The year 2020 will forever be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It brought the world to a halt in a matter of months, changed the way we live, work and play, and made clear that what impacts one impacts all.  As of this writing, more than 4.4 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, millions more have been pushed into extreme poverty, and millions of students are without access to continuing education.

For Mona Foundation, a nonprofit that supports grassroots educational programs in economically disadvantaged communities around the world, 2020 began with great uncertainty and concern for the staff, students, and families of our partner organizations, many of which are based in areas where social distancing is impossible and access to healthcare is non-existent. But as we began to witness their resilience in mobilizing to face a devastating pandemic and their indomitable resolve to contribute to the social good, we were also uplifted, moved, and inspired. Our long-term partnerships, focused on building the capacity of local communities through the twin engines of education and gender equality, had prepared them to create all that was needed to sustain their trajectory towards a better future.

At the onset of the pandemic, Mona immediately consulted with each of our 19 partners organizations in 12 countries to learn what they needed to navigate the crisis. Their responses ranged from having the means to transition to online learning to providing basic life needs for their staff and school communities. We quickly conveyed these needs to our supporters and ran special campaigns to raise the emergency funds, providing updates every few months.

The progress that unfolded as a result was truly remarkable. By the end of 2020, our collective student reach had grown by more than 400% (from 430,000 to nearly 2.3 million) across 3,200 communities in 12 countries. Of the 19 schools and programs run by our partner organizations, 17 of them transitioned to online learning. The one-room schools we support in India’s urban slums and rural villages scaled from 33 to 63 centers through the introduction and use of basic technologies. And many of our partners quickly developed local outreach programs, engaging their students, staff, teachers, and local businesses to provide over 163,000 people with necessities like soap, masks, or daily meals, and information on public health measures and access to relief agencies.

We attribute the achievement of these unexpected results to Mona’s approach to development which, from our experience over the past 22 years, has proven to be unique, effective, efficient, and transformative:

  1. We focus on education and gender equality to address the root causes of extreme poverty.
  2. We are community-led.
  3. We focus on capacity building.
  4. We provide long-term support.
  5. We build trust & collaborate.
  6. We incorporate ethics and selfless service.
  7. We catalyze and accelerate change.

Read the full article about COVID-19 and education by Laura Baerwolf at Global Washington.