This time last year, we had visions of what 2020 would look like. Plans and goals that we were going to accomplish – both as individuals and as philanthropists. Giving was reaching all-time highs. As detailed by the recent Giving USA report, it had increased a total of 33% between 2010 and 2019 and was on track to continue this upward trend.

None of us imagined that the world would look the way it does now – with closed borders, overtaxed hospitals, families separated from loved ones and populations that haven’t left their homes for months at a time. There are well over 10 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than half a million deaths, with marginalized communities facing the brunt of the impact. As countries are in the midst of cautiously reopening, many of us are anxious to go back to how things were. However, things will never be quite the same.

Whether a vaccine is discovered or the virus mutates to a less contagious form; whether summer slows its progress or we face another spike in cases, COVID-19 has had more than a short-term impact on the world. Its effects and our reaction will shape our path forward.

Philanthropy will be different, and the world will be different. The critical question that remains is this: In what way?

COVID-19 and the SDGs: Slowing progress in hunger, global poverty and more 
The coronavirus pandemic is primarily a major global health crisis, but its reach extends even further. We need to recognize the long-term threat it poses to our future and to the progress we’ve made in reaching the world’s most vulnerable.

Five years ago, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the 193 United Nations member states. These 17 goals focus on key areas of development that need to be improved to achieve a sustainable future for all by 2030. Now, the pandemic has put reaching these goals in jeopardy, a fact illustrated when we look at two cause areas that are closely linked: poverty and hunger.

No poverty (Global Goal No. 1). Around the world, businesses have closed their doors, and many people have lost their jobs. These closures have brought economies everywhere to a halt.

In May, the World Bank revealed that the pandemic could push 60 million more people into extreme poverty, characterized as living on less than $1.90 a day. The pandemic is “erasing much of the recent progress made in poverty alleviation,” according to World Bank President David Malpass.

Zero hunger (Global Goal No. 2). Closures have also affected borders and markets, leading to food shortages and price hikes. With job loss on the rise, many are experiencing a lack of income. As a result, people are struggling to feed their families.

Before the pandemic hit, 820 million people suffered from hunger – now, according to the U.N., that number is set to double as a result of COVID-19.

The effects of the pandemic are rippling out from its epicenter in global health to ignite other potential crises across the relief and development sector. With regional restrictions, economic downturns and a shift in funding away from other causes into global health, the coronavirus is impacting the world in many other ways. Now is the time to consider the broader impact of the pandemic – and what actors across sectors and donors will do to mitigate the effects.

COVID-19 and international relief and development: New strategies and flexibility
As we continue to see the full extent of the impacts from COVID-19, the work of our international nonprofits is more important than ever before.

Nonprofits are having to navigate a new landscape – one where funding may not be as readily available and strategies may need to be reevaluated. They are fighting to mitigate the effects of a pandemic that is also impacting their own lives – moving to remote offices and wrestling with personal impacts, such as prolonged separation from loved ones.

These are hard times, but the nonprofit sector, as always, remains resilient and strong – it has seen the need to find new and creative ways to serve people worldwide, and it is working to meet it.

Around the world, charities are pivoting strategies and developing more flexible responses in order to keep providing vital support to the world’s most vulnerable. Examples of this can be seen in our Charity Alliance partners, such as Health Volunteers Overseas, Rise Against Hunger, Helen Keller International, and Heifer International.

Heifer, in particular, has seen the ways the pandemic is affecting the small-scale farmers and the communities that they work to support. The charity has doubled-down on their typical programming – providing agricultural training, nutrition education and livestock to farmers. This approach is increasingly important now to help bolster local economies and create communities that are sustainable and independent.

However, Heifer has also used it’s current positioning to a new advantage by adding WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) education to its strategy in order to help curb the spread of the pandemic. These measures will see these communities through the pandemic and into a better future.

With increased restrictions and less funding to work with, the efforts of international charities are critical. More and more nonprofits are developing flexible programs that may lay the groundwork for future endeavors.

The future of philanthropy: Cross-sector response and empathy-driven giving
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique situation. Global Impact and our cross-sector partners have responded to emergencies before – but never one quite like this. Typically, emergencies focus on a specific region, but COVID-19 is affecting everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects cannot be resolved by one person or one sector. What we need to see is a change in philanthropy from all angles. Through co-creation, progress can be expedited by bringing together different parties with similar goals.

Charities. Flexibility during difficult times has always been crucial, but the necessity of this attribute is being taken to new levels – and charities are responding. They are pivoting strategies, expanding programs and working with corporations in new capacities to meet the unique type of aid needed.

Corporations. Workforces around the world are being heavily affected by the pandemic – it’s more imperative than ever before that companies invest in social impact to protect employees, communities and the world at large.

Individuals. All of the above are important, but none of these approaches will work without the individual donor – and that is where we hope to see the biggest change occur.

Donors are usually separated from emergencies by oceans and continents. Thousands of miles create a clear dividing line between themselves and a potential crisis. But this is no longer the case – COVID-19 has illustrated that we are not as isolated as we thought. Something occurring in a remote village in China can overcome barriers to affect communities on the other side of the world.

Crises have always given birth to empathy, driving individuals to come together and become a force for change. This is especially true when the emergency hits closer to home. For example, with Ebola, people around the world were concerned, but the disease did not spread globally, so we ultimately saw a limited reaction by donors.

With distance, it’s easier to remain separate from the reality of a situation, but COVID-19 is different. Donors are witnessing the effects of a pandemic firsthand. Because of this, they are more likely to empathize with marginalized communities that are being hit particularly hard by the pandemic. We hope that this empathy leads more people to identify as global citizens, call for change and increase generosity for those in need around the world.

We are in unprecedented times, facing a global health crisis that has now impacted every area of our lives in a way we could have never expected. The needs in developing communities have increased dramatically. Will we, now connected by this pandemic in an unparalleled way, be able to respond as global citizens in empathy with generosity? Will philanthropy be the catalyst of positive change in the midst of this new world in which we find ourselves?