The Ebola Outbreak: Grassroots Responses and Key Lessons Learned

Global Philanthropy
Friday, October 10, 2014

At The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), we’re fortunate to see firsthand the myriad of ways that philanthropy can work to address global crisis and effect change. From time to time, a project will feel deeply personal and particularly meaningful to the leadership and staff of TPI. Such was a recent forum we hosted, The Ebola Outbreak: Grassroots Responses and Key Lessons Learned, a fascinating and sobering look at how to best address this crisis.

Through New England International Donors (NEID) and the change-making Partners in Health (PIN) and Next Mile Project, we had a glimpse into philanthropy’s role in addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Boston has been central to this response, mobilizing doctors and non-profits to serve on the front lines.

Hearing from Boston-based doctors and NGOs about the work they were doing to help stop the spread of the epidemic was moving. It is powerful to see philanthropists – at all levels – have immediate and lasting impact on global crises by committing resources quickly and strategically. In the case of Ebola, the issues are countless: from the scarcity of doctors, lack of medical supplies and clean water, to the daunting task of helping the thousands of children orphaned by the Ebola crisis and expediting the quest to find a vaccine.

Even more impressive was that these on-the-ground practitioners and philanthropists asked the harder question – how do we rebuild a health system to address basic health and epidemics in the future?  The doctors affirmed that Ebola itself does not require complex medicine.  But in places where women have to walk for two days with their baby on their back to get to a clinic or where a wait for two boxes of rubber gloves is interminable – the more daunting challenge is how to build a more responsive health care system writ large.  This is the work of courageous philanthropy.

Fortunately, philanthropic resources pledged to address Ebola have been inspiring, with millions pouring in from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the US government, and the many quiet, unnamed donors. Funds of all sizes and individuals with a wide array of resources have committed to solving this crisis.

We know, however, that philanthropy must take the long-view and continue to pledge resources, especially after the media frenzy subsides. Although much is being done, the forum addressed the great need to do much more, in order to be successful in fully addressing this crises.

Humanosphere, a news website devoted to covering global health, poverty, and inequity, attended the NEID forum last month and penned this excellent article, citing the broken health system as the underlying cause of the Ebola crisis. It is comforting knowing that strategic and thoughtful philanthropists can come together to address underlying problems now and in the future. It’s in our hands.

Read the Boston Business Journal article about the Boston response to the Ebola crisis.

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