarily. All right, well, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Good morning, good evening, depending on where you're tuning in from, and welcome to today's Social Impact Leadership Series event, hosted by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation and The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm Caroline Grossman, Executive Director of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, and I'll be moderating today's event.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Rustandy Center, we are the social impact hub at Chicago Booth for people committed to tackling complex social and environmental problems. We're an important part of the university's social impact ecosystem, and we promote innovation, advance research, and develop the people and practices that can accelerate social change.
For those of you who aren't familiar with The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation, it provides resources and programs to help Hong Kong's NGOs, nonprofit leaders, and social entrepreneurs do their very best work. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation, or HKJCPSI, offers a range of opportunities, including scholarships, social entrepreneurship workshops, and trainings for NGO boards of directors and board members. Our workshops and events this year will cover topics like impact investing, capacity building for NGOs, nonprofit board service, and more. In today's event, at the end of today's event, excuse me, we'll offer an overview of upcoming events and how you can get involved. Our Social Impact Leadership Series explores trends and research related to social impact.
We're delighted to kick off this year's series by digging into a vital and relevant topic, supporting vulnerable communities affected by COVID-19. For nearly a year, we've witnessed how the pandemic has disproportionately affected the world's most vulnerable communities, particularly women and children. In a longitudinal survey launched this past spring, researchers from the University of Chicago Poverty Lab and the Rustandy Center found that lower income Americans, especially women within this group, were more likely to suffer a loss of income due to the crisis.
In response, many NGOs and organizations broadly have revised their approaches this past year to ensure that holistic and quick support is delivered to those who need it most. Today, you'll hear from an impressive panel of nonprofit leaders from across the globe whose organizations have done just that. Our speakers will offer frameworks that other organizations might adopt in addressing similar challenges and explore how to update programs and develop new initiatives, reallocate resources or explore new sources of funding to meet communities' needs, or pivot long-term to address lasting changes from the past year.
We're also excited to hear from you about questions you may have. After our panelists discuss a series of questions, we'll leave some time to take your questions. So if you have questions, please submit it via the Q&A function via Zoom, and I'll try to get to as many questions as time allows.
With that, I'm going to introduce today's speakers. Bowie Lam is currently the founder and executive director of Teen's Key. Since its founding, Teen's Key has provided support, education, and services to over 10,000 young women and girls in Hong Kong. Bowie holds a masters of nonprofit management from the University of Hong Kong and is a graduate of Chicago's Booth executive MBA program.
Dorri McWhorter is currently our Nonprofit Engagement Executive in Residence here at the Rustandy Center and is the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, where since 2013, she has worked to transform a 140-year-old social service agency into a 21st-century social enterprise. Previously, Dorri was at the accounting firm Crowe Horwath and held senior positions with Snap-on Incorporated and Booz Allen Hamilton. Dorri has also won numerous innovation awards including being a 2019 inductee into the Chicago Innovation Hall of Fame.
Georgette Tan is currently president of United Women Singapore, UWS, which advocates for gender equality and women's empowerment and builds the pipeline of future female leaders. Georgette is on the board of the Singapore Council of Women's Organizations and is the chair of BoardAgender, which focuses on increasing the number of women on boards and senior management positions. Previously, Georgette was Senior Vice President of Communications at MasterCard. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Bowie, Dorri, and Georgette. So, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us. Can each of you briefly introduce yourself and describe your organization? Let's start with Dorri, and then pass it to Bowie, and then Georgette.
Thank you, and good morning, and good evening to some as well. I'm just thrilled to be with you today. So, as Caroline described, I am the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, and what we do, I'll first start with our mission, it's very broad, is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. I actually call it our "Superman mission," 'cause I feel like it covers everything. However, we've decided that we need to focus on three, what we call our "empowerment priorities." So we focused on safety and wellness, and an example of a program under that is that we operate the rape crisis centers across the metropolitan Chicago area.
The second area of priority for us is, excuse me, education and training, and in that, we provide significant support to the early childhood services sector, as an example of the work we do there. And then lastly, our economic empowerment services, which, some of the programs there include workforce development, where we're helping people access jobs, as well as working to support small businesses. So, we do a lot of services, so very comprehensive and very deep, and I know we'll talk more about that, particularly how those services have evolved during COVID. So glad to be with all of you.
Hi, everyone. This is Bowie from Hong Kong, and good morning from here. It's very early morning here. I'm the founder and the executive director of Teen's Key Young Woman Development Network. We provide support services to the most vulnerable young women and girls in Hong Kong, including those in sex industry and facing different kinds of difficulties in their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Teen's Key is established because we see there are thousands of young women and girls in Hong Kong exploited in the commercial sex industry, living on the margin of the society and facing extreme challenges when they are trying to go back to school or find another job. So since 2011, we serve over 10,000 young women with health support, free and anonymous HIV tests, counseling, and life skills trainings. So, thank you for inviting me here, and it's an honor to be here to share with you about the situation in Hong Kong.
