Changemaking during COVID-19: A global survey

How 20+ Ashoka Fellows are responding to the pandemic and catalyzing deeper change.

Apr 15, 2020 · 6 min read
A map of where Ashoka Fellows are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the COVID-19 crisis changes day by day, touching even more parts of the world, we’re seeing changemakers step up with solutions.

Hundreds of Ashoka fellows are taking action — from Argentina to Thailand, from Sahel to the Netherlands — in health, education, aging, media, and more. They’re not just responding to current needs, but shaping the post-pandemic world — from creating new technologies to collaborating with governments in unprecedented ways.

Fortifying health infrastructure. Kongkiat Kespechara (Hospital OS) raised an army of volunteers to develop solutions — from equipping hospital facilities, to creating video courses for hospital staff and a dashboard that monitors the status of beds for COVID patients. (Read our interview).

A volunteer-led care system: Suresh Kumar (Institute of Palliative Medicine) is moving services from institutions and hospitals to neighborhoods and homes in order to effectively address social, psychological, and medical care.

Mutual support among housewives: Septi Peni Wulandani (Jarimatika Foundation) organized a self-isolation campaign and created a space for women to share at-home family activity ideas.

Educating without wifi or laptops: Murat Vural (Chancenwerk), who works to improve access to education for children with migrant backgrounds, created a printed at-home curriculum that includes activities, send-in tests, and progress tracking. More than 4,000 children are starting the program.

Translating science to the public: Whether we’re awake or asleep, Emmanuel Vincent and his Science Feedback team — a worldwide network of scientists — are working to fact-check online claims about our health, the virus, and more. (Read our interview).

Support among gender violence survivors: Ana Bella Estévez (Fundación Ana Bella) is strengthening her network of remote support for women facing gender violence and sending message of strength to those women who are forced to be confined with their abusive partners.

Digitizing mental health services: For years, Krystian Fikert (MyMind) worked to create a movement for community-based mental health services. Now they’re delivering online counseling sessions and offering extensive support around COVID-19.

Connecting newcomers with locals: Through the “HomeBuddy project” from Nathanael Molle (SINGA), pairs of refugees and locals commit, for the duration of the quarantine, to keep in touch and support each other as a way to respond to the isolation of the refugees during the crisis.

Fighting global corruption during COVID: Paul Radu (OCCRP) and Elena Calistru (Funky Citizens) are putting the “everyone an investigator” vision into a COVID-19 context by training citizen factcheckers in order to increase government transparency and prevent shady dealings by those looking to exploit disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Raising spirits through storytelling: Working to improve early childhood education through the arts, Márta Bácskai (Blum Program) has launched an online “community fairy tale.” Facebook community members co-create a common story, passing it along to each other. It’s helping families, children and educators work together and experience community during isolation.

24/7 neighborhood care teams: Jos de Blok (Buurtzorg), who is revolutionizing community-based care, supports neighborhood nurses with a crisis hotline and advises over 10,000 nurses via a daily consultation.

Resources for pregnant women during COVID-19: Nneka Mobisson (mDoc) started a call series for pregnant and new moms and their support givers, giving guidance on how pregnant women can prevent and cope with coronavirus.

Detecting and tracking coronavirus: Adama Kane (JokkoSanté) created the EpiTrack app to manage information between health authorities and the public, alert screening and validation by professionals, and provide epidemic alerts. (Read about Adama’s story).

Accelerating airport testing: Moka Lantum (2020 MicroClinic Initiative) collaborated with the Philips Foundation to offer tests for COVID-19 for passengers who enter Kenya with flu-like symptoms where there are no nearby institutions that can provide the tests.

COVID-19 solidarity fund: Sena Louka (Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement) launched a fund for those impacted in local communities and an awareness campaign in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Whatsapp groups and radio programs: Wendy Pekeur (Sikhula Sonke Food Distribution) created WhatsApp groups for volunteer teams distributing food — as well as the latest COVID-19 information — to children and pensioners, and radio programs to inform farmworkers and rural communities on recent developments and staying safe.

Supporting visually impaired communities: Pablo Lecuona (Tiflonexos) is using tech to support 200+ blind or visually impaired people isolated during quarantine. He’s working with the Ministry of Education to adapt distance learning into an accessible format for blind and visually impaired children.

Connecting local leaders: Delfina Irazusta (Red de Innovación Local) is helping officials in 2,600 cities across Argentina address the crisis in a connected way — leaders share the steps they’ve taken in their districts to add more hospital beds and respirators, maintain isolation, and assist families.

Supporting children with cancer: Marcela Zubieta (Fundación Nuestros Hijos) started a tele-rehabilitation program for children with cancer so they can stay on track to recover. She also coordinates private transportation for their appointments and important supply distribution.

Gamifying innovation for young people: Edgard Gouveia and Paulo Lima encourage young people to fight COVID-19 from their homes through “Journey X,” a game that challenges young people from 12 to 25 years old across Brazil, to co-create solutions to challenges during this crisis.

Keeping up healthy habits: Digitally adapting his movement to shift paradigms around healthy lifestyles, Diego Ruete (Petit Gourmet) is reaching families in quarantine through social media, helping children develop changemaking skills and healthy habits through cooking. He’s working with the Ministry of Education to add to the formal online curricula.

Producing face masks and new jobs: Gabriel Rivera (Fomento Altitud) is employing 850 women who have lost their jobs or are unable to return to work to produce face masks, working from home. They’ve produced 350,000 masks and are working to make a million more.

Open access medical research: Aled Edwards (Structural Genomics Consortium) set up an open science drug discovery partnership to help with Covid-19 research and prevent the next viral pandemic.

Supporting Indigenous-led organizations hit by the pandemic: Nick Tilsen launched a Covid-19 response project, working with a national network including Denisa Livingston, who is strengthening the public health infrastructure on the Navajo Nation. The goal: let’s not return to normal but aspire for a re-valuing of Indigenous ways of life, including food sovereignty and elevation of elders.

For more stories on how Ashoka Fellows are responding to this moment while imagining the post-pandemic world, take a look at our ever-expanding list and our story featuring more 12 inspiring examples. Read our interviews with innovators over on Forbes.


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