What the Rockefeller Foundation learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic: Implications to Japanese nonprofits during disasters InsightsEssays: Civil Society in Japan

Posted on August 10, 2023

Japan NPO Center (JNPOC) has a news & commentary site called NPO CROSS that discusses the role of NPOs/NGOs and civil society as well as social issues in Japan and abroad. We post articles contributed by various stakeholders, including NPOs, foundations, corporations, and volunteer writers.
For this JNPOC’s English site, we select some translated articles from NPO CROSS to introduce to our English-speaking readers.

What the Rockefeller Foundation learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic: Implications to Japanese nonprofits during disasters


Prominent roles of community-based organizations

The Rockefeller Foundation recently released IMPACT REPORT 2020-2022: Confronting Crisis by Catalyzing Change. The report devotes much of its space to the foundation’s urgent responses to the Covid-19 pandemic during the three years it covers. Reflecting on the measures taken against the crisis (What we learned, p. 16), the report points out, among other issues, the prominent role of community-based organizations (CBOs) in promoting vaccination in the United States. It also notes that existing data were not always sufficient and thus it transpired to be important that the support provided be tailored to the needs of the field, rather than imposing measures that were based on insufficient data. The analysis seems to suggest that the power of the field was rediscovered as crucial for emergency responses in the context of inadequate administrative structures of authorities, lack of trust in government among the residents of local communities, as well as insufficient available data.

For their analysis, the Foundation commissioned RAND Corporation, a think tank, to examine their responses to the Covid-19 crisis, and the research institution published the result as The U.S. Equity-First Vaccination Initiative: Impacts and Lessons Learned.


Implications for nonprofits in Japan

The report reviewed the activities of CBOs in the United States that participated in the Foundation’s program during a time of great disparity in infection, mortality, and vaccination rates amongst racial and ethnic groups, and, at first glance, their findings may not seem pertinent to the Japanese nonprofit sector. However, through this article, we would like to convey some points made in the report to our readers precisely because we think some of its findings could be quite relevant to Japanese nonprofits. For instance, it is relevant for us how the CBOs in the U.S. were instrumental in the emergency responses to the unprecedented situation, how the sponsor responded to assist their activities better, and what recommendations can be made to the policymakers. We hope these may provide an important perspective on how we can maximize the power of CBOs in Japan, where their emergency responses have been indispensable in the scores of disasters the nation has experienced.


Equity-First Vaccination Initiative

RAND examined Equity-First Vaccination Initiative (EVI), a program launched by the Rockefeller Foundation in April 2021 to reduce Covid-19 vaccination disparities amongst racial groups in the United States and to improve the long-term U.S. public health system. Five demonstration sites – Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Newark, and Oakland – were selected as well as an anchor organization for each location, which coordinated more than 90 local CBOs in total.


Selecting and supporting CBOs

What we find unique in the program is that the sponsor, the Rockefeller Foundation, was not involved in the selection of the local CBOs, but that they let the anchor organizations, which were more familiar with the actual conditions in each community, select the local nonprofits with whom to work. In addition, the activities of the participating organizations varied widely, with only one-third of the organizations having medicine and health care listed as their activity areas in their articles of incorporation. It seems that the selection process focused on understanding local needs and the trust of the local community. The practice would be a good model for Japan when considering prompt and effective support in emergencies albeit the legal restrictions we have in Japan for activities that fall outside of each nonprofit’s articles of incorporation.

The program mobilized various partners to provide training to the anchor groups and participating local CBOs, as well as come up with information to be communicated to the local residents and to raise issues to the authorities. When it comes to helping Japanese local nonprofits, it seems we have much to learn from this multi-layered support for the field for EVI.


Issues familiar to Japan

The program, however, was not perfect. The report points out some challenges that arose due to the large number of parties involved, such as obstacles in responding quickly to situations that were in flux, and how they could have better supported small nonprofits. It seems we encounter similar issues in Japan as well. The report also argues that the Rockefeller Foundation and its training providers sometimes overburdened the program participants, and that sufficient considerations must be given to them as they carry out their activities in very severe conditions on the ground. This point resonates in Japan as well.


Achievements and recommendations

At the end of EVI, local CBOs successfully achieved the following (as of April 2022): 4,539 events held, 153,277 times people having gotten help to get vaccinated, 64,317 vaccinations given, and 14,5554,885 connections made to provide vaccination. We believe their achievements were due to their being able to respond quickly and with agility to local needs, and this was possible because of their deep-rooted presence in the communities since prior to the pandemic.

The EVI also aimed to improve the public health system in the United States over the long term. In this regard, the report recommends that the definition of public health be expanded to include CBOs that are rooted in the community. It also points out the need for adequate, consistent, and flexible funding for CBOs, and that sufficient information in the public health field be communicated to help them prepare in advance.


Commonalities with issues that arise in disaster recovery in Japan

In Japan, a group called Towards a Better Future Disaster Recovery System Based on the Experiences of 3.11, in which JNPOC participates, has recently proposed to make amendments to disaster-related laws and regulations. The proposal included preservation of an individual’s dignity being added to other existing purposes of disaster recovery, social welfare being incorporated into the Disaster Relief Act, disaster response being made multi-sectoral by including nonprofits, and having disaster preparedness is further enhanced. Although public health and disaster recovery belong in separate fields, we find a common understanding between the two in that the nonprofit sector should be positioned as an important player in emergency response through the expansion of existing policy and legal framework, and that such a system should be made ready in advance.


Needs for continuous support for grassroots nonprofits

The Rand report emphasizes that CBOs should not be seen as merely filling gaps in the systems of vaccination. It also notes that both anchor organizations and local CBOs are concerned with the sustainability of support they may get in the future. We believe the observation also applies to nonprofits in Japan. It is incumbent on us to continue raising society’s awareness to the significant roles these grassroots nonprofits play and the need for continuous support for them, especially given that the nation will depend on them in times of natural disasters which we are so prone to experience in Japan.

Summaries and interpretations of the reports published by the Rockefeller Foundation and the RAND Corporation above were made by the authors without any consultation with either organization, and the authors are solely responsible for them. Also, please note that we have, at our discretion, selected specific parts from these reports for our discussion, but they should be read in their entirety for an accurate understanding.

We would like to remind the readers that the opinions expressed herein are not those of JNPOC as an organization, to which the authors belong, but rather our personal ones.


Original text by Masahiro Yokoyama and Masayuki Sato (JNPOC staff) originally posted on July 12, 2023; translated by JNPOC.