Hi, and I'm Georgette from Singapore, and I'm with United Women Singapore. So thank you so much for including me in this panel discussion. It's a great honor.
So, a little bit about us. We are a Singapore-based nonprofit organization, and Caroline, as you mentioned, we focus on gender equality. We certainly focus on women's empowerment and building that pipeline of future women leaders. We work towards narrowing gender equality gap through education, advocacy, raising awareness on issues such as anti-violence, certainly women's empowerment, as mentioned, and we work very closely with both private sector and the public sector.
So Dorri, you mentioned just now, and I love the fact that you're talking about a 21st-century organization. That's exactly what we looked at ourselves to be, and we focus on, I call it "the four P's." The first one is our purpose, and we're very clear on that. Our beneficiaries are women and young girls, building that pipeline, and helping them, supporting them, empowering them. The second P is our people. It's internal. Our people are really important to us, our staff, our volunteers, our members, and our stakeholders. The third P is our programming. We look to deepen, broaden our programming with a very strong focus on STEM education for girls, and of course our anti-violence programs, which are particularly relevant today, given the COVID situation that we've all been faced with over the last 18 months, or 12 to 18 months.
And I think that our fourth P at the end, and it's really by no means the least important; in fact, it probably is most important; is partnerships, our partners, because we are nothing without our partners. And here again, it goes back to our public sector, the government partners and agencies, our private sector supporters, our volunteers, our various stakeholders, our board, and that's the reason why we are here today. Needless to say, women's empowerment is my passion, which is why, when I left private sector, this is my goal: working, supporting, volunteering with a nonprofit.
So all of you work in organizations that serve women and children who've been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. What is the biggest issue or challenge that you observe within your service scope during the COVID crisis, and how does COVID and all of the ancillary effects affect your service group in general?
So, may I start first?
Please. Thanks, Bowie.
So in Hong Kong, the pandemic actually started up very early 2020. So the crisis hit the grassroots community very much. Like, in the beginning, most people are still in panic and stress out for the very basic things, like a face masks and other hygiene supplies, same as the community we are serving. For a while, the face masks become like luxury and unaffordable, that a lot of people can't access because people trading it at a higher price.
However, most of our girls and also their family who are working in low income jobs is actually, they can't work in a home office. They work in restaurant, they're working service industries, that they really need to go out. So, the face mask is like a basic need for them to protect themselves, which some of them need to spend around 10% for their income to purchase the face mask. That's really bad. People can't protect themselves for the very basic health.
And from time to time, for the last few months we definitely see how the economic situation impact them for the low income families. Most of our young women and their family members lost their job. Some young women graduated last year, but they're still unemployed and haven't found their first job now. So, we are afraid that they are more young women, and we see it now, actually get into the sex industry because they have financial difficulties, which is very dangerous for these young women.
It's very risky for their health under the pandemic in the short run, and there's also a lot of other physical and psychological long-term effects for their life. So our frontline workers have identified some young women facing difficulties and also like unwanted pregnancy and even sexual violence when they are not prepared and get into the sex industry.
And in general, we also see the unwanted pregnancy rate going up because of the lockdown. A lot of young women can't get access to the contraception resources, and also, the help from the school, from the social workers, our inquiry for the unwanted pregnancy in the same period comparing before COVID have been increased 300%. We're afraid it's a trend coming up. So yeah, this is the general situation for the young people we are seeing in Hong Kong.
Yeah, Georgette, does that resonate with what you're seeing in Singapore?
It does, and it doesn't, in many respects. I think, Singapore was very similar to Hong Kong, 'cause we were hit relatively early, and obviously, there were some measures that were taken right away, just social distancing, the masks. And I think certainly, the whole aspect of closure of workplaces, schools early on had an impact, for those who weren't prepared or who had difficulties as, as Bowie had mentioned. I think what we did see here was certainly, on the positive front, let me start with that really, there was a real outpouring.
People recognized that we needed to help others, and there were lots of disadvantaged communities, many of whom were the younger, the teenagers, youth, and women, vulnerable women, who needed help. And there was huge outpouring. So in terms of donations, in terms of contributions, huge, and there were so many different efforts at kind of the public level to set up groups, informal or formally structured, to go out and help these, and that included also the migrant workers and the foreign domestic workers, many of whom are women too. So there was a huge outpouring. So I think that's just one of the aspects that we saw happen here in Singapore.
I think, like many parts of the world, and this is no different here in Singapore, and perhaps even in Hong Kong, from what I understand, the fact is that when we all went down into a "circuit breaker," where we all went down into lockdown, a partial lockdown, between that, coupled with the stress of either being furloughed, losing your job, losing your income stream, being cooped up in a closed environment with kids needing to be homeschooled, being the main caregiver of a family, that fell on the shoulders very often of the women in the family. And unfortunately, we did see instances of domestic violence. We did see instances of family violence rise. That's not to say it didn't happen before or it wasn't happening before; it did. I think the situation just exacerbated the awareness of it happening.
