While the current COVID-19 health crisis has touched virtually every segment of the population, the most vulnerable populations -- seniors and people with health conditions -- are disproportionately affected. In the face of a humanitarian crisis such as the spread of COVID-19, grassroots organizations, such as faith-based organizations, youth groups, and social justice movements, are among the most important disaster responders at the frontline especially across vulnerable communities. Grassroots organizations are best positioned to deploy the right response to the right places during and after crises, because of their knowledge of local needs and resources, as well as being a trustworthy source among community members. Across the nation, aid agencies and philanthropic entities are also stepping up to scale, shift, and direct resources and supplies products and support to address these needs. However, there are clear gaps in making these initiatives more effective to help the most vulnerable populations:
- With limited experience and operational constraints to respond to humanitarian crises, grassroots organizations find it difficult to pivot to humanitarian response.
- With inadequate information about the community’s vulnerabilities and resources, disaster response work becomes hectic and ineffective.
- With different organizational structures and information management procedures, coordination across disaster management stakeholders has been challenging.
To bridge these gaps facing grassroots organizations and disaster management agencies in the wake of COVID-19, we draw from in-depth disaster resilience field research (interviews, focus groups, and participatory observations) in Puerto Rico as well as extensive literature review on disaster risk reduction, information systems, organizational study, behavior, psychology, sociology, and case studies from around the world. Through our active engagements over the past year, we have formed partnerships with community partners and disaster aid agencies ready to pivot, co-design, and pilot solutions most appropriate for their cultural and institutional contexts. We look to provide grassroots organizations a suite of tools and training to fill these gaps.
- We develop training materials and management systems in collaboration with grassroots organizations for effectively recruiting and supporting volunteers to meet disaster management demand and build long-term resilience. Community volunteers are the most powerful force to unite to respond to humanitarian crises and to build long-term disaster resilience. Drawing from best practices from the field and social science research, we empower grassroots organizations with training and technology -- from communication strategy to volunteer management -- to mobilize citizens to support each other and build sustaining relationships. For the most vulnerable populations such as isolated seniors and those with limited access and experience with technology, community volunteers bridge the digital gap and provide much-needed companionship. Together with volunteers, organizations will be able to expand their capacity in disaster management efforts to meet the growing demand during and after crises.
- We co-design easy-to-use mobile and web-based platforms with grassroots organizations to crowdsource, manage, and communicate community needs with a focus on vulnerable individuals. To help direct and coordinate disaster management efforts, information on vulnerabilities and resources of communities is crucial. However, in many parts of the world, information on vulnerable populations and places are often missing, unusable, or illegible. Based on field research with community health workers, we co-design easy-to-use mobile and web-based platform to allow volunteers and grassroots organizations to collect key information for disaster response and recovery efforts, including 1) health and medical needs; 2) supply needs (food, water, and other necessities); 3) mobility and transportation; 4) mental health; and 5) financial challenges. Due to the health concerns, these efforts will deploy safe approaches such as calling that respect the social distancing rules while minding the digital and technology gap with our target vulnerable populations.
- We bring grassroots organizations and aid agencies and philanthropic entities together to plan and implement disaster response and recovery efforts with trusted and data-driven insights. Grassroots organizations have limited capacity and information to identify the right entities to ask for help, while aid agencies and philanthropic entities face challenges in finding the right places to provide resources and supplies. Based on the community information collected by volunteers and grassroots organizations, we distribute and communicate tailored information and strategies for grassroots organizations and aid agencies to partner on distributing funding, donation, and supplies for disaster response and recovery.