GOAL on responding to a global pandemic in underdeveloped communities

GOAL on responding to a global pandemic in underdeveloped communities

In depth with GOAL

The pandemic has made this year enormously challenging for everyone, but especially for those in at-risk communities. With headquarters in Dublin, GOAL works around the world to help people respond to and recover from humanitarian crises, and to assist them in building long-term solutions to mitigate vulnerability. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, GOAL sprang into action to help, from Turkey to Latin America to Africa. We talked to their Trusts and Foundations manager, Courtenay Pollard, about how they have managed this past year.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected GOAL’s programs?

A: At GOAL, we’re used to dealing with crises but not a global pandemic which affects all of us and all the countries in which we work. From the onset, one of the principle characteristics of this virus was the way its impact became apparent at different times in different countries around the world, meaning we needed to have unique approaches to in each instance. For us, it was about trying to get ahead of the game in each country, which was obviously very challenging. Cases were climbing at a particularly alarming rate in Turkey, the Americas, like Colombia and Honduras, and many African countries in the South—places that were already extremely underdeveloped in terms of their primary healthcare systems and suffered from a chronic shortage of qualified staff, appropriate hygiene facilities, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Q: How has GOAL been responding?

A: GOAL was at the forefront of the response to the 2014 Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, and we’ve luckily been able to draw on that experience. It gave us a good idea of how this kind of infectious disease operates, the impact it can have, and the best way for us to react. The first thing we did around COVID-19 was focus on communication—both internally, by providing clear lines of communication among GOAL staff through our emergency response unit, and externally, by relaying vital information about safety measures to the communities we work with. We did this through radio broadcasting and digital means like WhatsAPP and SMS alerts. To date, we have reached over 17 million people with this vital messaging. In addition, we ensured the ample supply of PPE for all GOAL staff and, where possible, put communities at the center of the response through our community-led action approach. This enables communities to understand the risks of COVID-19 and develop action plans to protect themselves and their families, while also minimizing physical interaction from staff back at HQ.

Today, we continue to work with vulnerable communities facing huge hardships. We understand the biggest global impact from COVID-19 is likely to be economic. The impact on health systems is sadly having a particularly detrimental effect on women, who are being denied access to sexual and reproductive health care. Also, hundreds of thousands of children under the age of one are not receiving their usual vaccines due to lockdowns. Malaria season is about to begin in many countries, and there are concerns people will avoid seeking treatment out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

Q: What fundraising obstacles has your team faced as a result of the pandemic?

A: COVID-19 was totally unprecedented so back in March we didn’t have time to brainstorm the way we normally would.  Our donors mean a lot to us, and although it was, and still is, a sensitive time for everyone, ultimately we thought this would be a good opportunity to ask our loyal donors for their support. We also used it as a chance to inform them about what was happening in the communities overseas that they care about, tell their stories, since so much of what is often, reported in the news is limited to updates from Europe, Asia, the US, and so on.

Very early on, we launched a fundraising campaign by mail, email, and phone to give our donors valuable information about how their money was making an impact. We got more engagement than we expected, which was just amazing. I think the reason for this is that just like the people we work with in the field, our supporters were also in a state of anxiety and flux, and wanted to do something, anything, to help.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve also transformed our flagship events to take place online. Virtual events are becoming the new normal but meant our fundraising team needed to pivot and fast! For example, this holiday season, the GOAL Mile, which has been around for almost 40 years, will go fully virtual with our Run Apart, Stand Together campaign, encouraging people to run or walk their own GOAL Mile, wherever they can. While most will complete their GOAL Mile between the 24th and 26th of December as is the GOAL Mile tradition, participants can choose to get out whenever is right for them over the holiday season. It’s been really important for us to be flexible this year, even in the smallest ways.

Q: What has the Dropbox Foundation grant meant to your work?

A: GOAL has been a Dropbox Foundation partner for the last three years, and the grant really allows us to be agile, nimble, and quick responders, at a time when it is needed most. This is primarily because it is unrestricted, which enables us to use our expertise and allocate the funds as we see fit. For COVID-19, this has meant using grant money to increase the broadcasting of health messages in the communities where we work. The Dropbox Foundation also bolstered their original grant with an additional donation to cover any unexpected activities we may have encountered due to the pandemic, of which there have been plenty. This enabled us to buy essential PPE for our frontline staff and healthcare workers at the beginning of the pandemic—a vital life saving activity.

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