So, it's really interesting that prior to the pandemic really hitting, so this was end of 2019, we, United Women Singapore, ran a survey, actually. We did some research with Ipsos on perceptions towards domestic violence. And already, we started to see that this was an issue. I'm just gonna give you a couple of top-line numbers. 25% actually did not consider hitting a spouse as domestic abuse. Can you imagine? One out of four. 45% didn't consider withholding their spouse's access to healthcare as domestic abuse. 84%, actually, so close to a quarter, again, one in four, didn't consider hitting a spouse as domestic abuse if it doesn't leave a physical wound. So those are really numbers that shocked us. And I have to say, those existed pre-COVID, and now, this perceptions. So that really spurred us to say we needed to do more.
On the positive front, the government here in Singapore recognized the need to work at this, and there has been a task force set up between the Ministry of Social and Family Development as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs to tackle this very issue, both at the victims' perspective, as well as the perpetrator's perspective.
So what are you doing at UWS?
Well, we're not specifically a direct service. We're not a direct service ourselves. So we've become a bit of a grant maker. We've been starting to help. We've been raising funds to help the shelters, especially. There are shelters that reach out to the women who've seen women come in with their children because they've had to escape the abusive environments. We're being grant makers now to help them.
We've also been helping private sector. So our corporate partners who want to help and don't know what to do have been coming to us saying, "Well, we've got hand sanitizers, we've got body wash, we've got masks. What can we do? Can you help us get them to these communities, these women who need it?" That's been our role. We've been a facilitator/enabler, and working as the go-between between private sector and these communities. So we've been busy. We've been very, very busy.
Dealing with the immediate situation. But, I want to point out that, because of the gravity of the immediate situation we've all been faced with, and I'm sure this goes for all the nonprofits around the world, the focus has been taken away for those of us also working the longer term, the planning, the building that pipeline, whether it's education, whether it's other empowerment, whether it's employability. That's being taken away from us. So we've really had to really think through what do we need to do to maintain that so that that doesn't fall off a cliff.
Yeah, that balance, I think, of addressing a short-term need and crisis.
While maintaining your long-term strategy is critical. I'm wondering if we can move around the globe a bit and hear from you, Dorri, about what the population that the YWCA serves has been facing this past year and how you're addressing it.
Sure, I so appreciate my fellow panelists, because I think that, particularly because so many of us are focused on issues with women that we also see some of same things that were mentioned, but in addition, our work, as I mentioned, is eliminate racism and empower women. So we actually do a quite a bit of work in communities of colors which means we also see men.
And so, what happened during COVID is that, as many folks know, as many people know, that racism in America really impacts the culture in so many different ways. And what we saw, that COVID also really highlighted the impacts of systemic racism. So for example, specifically even in Chicago, we saw that while 50% of COVID cases of Black Americans and Latino Americans had COVID cases, but they were 75% of the deaths. And the economic fallout as well was really hard-hit in the Latino and Black communities across Chicago. And so, what we saw is a number of ways that we had to lean in differently from our work.
So I described earlier a broad, comprehensive set of work that we did, but one area that we saw that really increased was food insecurity. And that wasn't an area that we actually, you know, we have great food banks in Chicago. And so, we didn't necessarily play in that space, but what we saw was a need for fresh food, so food, healthy, nutritious meals to be provided real time, and we actually partnered with the University of Chicago almost immediately during COVID, so back early, late spring, when a lot of the folks, a lot of the country started shutting down to be able to provide meals to the communities. And then after the summer months, we actually started partnering with local food businesses so that we would be able to buy the food directly from them, which allowed us to not only feed the community, but support the small businesses in the communities.
And since that time, so this was probably early July, well, really, late summer. So late July, late August, we were able to put over a half a million dollars, US dollars, back into the community by purchasing foods because of the funding sources we had. So that's been something that continues to evolve.
But also, we saw there was so many immediate needs that the community members had that they did not have cash resources to do. So we actually partnered, so Georgette, you mentioned MasterCard in your background. We actually partnered with MasterCard and one of their program managers to develop what we called an "immediate response card," because what happened as well is you saw, if you didn't have access to digital payments you couldn't go to the stores, because not only did we have a pandemic, but we also had race riots and civil unrest in Chicago and other areas around the United States. So it closed down neighborhood stores. And so, people had to have access to online payments to get things delivered to them. And so we partnered with MasterCard. We got an immediate response card that actually allowed us to partner with our donors to get resources directly in people's hands, but we would fund the accounts from our accounts. So it was just a different process than just buying gift cards, 'cause we can immediately load these cards working with our program partner and get these into the hands of our clients. And so, for COVID, it has been about, even still that we're a year into this, we are still providing immediate cash assistance, because people are unemployed, as well as not receiving government subsidies in the same ways.
