It has now been 33 days since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and I want to reach out to the SPT community to share some thoughts.
First, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We are living in a scary and uncertain time, and it seems we have no choice but to take things day by day, moment by moment. It’s impossible not to feel anxiety about our loved ones, our communities, our country, and our world.
Second, this is a difficult time for our city, and the communities that we serve. Our non-profit sector is full of unsung heroes, with so many people risking their lives to continue serving vulnerable communities. There has been unbelievable collaboration and coordination between hundreds of agencies and funders who have stepped up with innovative rapid responses to all the new challenges that have been caused by this pandemic.
We want you to know that we at Social Planning Toronto will do our best to contribute to this amazing effort. SPT staff are all working from home, and we’re balancing the need to keep some of our pre-existing work with the sector moving forward with the need to redeploy some of our staff resources to contribute to the collective response efforts of our sector.
Although our work with the City's Neighbourhood Grants program has been paused (as grantees' events are cancelled or postponed), we are:
- collaborating with Findhelp Information Services | 211 Central Region by helping to gather information on programs and services still operating throughout the GTA
- supporting Spark Ontario with a dedicated part-time staff member to assist interested volunteers and agencies looking for support
- participating in the cluster network strategy led by the City and United Way
- sharing information and resources through our social media channels and email lists
- continuing to work, through the Toronto Nonprofit Network, on the issue of non-profits' access to space and on Toronto's second Not-for-Profit Recognition Day (tentatively planned for fall, when, even if we still cannot gather in person, we will celebrate all that our sector does to build a better city — and how we stepped up to the front lines to respond to the pandemic), and
- continuing to work on reports that were previously underway related to senior poverty and social exclusion in housing.
Of course, the next step will be to rebuild our city — and our sector — and SPT plans to take a decisive role in helping to redefine both the role and importance of the non-profit community sector in a post-COVID world.
The road ahead
Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking about the significance of COVID-19 at a global level. I have believed all my life that a new world is trying to be born. And I am wondering if COVID-19 is accelerating that process. It will cause tremendous suffering at an individual level to so many, but it has also forced us to evolve at a macro level, and rapidly. Every aspect of how we have organized ourselves as human societies needs to be reset as a result of what is happening now.
This virus is bringing to the surface the importance of strengthening our social safety net and social capital, valuing public services, addressing deep inequality of all types, prioritizing collectivism instead of individualism, and recognizing the true value of frontline and essential workers. We are all being reminded to slow down, take deep breaths, connect to each other, and care about the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, because it is in our own best interests to take care of each other. The irony is that this pandemic may be accomplishing what so many social movements and organizations like ours have been working toward for decades. Everything has been flipped on its head in just a few weeks, demonstrating that rapid transformation is possible when we (especially those with power) believe it is a matter of our own life and death.
Just as we’ve seen with the affordable housing crisis and the climate change crisis, human suffering isn’t evenly distributed in the COVID-19 crisis. There are deep inequalities that cause some people to bear unfathomable, disproportionate burdens, and we will continue to advocate for equitable solutions wherever we can. But this moment has also birthed an unprecedented cooperative and collaborative spirit among individuals and groups that sometimes have far more adversarial and competitive relationships. We need to recognize that all levels of government and other key players are doing their very best right now, even if there are blind spots that need to be addressed. This shift is just beginning. As a city, we’re going to need to work well together and differently.
In every crisis, there is opportunity. Whatever the path ahead looks like, when we move from emergency response to recovery, we will use what we've learned to rebuild our city. And we will rebuild a better city.