Opportunities to Create the Next Normal in the COVID Era

By Jay Hirschton, CEO, Full Circle Fund



March 2021 marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic triggering a broad range of personal and professional challenges around the world. Working from home, distance learning, social distancing, hand washing, wearing face masks, and more became the new normal.


Nonprofit organizations had to quickly transition from in-person services to digital platforms with limited resources. At Full Circle Fund, we spent the summer listening to local community groups to learn about their challenges to identify ways we could help. By autumn, we launched the Accelerate Social Justice in a Post COVID World initiative. This spring, the first group of projects, focused on economic security, will be completed and we will share highlights soon after.


As vaccine distribution increases, nonprofits and businesses are looking forward to resuming full operations. But we cannot return to business as usual. The pandemic confirmed what many of us have known for years: pre-pandemic “normal” wasn’t working for many underrepresented communities and the nonprofits that serve them. The road ahead is filled with opportunities to create an equitable next normal.


In economic opportunity, retail and restaurant workers were impacted by business closures. Many of these workers often make less than a liveable wage. The next normal must include supporting nonprofits helping workers to navigate the new job opportunities or reskilling for new careers. In addition, small businesses, many owned by women or people of color, will need help with new business planning to create the next normal. According to a LeanIn.org study, a record number of women left the workforce during the pandemic due, in part, to increased demands of child care and distance learning. This could be a major setback for workplace equity as women will need help reentering the workforce.


In education, questions remain about the impact of distance learning on students' ability to reach pre-pandemic reading and writing standards. Some parents created in-person “learning pods” or hired private tutors to help students with course work. However, for most low income or families of color that was not an affordable option. Nonprofits can play a unique role to bridge the learning gap to ensure students are ready for the next normal.


In environment and energy, carbon emissions declined as work from home and distance learning resulted in driving less. However, many sustainability-focused innovations such as renewable energy slowed significantly. Nonprofit organizations can play a big role to reskill workers for “green jobs” such as solar energy or new ventures in sustainable foods and urban agriculture.


In health, we learned that the Black and Latinx communities were disproportionately tested positive for the virus, in large part, due to pre-existing conditions such as obesity, heart conditions, kidney disease and more. Nonprofits focused on preventive care need help to create the next normal. Demand for a range of mental health issues including depression, survivor guilt, stress from work-life balance, and more will continue to need nonprofits to help close the gap for lower income and underserved communities. New studies are reporting that “long haul survivors” continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain or trouble breathing. The next normal will need to address longer-term care, including when and how to navigate filing a disability claim.


These are just a few of the many challenges--and opportunities--we all face in the next normal. Grantmakers, especially corporate funders, must work closely with nonprofit organizations to better identify and understand emerging issues. In some cases, local community groups are already providing services to address these challenges but lesser known to funders. The journey to next normal must include a commitment to support the nonprofit sector’s capacity building to improve operating efficiencies to serve more underserved communities.


Together, we can blaze new paths to create the next normal and address equities that existed prior to the pandemic.


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