And so, there's just a lot of need that we continue to try to meet, in addition to Georgette, you mentioned, have a longer-term strategy around, how do we get people even employed? Because again, we saw that 50% of Black adults were unemployed at a time during this COVID period. So there's so much ( laughs) that we've been focused on relative to continuing to get economic supports as well as provide for immediate needs like food and other financial resources.
Bowie, you mentioned some of the needs that the young ladies that you are working with. We had so many women that, while others were stockpiling diapers, they didn't have access to diapers. And so, our team was literally going around the metropolitan Chicago area delivering diapers to families.
So we see the basic needs, but we're also trying to build that longer-term strategy to help families and individuals access jobs that are the ones that are available during this time, particularly in transportation, distribution, and logistics. So we started a new program doing that. So, we've really been trying to be pretty comprehensive, because we just see the needs are really great now.
The extent to which you are developing programs that support people in need, who aren't getting the support, or enough support, from the government also strikes me as a parallel to the community that Bowie is serving through Teen's Key in that vulnerable workers, including sex workers, who are adversely affected by the pandemic are often excluded from government relief and protection programs, as well as health services.
So Bowie, I'm wondering if you could talk about how Teen's Key has been helping young sex workers in Hong Kong access services and information and what you've seen in the past year.
Thanks, Caroline. That's true. I have to echo to Georgette and Dorri too. I think missing out of the needs of sex workers, of other marginalized communities, is not only in COVID. These are very long-term issues. So we are very support the COVID-19 pandemic control and put the public health priority at the first. However, we see there are resources actually in society.
Hong Kong is a very privileged society, that there's a lot of generous donor and philanthropy and also government have a lot of resources, but we see the sex worker can't apply it, because some of them, sex work isn't recognized as a job. So there's an assumption that the government
support for the employment, that people can apply for subsidy if you are unemployed. They are not classified that they fulfill the requirements to apply there.
Also, there might be some cash subsidy that they can apply, but from our frontline experience, a lot of women or young woman, actually, they don't know how to fill in the forms, or they don't understand the process. We need people to communicate and explain the situation with them. So, it seems very basic, but actually, when we decide the policy, we need to consider that some people don't understand maybe the language. Maybe they don't know how to read. Maybe they can't access the information. So our frontline workers actually spent so much time for the last year help this community to apply to existing resources and to communicate with the funder and financial community.
From our experience, many of them are very focused in the short-term help, which we appreciate, and that many people come to us and say, "Oh, we really want to donate face masks. We want to donate hygiene supply." And as a bridge, we try to communicate with them, t is very important, but also, some of them even don't have fresh food, like what Dorri said. Some of them can't pay for the rent for the last month already. Can you help with that?" So we try to be like a middle guy to let the community understand what they need and how they can access it.
And I really agree with both of Georgette and Dorri that COVID is a very important, but in fact, the reality is that many social problems, including domestic violence, including the sexual health of the young people, the sex worker safety, exists for very long time. So we also need to tackle the long-term problems too.
So, there are a couple of questions that have come in that I want to bring into the conversation. Akshay asks, "In your opinion, what role should men play in supporting awareness about improving household conditions and reducing domestic abuse?" Bowie, this I think addresses sex workers. Georgette, certainly the situation in Singapore, and Dorri as well. With so many services for women, how do you think about supporting men or men's roles in these kinds of situations?
Let me kick it off. Clearly men play an incredibly important role. You know, I think there have been obviously lots of men who've stepped up, and we need more men to step up, be male allies, be supportive, clearly not be the perpetrators and the abusers, sharing the workload, helping out in the household, helping with the childcare aspects and ensuring that it's not just borne by the womenfolk in the families. 'Cause we've all read the incidences, the reports, and we've seen the data about the unpaid work, unpaid care is taken on by the women. So, clearly it's the men that need to be of assistance and be male allies.
And to this point, this is one of the programs that we actually are launching this year. It has to start as they're younger. And I think Bowie, you'll probably attest to this too, and I'm sure Dorri, you too. The boys need to be taught of the value that women play in their families, whether it's the families, the community, the society at large, the value that they bring as contributors, as caregivers. And if they're taught the value of women, they are less likely to beat them up at home and less likely to follow the example of what their fathers or grandfathers have been doing in the household. So, for us, educating young boys, younger boys, is about breaking the cycle. They may be able to intervene now, but they can certainly, as they grow up and they have their own families and get married or be with partners, they can certainly break that cycle of family and domestic violence. So education needs to start younger. They need to be taught about consent. They need to be taught about healthy relationships and the whole aspect of rethinking what masculinity looks like.
So that's an important role, and we see ourselves as part of that, being the advocate and pulling the programs together, working with the right partners, whether it's, again, government, corporate, public sector, to get this message across and get the programs to the boys.
Yeah. How do you about young men, men in your work, Bowie or Dorri?
