Global COVID-19 Response: Grantee Flexibility, Centering Women & Girls, and Filling the Gaps

Amelia Abdelrazik

April 17 2020

After deploying emergency funding for the Bay Area COVID-19 response, Preston-Werner Ventures turned our attention to the global fight. In carving the way forward, we sought to answer a few questions:

  1. What is needed in the global response to COVID-19? What are other funders doing and where are the gaps?
  2. What kind of flexibility can we provide our grantees to make their lives easier during this time? How are similar funders (family foundations; funders in the reproductive health space; funders in the global health space) supporting their grantees?
  3. How can we center our global COVID-19 response around the needs of vulnerable populations, especially women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by disasters and emergencies?

After chatting with some grantees, other funders, and attending a host of webinars, we are taking the following steps at Preston-Werner Ventures.

Global response of PPE

Nine of our grantees, all part of the Community Health Impact Coalition, work alongside national governments in Mali (Muso), Togo (Integrate Health), Liberia (Last Mile Health), Malawi (VillageReach), Madagascar (Pivot), Kenya (Lwala Community Alliance), Nepal (Possible Health), Uganda (Living Goods), and Rwanda (Partners in Health) to improve community health. Many began as local organizations and have scaled in at least one country, affording them the opportunity to understand health from both community and national systems’ perspectives.

Through partnerships with MedShare and Flexport.org, we will be providing these 9 grantees a 40,000-piece package of personal protective equipment to be used in their own health centers and shared with Ministries of Health and other partners.

Supporting our international grantees

For the majority of grantee partners in our Family Planning portfolio, we will be rolling the 2019 grants over through 2020, disbursing funds over the next few months, and shifting funding from program-specific to general.

In deciding how best to assist our Family Planning grantee partners, we thought about grantees’ shifting programmatic and financial capabilities and our own strategic plans for 2020.

The social distancing and other work challenges posed by COVID-19 have the potential to impact the organizational capacities of our grantees and the health and livelihoods of their community members. Most community engagement activities are now either done via SMS and WhatsApp or stopped altogether, and most health service providers are in full disaster response mode. Many organizations have less access to capital, as financial markets have taken a hit and there is less time and ability to fundraise.

At Preston-Werner Ventures, we believe in flexibility and trust. We know that our partners understand their own circumstances, communities, and national challenges better than we ever possibly could. To understand their work, we ask our partners to report their annual results based on indicators they are already measuring, rather than tracking and dictating our preferred outcomes. Every funder has a different style, and we will be the first to admit that we are still learning how to be an effective, grantee-centric grantmaker. Nonetheless, our simple processes afford us an opportunity to be even more adaptable in this crisis. That is not always easy for foundations with structured procedures.

Preston-Werner Ventures is in an exciting phase of growth. We added 14 new organizations to the Family Planning portfolio last year, with the intention of conducting site visits and learning about their work as part of our own strategic planning process. Before the pandemic, we were planning to scope our family planning grants geographically and choose a handful of focus countries. This may have rendered some current partners ineligible for funding moving forward.

Rather than trying to make funding decisions before we were able to visit Family Planning grantees and properly learn about their work on the ground, we decided to postpone the funding cycle by one year. Most of our 2019 partners in the Family Planning portfolio will remain partners through August 2021, the date of our next request for proposals. We have communicated with them individually about funding moving forward. We felt that this was the most responsible thing to do—giving both our grantees and ourselves more time before evaluating if the relationship should continue.

Centering women & girls

Research shows that demand for sexual and reproductive health services increases during humanitarian emergencies. As families are encouraged to stay at home, risks of unintended pregnancy and violence rise. During the 2014 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Sierra Leone, some provinces saw increases in adolescent pregnancies up to 65%. With recent state-level actions to curtail aborton services in Texas, Ohio, Alabama and more, and federal restrictions on accessing medications at home, it continues to be challenging for women in the United States to care for their own bodies safely. We are exploring some partnerships to ease women’s access to commodities and services through supply chains and advocacy. If you have any recommendations to that end, we are happy to talk—email info@prestonwernerventures.com.

Stay home, and stay safe!