The COVID-19 virus has killed over 70,000 people worldwide, and has infected more than 1.2 million individuals. This global health crisis has forced billions of people around the world into their homes, slowed down economies, and altered society and community.
Recognizing the destructive path that this virus has taken, Pamala Wiepking, Ph.D., Visiting Stead Family Chair in International Philanthropy and visiting associate professor of philanthropic studies, also points out that this pandemic, and other crises in the past, has brought out the best in many people.
“Most people want to help in times of crisis,” she explained. “People come together collectively and help others in their community and around the world. By assisting others, humans are better able to make sense of the crisis, of their role in it and add meaning to their own lives.
“In addition, setting a norm where people help serves as an example to others, and encourages them to help as well.”
In addition to discussing “philanthropy,” Wiepking uses the words “mutual aid” and “generosity” to explain how people help others:
“In developing economies, mutual aid groups and informal network structures have often long existed, are strong, and consist of people who are used to regularly helping their neighbors and other locals.
“In more developed economies, the better the philanthropic infrastructure, the easier it is to coordinate help through formal philanthropy. Those formal philanthropic structures can also help with the expansion or development of informal mutual aid groups and network structures, which are typically less omnipresent in developed economies, although they are certainly also there. This is, for example, illustrated by the list of mutual aid groups in the UK that assist others in times of need.
“What is unique about generosity in times of crisis, is that we are more inclined to help those that are outside our own social groups. Typically, people are inclined predominantly to help those in our ‘in-group,’ or those who look or act like us, or come from similar backgrounds and experiences. During times of crisis, we help those who are in most need, regardless of whether they belong to our own ‘in-group’ or not.”
How have people aided others around the world? Thousands of examples exist.
- In the Netherlands, the Red Cross leads a group called “Ready2Help,” a network of 70,000 volunteers ready to assist others in need.
- Norwegians have set up a platform where those recovered from the virus can be of assistance in keeping up critical societal functions.
- An Irish grandmother has begun reading a bedtime story on her Instagram account for not only her own grandchildren, but other children as well.
- People are placing stuffed Teddy bears in windows for children to see when they go outside. An unanticipated but welcomed benefit from the bear hunts are social connections formed when elderly individuals, quarantined and unable to leave their homes, interact with younger generations who walk by and spot a bear.
- Across the world, neighbors sing and play music for one another, while others come together to applaud and show appreciation for health care workers on their way to shifts.
- Gangs in Brazil’s favelas have enforced a lockdown in order to enforce safety measures.
- Non-governmental organizations in Romania are helping buy COVID-19 testing tools and medical equipment, and many associations are crowdfunding to help hospitals, the sick, and poor.
- In The Guardian article, George Monbiot provides examples of people helping others in India, China, South Africa, the U.S., Norway, Serbia, Ireland, the U.K., and Latvia, crowdsourcing stories via Twitter.
- The Atlantic has a beautiful overview of images of people helping all across the world.
- Formal institutional philanthropy is also playing an important role in helping combat the coronavirus. Resources from WINGS and the Philanthropy Roundtable illustrate that funders around the world, both individual and institutional, have quickly responded to this emerging crisis.
Thousands of other examples of philanthropy, generosity, and mutual aid exist that are not named here, although, as Wiepking points out, they illustrate that generosity plays a crucial role in society, especially during times of crisis:
“Across social status, religion, ethnicity, family, and groups, people are eager to help. By highlighting these examples, we’re able to set a norm and encourage others to give back around the world.”