For me, it's like, I think many people misunderstand like, feminism, and also gender equality. Actually, it's not only about women. In some situation in our culture, women maybe suffer more, but actually, achieving gender equality is a win-win situation for both men and women and other sexes. It's about taking out the bias, and also the wrong thing that we present different sexes. I think what Georgette tells, that is actually what we are doing too. We actually work with young woman, but for the teenage sexual health education program, we work with young boys and young girls, because we think the key point is to teach the next generation to respect each other, to understand what is consent, no matter which sex you are.
For example, we also have a young mothers club, a support group for young mothers. We see there's so many cases that the partner of the young mothers, they're also very young, young men. They have so much stress that, "Oh, I'm a man, so I need to support the whole family." But we or sometimes themselves forgot that they are also a young boy. They need support, too. So we shouldn't let this bias or the things that we think men should do or women should do to restrict our thoughts. So what should we do? I think we should educate the next generations on what really means for gender equality, and for the young boys and young girls, learn more, especially about feminism and gender equality.
Yeah, and I would just add to what my colleagues have said, just really double down on the messaging around absolutely helping men understand the value of women, but also, really about embracing healthy manhood as well. So really understanding what that means and what that could mean and really expanding their perspective so that they could see how violence perpetuated against women is really almost to some degree, a by-product of not addressing the issues around masculinity and manhood. So that's something that we care a lot about.
We also work with men on counseling services as well and helping many of them heal from their traumas that have also been violence-related as well. So we're really leaning into this area to make sure that we're supporting men, because what we've seen is that those who have also experienced violence as youth grow up to violent men. And so, that's something that we really focus on very early, as we've talked about today, in trying to address violence that has occurred with men, particularly with youth.
Getting at the root cause. So changing gears a bit, there's a question coming in about the vaccine. As governments begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine, what unique challenges face your communities? I think we have people on this call from all over, and vaccine distribution and delivery is different in different places. So if you could share if your organization has a role in it, or if it's purely a government effort or government and private sector effort.
So one of the things that I'll jump in on there, because we're very focused on that. As I mentioned earlier, the high death rates for Black Americans and Latino Americans from COVID is something that we are so focused on preventing in Chicago by ensuring as much access as possible. So first we started, we recently did an op-ed in December to talk about how we need to do a strong level of community outreach to help people and provide education to people and really come from trusted advocates like ourselves that are already in the community to help people sort of discern fact from fiction when it comes to the vaccine.
Pew research noted that the rates of Americans that said, this was back in December, that they wouldn't take the vaccine was 33%, but then African-Americans, that number was like, 58%. But we know that we need to reach those folks that are understanding or really have a lot of misinformation around the vaccine. And so, some of the things that we're doing, we're hosting information sessions with medical professionals, actually, medical professionals of color, so that they can hear from people that look like them about the vaccine. And so, we're actually gearing up to host one soon with someone that came from the National Institute of Health to be able to get this information, because again, it's really about, for us, an information campaign from trusted voices like we have in the community.
I think from a Singapore perspective, this is very much something that's driven by the government and the governmental agencies, and I think they've been extremely good about the communicative process, getting the word out. It's been steady. It's been very measured. I think there's generally an understanding of the need and importance of having the vaccine, but there's also been a timeline that's been spelled out very clearly as to who is in the priority line and why, and the justification for that. We haven't heard of instances where people are trying to jump the queue or anything like that.
I think very much, it's the healthcare workers, those obviously dealing with ICU, frontline and essential workers, and we were very pleased to note that very often, many of these, the vaccine will also be given right upfront to the migrant workers, because many of them are in essential services. And it's not just a Singaporeans or Singapore permanent residents who will get it, but anybody who's here in Singapore on a long-term pass will be getting, and again, many of these who are on long-term passes or employment passes are in essential services, whether it's in the healthcare, transport, the cleaning, janitorial services, all of whom we need to be healthy.
So I think we just have to learn to be patient and you know, wait for our turn and wait for the process to come around to us. And I think the communication process is important. We're seeing the right people get the vaccines along the way. That's really it. And in the meantime, we all have the role obviously to keep ourselves healthy, to maintain social distancing, to wear a mask, to not breech the eight people in a group guideline that's been given, not guideline, the prerequisite that we are supposed to follow. So we have to do our part. Everybody has to do their part.
I certainly think we could have, and many are having, other discussions on how different countries, different governmental systems, address COVID-19, the crisis, the illness, and now, the vaccine distribution, but I do wanna give Bowie a moment just to ask whether in Hong Kong, is it similar, that the sex workers you work with who are some of the most vulnerable will also be eligible, and will their turn be on the sooner side?
Oh, you mean the vaccine?
I think in Hong Kong, it's still very early age. Even from the government, we still don't have too much information. But I think that, like what Dorri said, I think the information and transparency is actually very important. There's a lot of like discussion among the public already, especially for the grassroots families. A lot of people worry about is it safe for the vaccine. There's a lot of conspiracy. So I think we need to convince to the public that is a very valid, a safe vaccine, and also why we should take it, to protect people around you and also yourself.
