by Juan Camilo Cock – Executive Director of the Alvaralice Foundation
COVID-19, and the measures to prevent it, brought numerous challenges to foundations working to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable populations. Alvaralice Foundation had to shut down its office, restrict outreach work, and cease group activities. Additionally, priorities shifted in the communities we serve.
In the short-term, the top priority became the well-being of our teams and our communities, as well as the adjustment or postponement of activities of Alvaralice’s different projects. In the medium-term, we will face the disproportionate impact that the health crisis and the economic downturn will have on the most vulnerable populations. In addition, the uncertainties regarding funding for our projects from donors is an issue that concerns us. This is also true regarding financing from the public sector. This crisis may have lasting effects in the way that people interact with each other and in the structure of charitable institutions.
The Alvaralice Foundation, established by the Garces Echvarria family in 2003, works to promote inclusion and peace building in Colombia, especially in the city of Cali. It has four programmatic areas: income generation, education, civic action and reflection and dialogue. Alvaralice has a varied portfolio of initiatives. Many programs address the needs of vulnerable populations in the hope of transforming their livelihoods and offering them opportunities. Others support community-based organizations, as well as the dissemination of information and data to improve public policies.
Addressing the emergency:
As mentioned previously, protecting the staff and the projects’ participants was our first priority. As such, since March 15th, the foundation implemented work-from-home measures, flexible working hours, hygiene protocols, and social distancing.
The introduction of mandatory lock-down measures changed work priorities. The Foundation adjusted and redirected its activities. The Somos Pacífico Technological and Cultural Center, the largest community center in eastern Cali, of which Alvaralice is a founding partner, closed its doors completely. Since then, its staff has been providing phone support to participants of the income generation projects (Rumbo Joven and Bonos de Impacto Social) and the education programs.
Alvaralice works in some of the most marginalized and violent sectors of Cali. Therefore, access to enough and adequate food for the population confined to their homes has been a central concern. These efforts have been coordinated with other public and private initiatives, such as the delivery of food by the Office of the Mayor of Cali and the #UnaSolaFuerza campaign led by ProPacífico and the Unidad de Acción Vallecaucana.
Adapting projects to changing conditions:
The foundation is trying to find ways to reconfigure its projects so that it can continue contributing to the communities despite the uncertainty about the duration of the lockdown. The education, artistic and income generation programs have created virtual contents for continuing their training. The emphasis of the programs has evolved to promote mental health and peaceful coexistence at home.
The employability programs are focused on connecting jobseekers with the business sector that is still generating employment opportunities. Our community-based violence prevention project, Abriendo Caminos, is focused on promoting self-protection measures in neighborhoods where official recommendations are ignored. They’ve also worked closely with high-risk youth so that they refrain from engaging in illegal activities.
Our partners have been great allies, showing flexibility to adapt, adjust, and extend projects’ deadlines in the face of current circumstances. Fortunately, to date the foundation has not been forced to cease its activities. Nevertheless, this may change in the medium and long-term.
Our biggest challenge is the uncertainty of what the future may bring. Alvaralice is reviewing possible scenarios and paths of action, taking into consideration the impact of the crisis on our staff and changes in the status of our partners. The number of unemployed people living in poverty will grow. Community based health programs will be required to control and prevent the possibility of new outbreaks of the virus. With the stay-at-home orders, the crime indicators have decreased, but it will take a significant effort to keep them low when the restrictions become more flexible. On the other hand, prolonged confinement increases domestic violence and mental health problems may be exacerbated. In addition, the Foundation might be facing a limited budget as a result of the economic slowdown and the financial crisis.
In conclusion, we must prepare for a new world in which the vulnerable population will need more assistance, while the non-profit sector will have fewer resources to continue and consolidate its programs. Facing changing environments and challenging situations is not new to the non-profit sector. The trust generated by foundations, our expertise in particular issues, and the network of inter-institutional relations that we have created, compel us to be leaders at this time and to continue trying to build a more just, equal, and resilient society.