As funders, our immediate response to the onset of a global pandemic early in 2020 was humanitarian: to increase our support and to provide it in more flexible ways. Now, as we see that COVID-19’s impact will be lasting and pronounced, philanthropy needs to shift to taking a longer view.

This raises important questions. How do we best help affected communities recover and rebuild better? How do we both meet their immediate needs and use this opportunity to tackle entrenched social and economic inequities?

To do this, we need to balance intentionality and urgency.

At EMpower — The Emerging Markets Foundation, where I serve as president and CEO, we have been working to understand how to most effectively deploy our resources beyond crisis response. Emerging market countries have been among those hit hardest by COVID-19, and they are facing skyrocketing increases in poverty and inequality. Marginalized young people — the population we focus on — have been deeply affected. In particular, it was imperative for us to learn about the pandemic’s impact on girls, after numerous reports brought to light how the pandemic has led to their experiencing a burden of extra household chores and caretaking, increased isolation, and heightened risk of gender-based violence.

And so, one year since the COVID-19 crisis began, we set out to look at the pandemic’s impact on young people and girls in emerging market countries. We wanted to find out how the pandemic had affected these young people, what barriers they faced, and what they were fearful and hopeful about. We also knew we had to take a new approach to this. Given the urgency of the pandemic’s challenges, traditional research methods and protracted studies were no longer feasible. In order to gain knowledge from those who are most affected, we knew we had to be thoughtful and act quickly, without adding undue burden to those we were seeking to help.

As a foundation that centers young people’s voices and experiences, we wanted to understand how we could help facilitate an inclusive recovery — one designed for and with young people. We firmly believe that young people are the ones best positioned to identify the challenges they face — and possible solutions to those challenges. With this guiding principle, we used three concurrent strategies to obtain input and guidance from young people and our grantee partners:

  1. We facilitated participatory research by and with adolescent girls in urban India (supported by the U.K.’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Organisation).
  2. We conducted a questionnaire survey of 26 grantee partners, in 13 countries, that work with young people.
  3. Through our grantee partners, we directly engaged youth from 10 countries who shared their thoughts with us through their preferred means: written responses, photos, drawings, etc.