The government needs to do more work to convince the public, and also, to the same point, you need to be ensured that your information is not just posts online. You need to let the public understand the information before taking any policy. So yes, looking forward to it, but for now in Hong Kong, that's not much information or procedure details coming out yet.
So, I have a couple of funding questions now, because we've heard from all of you about several innovative programs that you've piloted this year and the need to just pivot so quickly and step up and serve. We all know that that takes ample resources that organizations may not have access to. So, we have one incredible story to share tonight, and then we'll move on to just a very general question about how we can, as community members, support organizations and support need.
But the YWCA of Chicago recently announced a nine million US dollar gift from MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist who quietly gave four billion dollars in 384 gifts, grants to organizations across the United States. So big congratulations to your team. This was not a grant process that people applied for, but MacKenzie Scott really announced,
did the due diligence on her own and announced these gifts. So, can you speak to how you plan to lead your organization to utilize this funding, to leverage innovative strategies in order to maximize impact?
Absolutely, and thank you for that. We're still so excited but recognizing that, as we all have talked about today, there's just so much work to be done. And so, our goal is to do two things, not only look to address some of the immediate needs that we have, but also invest in ways to allow us to have more long-term sustainable impact.
And one of the things, for example, we have to invest in technology. That's one of the big things that we saw that we became quickly aware of during the COVID times, to really be able to, as we still exist in the COVID times, to be able to connect with people how they wanna be connected to our services. And so, we're talking about adding, and as you all know, the importance of having the ability to text and have service and do texting and chatting services for those folks that are in crisis situations, right? So that's something that we didn't have before. If you couldn't call, we could just appear at hospitals, which is something we can't do anymore to some degree. So it's those type of investments that we're looking to make.
And I think that the fact of the matter is that we are, as we know, that government resources will continue to be a challenge, or at least vulnerable, because of what we see happening on the revenue side from just across the board, right? If people aren't working, they don't get income tax revenue. So it all, as we know the economy works, we're not going to see those dollars.
But what we do see is an uptick in philanthropy for us. So not only the outstanding gift from Ms. Scott, but also we in Chicago, for example, specifically during the earlier times of COVID, the city as a whole, so the corporations, individuals in the city created a large pool, and I don't even know, I think it was over $50 million that got created as a COVID relief fund to see those dollars go into community. We participated in, one of the cable networks in the US, a telethon, that they had a program and had folks call in. And they raised tens of millions of dollars that night. So the philanthropy, it won't necessarily fill all the needs that government may not be able to do, but it definitely will help us continue to address some of those needs.
So we really are relying on philanthropy, particularly corporate philanthropy. We are seeing corporations, for a number of reasons, and we had, as you all know, the situations, the social unrest situations that also required corporations to step in and do more relative to marginalized communities. And so, I think it's all of those things that are helping us look towards getting more resources at this very precarious time.
So the other question around funding, it's really for all of you. And so to Georgette and Bowie, if you could jump in on how folks who are, this is so beautifully put: "What can organizations and we,” this is the person who asked the question, "we as social sector advocates do to help ensure sufficient social support and financial support," I'll add that, "for your organizations and others like you?"
Sure, let me start here. You know, here in Singapore, we were actually fortunate that the government was a strong advocate, very strong supporter. So, there have been a number of programs that have actually matched, dollar matched, for donations that have been raised by organizations. So, that happened all through last year, all the way to the end of last year, of 2020, and then there's another program that also does some matching for the first quarter of this year. So that's really helped, I think, many organizations, United Women Singapore being one of them, certainly bridge the difficult, challenging period that we've all faced, but certainly allowed us to keep operating, keep our staff and paying their salaries and everything else and continue the work that we all needed to do.
I started out by saying much earlier, when we started the session, we've seen an outpouring of people coming to us saying, "What can we do?" And like Dorri said, we've seen corporates who initially last year said, "No corporate funding. Marketing funds, CSR funds, that's been put on hold." We saw that ease, eased off at the end of the year. That was released. So we saw actually some funds come through. We had corporates obviously check us out, and to Dorri's point about due diligence, come to us and say, "We like what we see you doing. "We understand the importance of STEM education for girls, "building that pipeline. "We want to be a part of it." So they've come forward. So we've had lots of corporates step forward, not just on the dollar side, but really, in terms of what can they be doing on the volunteering side. And I can't stress the importance of the need for good volunteers to be there, ready to contribute, skills-based volunteering, content, just being sounding boards for us, just being ready at any point. So those have been really important for us.
