Giving Compass' Take:

• The author discusses how mutual aid efforts and community resilience can help individuals facing challenges due to COVID-19.

• How can donors bolster community-based models to provide services and ensure sustainability after the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

• Read more on the success of mutual aid in helping vulnerable communities. 

Amid a disaster like COVID-19, the culprits of some of the worst abuses of power are the very systems and structures that we often turn to for leadership. The abuses can be committed with calculated awareness, such as when US Senators privately sold off millions in stocks while publicly downplaying the threat of the virus. Other times, institutional aid efforts unintentionally create ripple effects that disproportionally and severely affect vulnerable communities. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, shelter-in-place policies and the curtailment of public services have devastated families with precarious employment and people without homes.

Whether harm differs by being intentional or structural, it is the same in one critical way: Top-down, centrally managed systems of power can end up creating havoc due to the lack of their understanding of local communities.

In the context of our current global crisis, community-led responses to COVID-19 have a clear advantage over those coming from distant centralized bastions of power, which, intentionally or not, often reflect and reinforce existing inequities.

It is important to remember that the vulnerabilities of these communities existed before the crisis cast them in such stark relief. With COVID-19 sharpening our awareness, we have an opportunity and responsibility to improve our social systems to better support society's most vulnerable not just during this crisis, but after it passes.

Many pathways toward a better world are being laid bare by the altruistic mutual aid efforts arising in cities around the globe. These locally designed and collaboratively built acts of solidarity—which view the vulnerable as participants in their survival rather than passive consumers of assistance—inform a model of community resilience and collective empowerment with implications far beyond their immediate impact.

Read the full article about lessons in mutual aid by Samer Araabi at Stanford Social Innovation Review.