Northwest University Blog

Community Development During COVID-19

Community Development During COVID-19

This is truly an unprecedented time to be involved in community development and nonprofit work. As the founder and chair of Northwest University’s MA in International Community Development program, I daily hear stories from the field representing many kinds of needs and opportunities. One thing is clear about such crises: those who are most marginalized are also most vulnerable.

We hold in our hearts those who live in refugee settlements and all other kinds of communities where proximity is inevitable, and the health risks greater, as well as those in contexts of poverty. In such scenarios, poor nutrition may contribute to weaker immunity, and inability to work may mean inability to obtain food, shelter, or medicine.

You’re probably well aware that this is a difficult time for many nonprofits, NGOs, ministries, and social enterprise operations, as it is for most businesses. Globally, it looks like the real crisis has yet to come; we haven’t yet fully escaped the medical crisis, and we have still have much of the economic fallout ahead. There is going to be a lot more human need, and fairly desperate human need at that. Governments won’t be able to do it alone. (This is true even in China, where nonprofits have traditionally played a weaker role than in most other countries.)

But of course there is also hope. Crises bring change, and some of these changes bode well for the future. I want to highlight just a couple of those changes which I see as hopeful.

First, the crisis has created an expanded societal awareness of the need to look out for one another, and a sense of unity in the face of challenge. Communities are becoming more attuned to the needs of the most vulnerable in their midst, and nonprofits are in a position to guide and focus this general increase of goodwill. Our current student Andrew Ndayambaje, who works with the New Bethlehem day shelter in one of the earliest epicenters of the virus in the U.S., has noted that the local community has really stepped up to help provide for the needs of homeless clients. In collaboration with others, the organization has shifted from providing day shelter only, to housing clients with pre-existing conditions in individual hotel rooms for their safety, and bringing meals and other services to them on-site.

Second, the crisis is also challenging nonprofits, NGOs, ministries, and social enterprises to consider new, creative ways to connect to others, as well as to fund their work. Alumna Susie Walters de Cervantes teaches community development in Mexico, and writes about experiments with new communication modes: “I actually feel more connected to the wider YWAM network, now more than ever, because we are doing Zoom meetings with others from around the world on a weekly basis.” (As a professor of a program with online and on-campus modalities, I can attest to the depth of community that can develop online—though especially if it is also established face-to-face, as we do with our trips.)

Many of our alumni, armed with skills gained in our funding course, have also found themselves working much more creatively in donor relations and resourcing. Georgia Morrison, an ICD alumna who is the Center Director for Springboard Home, writes that “Online creativity has begun! We are posting video stories of students who have graduated from our program to YouTube, hosting a virtual fun run, hosting an online banquet complete with music, a calendar photo contest, and creating ‘National Day Fundraisers’ (for instance, this Friday is ‘wear your pajamas to work day,’ so I could post a photo of myself doing that, and challenge others to either post their own picture or donate).”

Ashleigh Cruze, another graduate who is now the Executive Director at Mukilteo Schools Foundation, also sent us a note about her creative fundraising work and the community support she’s seen so far. “We are doing a school supply drive to help support at home learning for students from low income households. Our community has really rallied around this and has donated money and purchased items from our wish list. We are trying to get supplies out to 1500 kids! We also just launched a quarantine photo contest. We are going to take the photos entered and create a quarantine yearbook for the public to purchase. The money we raise for this will help us purchase chromebooks and hotspots for low income graduating seniors to help with their pursuit of higher education.”

This kind of innovative flexibility—a hallmark of the ICD program—has become absolutely necessary during this crisis, and is also likely to shape how NGOs operate for the foreseeable future.

All of this to say: In the times to come following this crisis, the need for skilled community builders, advocates, change-agents, and innovative leaders is only going to grow. And for many of you, now is the time to press in to your calling, and to get equipped with the right education.

In such a time as this, expertise (coupled with humility) is desperately needed. Making time to educate yourself and to cultivate the knowledge, experience, and creative thinking you’ll need to truly be part of the solution is wise, and can show that you take seriously the contexts, issues, and people, involved. 

If you have questions about how to reach your educational goals in the community development field, or specifically about our MA in International Community Development program, do reach out to us at icdinfo@northwestu.edu. We’ll be happy to help.


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