The other area, which I think, again, has been very encouraging for us, even during these darkest days, where the small businesses, women-owned business, who were coming up to us saying, "I'm a small home baker. "What can I do to help?" "I run a small handicraft business. What can I do to help?" These women, sole entrepreneurs, wanted to help. They just didn't know how and what to be doing, so they came to us. So we started working with them to support their businesses, but at the same time, they contributed their time, their expertise, and helped us raise funds for those vulnerable women, the women that needed the help at the shelters and such. So, we built a little extra ecosystem in addition to our existing framework.
So I think there were these pockets of additional funding, but certainly, to all of you who are out there who are saying, "We want to contribute, "we want to help," just step forward. Reach out to the organizations that you want to support, and clearly many of you are here because you want to empower women and support vulnerable women. Reach out to us. We have a lot of work ahead of us, as Dorri mentioned. We need all the help we can get, dollars as well as skills.
Yeah, same here. So, I still remember at the beginning of COVID, suddenly, many of my friends or I see the people asking around corporate, asking around, "I have money, I face masks. "What can I help?" It's really important for society. I think all of us should understand our local community, understand like, not only COVID. What is the issues now? Where is the organizations helping this community? What are they doing? We should understand these issues and organizations as soon as possible, so when the crisis comes, we know what to do. There's so many incredible local organizations and community, even local support groups at the ground.
And I really appreciate that I remember Georgette telling, and also Dorri said they have partnerships with the local community. I think it's really important, because we need to build our community resilience. If we have a resilient community, we can overcome any crisis. So I think we should also, like general public, or people who want to help, we also need to focus to help with the local community to tackle the long-term problems such as domestic violence existing for very long time, sex workers' problems. There's a lot of social issues that, they just become like, more serious. We see the disparity between wealth, and then also, education too will become larger in the future. So we need to have, I think it's really good time to understand, to learn more about the local community and also invest in the long-term issues.
I wanna sneak in one more question for my conclusion, before the conclusion, which is from Habitat Hong Kong, which says, "Great discussion, thank you. And are you seeing a shift in conversations with funders around admin costs or an increasing acceptance that they're essential costs related to operating a non-profit?" And if we could, just do a lightning round. Let's start with Dorri.
Yes, one of the things that I think COVID really, actually, this will be, I think, a silver lining for COVID, that we had funders that have come to us and said, "Yeah, the funds that we restricted, yeah, drop the restriction on that. Use it the best way you see fit, including admin costs." Even as we were looking to distribute cash into hands of our clients, they made sure that we put an admin fee on that. So I think people get it now. And so, I'm hoping that that mentality, and they have learned, and that attitude stays. So I said that really fast, so I wanna hear from our other colleagues. (Dorri laughs)
Absolutely agree with you, Dorri. I think we're seeing that too. We're obviously building that better into our modeling and our proposals, manpower, operating costs. We're not seeing pushback. We're really not seeing pushback from our funders and our donors. So I think there's generally a better acceptance, and like yourselves, we're hoping that it continues.
Yes, same here. And it's great for the flexible funding, because it's helped our organization react faster. And also the staff, the cost of the salary actually is the most important asset for NGOs. You donate masks, you expect someone to deliver the masks and the services and the counseling. So yes, we definitely see these flexible coming ideas are more popular among philanthropists.
So let's look ahead. We've talked a lot about the past year. Let's think a bit about the future. We do all see the light at the end of the tunnel, and there is a vaccine. There's a lot to be hopeful about. How will your work pivot, and what do you think will be the lasting effects, both on the challenges, but then also, on the future, in very positive ways. What will we all have learned? Let's start with you, Georgette.
Well, certainly the programs that we've developed you know, going digital, reaching out, going to a bigger distribution of them, certainly, that's a continued focus, and the fact that education and our work in advocacy, the building of awareness, and bringing partners from different sectors together to understand and work together, I think that's where our focus will continue to be. Government has been amazing and a great partner, but they can't do it alone, and they shouldn't do it alone. I think this is where private sector and individuals stepping up, contributing, just wanting to be part of the solution and building that pipeline and building a better future for young women and young girls, I think that this is the opportunity now, today, and we hope that more people will step up.
Yeah, we also see the challenges will be, like I said before, the disparity between the poor and the wealth will be getting larger. Some people are losing the opportunity to get education, equal education, and the vulnerable groups, they become more vulnerable. That's why we are worried. However, the good thing is that we saw the communities are becoming more resilient as well. And we, as a people, as a society, people are getting closer and building a trust relationship, even when we are in lockdown. We hope this energy will help to solve the challenging social issues of the future.
And I'll just add that we saw not only the income disparities that continue to widen, but the health disparities. And so, now that we see these things, I think that we have more commitment to address them, because we do know how they impact not only the communities, but the entire society, really. So I think that's one area. The other area that I think people now see the importance of childcare and flexibility provided to working mothers. And so, I think that that's going to be something that will absolutely stay, but I think that we can continue to make more cases to drive affordable, high-quality childcare for kids as well. So that's another area that I think that the pandemic highlighted for us that we now have to address more deliberately.
Well, thank you all so much.
I do have to say that Dorri, you're absolutely right. The workplace environment, the employer, the role of the employer, is so critical in this one, and I think this is a great opportunity for those really great employers, great organizations, to step up and shine.
Well, that's a perfect moment, not only for me to thank you, but also to thank my team who helped put this together and to welcome Francis Hon, who heads up The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation at the Yuen campus in Hong Kong to conclude the evening.
Thank you, Caroline. Thanks, Bowie, Dorri, and Georgette for such a meaningful conversation. I think you've provided some really tangible insights that I hope everyone hearing tuning in today can apply to their own work.
So before we close out today's event, I want to take a few moments to preview upcoming events and programs from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation. You can learn more about and register for each of these events on the Rustandy Center's event page.
First is the Impact Investment Workshop from January 20th to February 2nd. So in this workshop, we are co-hosting a four-part Impact Investment Workshop series in partnership with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, CUHK. Through these workshops, you will gain vital impact investment knowledge and skills from leveraging different impact measurement approaches to learning how to assess impact potential. Applicants from NGOs may apply for scholarships to the program. Second, there will be another Social Impact Leadership Series titled Scaling Emergency Responses During COVID-19 on February 24th.
We will be hosting the next session in our series, which will focus on how organizations can scale emergency responses during COVID-19. And also, please stay tuned for upcoming events from JCPSI this spring, including other Social Impact Leadership Series session, the On Board Conference on nonprofit board service, and training workshops on capacity building for NGOs.
And if you want to stay up to date on all events and programs from JCPSI and the Rustandy Center, I encourage you to do three things. First, please sign up for the Rustandy Center monthly newsletter, which offers regular updates on the latest social sector innovation news from Chicago Booth, including special events, social impact research, and more. Secondly, regularly visit the event page on the Rustandy Center's website for a full listing of upcoming events and programs. Our evening events Chicago time may be just the right way to start your day. And thirdly, please follow the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation on LinkedIn so you can see all the free articles there.
So again, thank you for joining us, and we hope to see you again soon. Thank you.
New Challenge Highlights Old Wounds
While their organizations serve groups around the world, speakers agreed the pandemic was exacerbating existing social challenges around gender, race, and economic inequity.
“COVID has highlighted the impacts of systemic racism” and unequal access to health care, in particular, said McWhorter. In Chicago alone, while 50 percent of COVID cases were African Americans, they accounted for around three quarters of deaths, she said, quoting government data.
Lam, whose organization serves sex workers and vulnerable and at-risk young women in Hong Kong, said that while the Hong Kong government offered resources to unemployed and furloughed residents, groups like sex workers were unable to access them.
Women and mothers have also been shouldering much of the new economic stress in addition to their work and family duties, said Tan. This stress has also led to an uptick in domestic violence, including in Singapore, as families and couples spend more time at home.
Filling Critical Funding Gaps
When Chicago went into lockdown and federal funding for unemployment assistance ran out—increasing food and income insecurity—McWhorter’s YWCA focused on getting fresh food and cash into the hands of residents, with the help of donors, and also supported communities by buying local.
In Hong Kong and Singapore, which were both hit by the first SARS virus in the early 2000s, governments were swift to provide assistance, although private sector donors still needed NGOs to help them reach communities in need.
Teen’s Key helped to educate its service group in how to access government resources while in Singapore, UWS helped to distribute donated hygiene supplies and raised funds for organizations like shelters for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
Fresh Perspectives on Philanthropy
As COVID-19 has led to an outpouring of philanthropic efforts, NGOs have played a critical role in educating donors and guiding funds.
Sometimes that means helping to distribute masks and sanitation supplies, as was the case for United Women Singapore. Sometimes it means flagging COVID-adjacent issues to donors, like limited access to fresh food or economic pressures.
“Many people come to us because they want to donate face masks and hygiene supplies,” said Lam. “Like a bridge, I try to communicate with them that while that it is very important, some of them don’t have fresh food, some of them can’t pay the rent and they’re late on the next month already.”
In other cases, NGOs play a critical role in educating a community that may lack contact or trust in the government. Lam said Teen’s Key frontline workers help Hong Kongers apply for government assistance, while in Chicago, the YWCA has worked with Mastercard for the first time to help communities get access to digital payment services so they are able to order daily goods and groceries online.
A New Chapter for Funding
One silver lining from the crisis, speakers agreed, was a slight relaxation of funding parameters.
While many donors have strict guidelines on how funding is used, (particularly to pay administrative costs and other overheads), many of these guidelines were relaxed in order to help organizations get through the difficult pandemic.
“We are building better accountability into our modelling and proposals - specifically to address manpower and operating costs. The response that we’ve been receiving has been encouraging. I think there is generally a better acceptance by donors of this need today,” said Tan.
Tan said it has also been important to remind donors that communities and NGOs in need now will still be in need long after the pandemic is over.