As I reflect on 2020 — a year unlike any other in my lifetime — the word I keep thinking about is humanity. Defined as ‘human beings collectively’, it reminds me of a life philosophy shared by one of our Dell Young Leaders, Lindsey Sadie, in South Africa: I am because of others and others are because of me. This comes from the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which means a person is a person through other people — open, available, and affirming to others. This idea of community is one of the building blocks of society.
I cannot help but think that the Ubuntu philosophy applies so well to the ways in which people across the world have rallied together in 2020. Our partners have shown us time and again that they are heroes looking beyond their own families and circumstances to ensure no one is left behind. There are many more who selflessly and tirelessly work on behalf of others. Humans helping humans. I want to take a moment to recognize some of these amazing efforts, from both before and during the pandemic.
At the start of the year, COVID-19 had not yet appeared in the US, India, or South Africa, and so our work was going on as planned. An important part of our mission is ensuring students from low-income communities have the opportunity to graduate from college. Our Dell Scholars program in the US and Dell Young Leaders program in South Africa both provide support and resources to students to help them make it to the finish line: graduation.
In January, we announced a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin with a $100 million commitment to boost graduation rates for students from low-income backgrounds. Called UT for Me — Powered by Dell Scholars, the program provides multifaceted, individualized support to 2,000+ Pell Grant students enrolled each year.
The UT for Me team started the year excited about the possibilities this new program would create for so many young and deserving people. While the pandemic has changed both the challenges students are facing and how the program supports them, the team is dedicated to their success and deeply inspired to walk alongside them through the college journey.
Little did we know that a mere two months later, the world would look very different for all of us. The emergence of COVID-19 began to disproportionately affect the communities and people we serve throughout the world. Health, education, jobs — the pandemic was wreaking havoc on people’s lives in devastating ways. It continues to do so.
The gravity of the challenge required thoughtfulness in how resources were deployed, and Michael and I carefully considered how to maximize our impact to help as many people as possible. We committed $100 million to fight COVID-19 and its subsequent economic fallout, ensuring partners in all three of our geographies have the resources they need to take care of their communities in new ways.
Much of the work our partners are doing looks similar across the world — ensuring the health of our communities, providing resources for a seamless transition to online learning in K-12 and university education, and helping people get back to work.
Below are some of their stories.
First and foremost, the medical need is to care for the sick and eradicate the virus. In March, we committed $20 million to the global COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, Mastercard, and other donors to identify potential treatments for COVID-19 and accelerate their development. To date, the accelerator has awarded more than $98 million in grants in everything from discovery to manufacturing to diagnostics. Scientists and doctors throughout the world are racing to find treatments that will help to save the lives of our loved ones, regardless of income.
In addition, when schools closed across the US, many low-income students were left without essential daily food through the national school lunch program. Through our partners at the Urban School Food Alliance, the Student Emergency Food Access Fund supported four large urban districts to distribute almost 10 million meals to students and families.
When COVID-19 hit India, the venture capital and the philanthropic communities came together to create solutions through the ACT Grants program. Among the major successes of the program so far are the 875,000 telemedical consultations conducted and the three million N95 masks produced each month.
In South Africa, two of our partner organizations rose to the moment as COVID-19 quickly spread through townships across the country. Doctors Without Borders opened a field hospital serving more than 42,000 people when the community of Khayelitsha’s local hospital reached capacity. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital has a mission of ensuring families throughout the country receive the treatment and care they need, and they did exactly that as they treated more than 5,500 children for medical conditions while sister hospitals focused on caring for COVID-19 patients.
In the transition to online education, the little things make a big difference. For example, DonorsChoose shared that teachers were in need of headphones and other virtual learning supplies to keep their students engaged in online learning. Students were distracted at home with siblings sharing the same space, parents who were trying to juggle their workloads, and a less structured learning environment. In response, we provided resources to nearly 900 teachers — helping 64,000 students in high-need schools to focus on their schoolwork.
Additionally, a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep can make a big difference in the classroom. As the pandemic heightened food and housing insecurity, Communities in Schools of Central Texas pivoted its service model to help students and their families connect with critical resources and meet basic needs. This ongoing effort will reach up to 10,000 children in our community, providing greater stability so that they can stay focused on school.
For college students across the US, enrolling for another semester amid the pandemic wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Their time and financial investment in college felt greater than ever as they adjusted to job loss, shifting family responsibilities, and a very different college experience. But organizations like the Opportunity Network (OppNet) stepped up with virtual programming to provide students with the resources to succeed. OppNet’s UninterruptED initiative will reach an additional 5,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year.
In addition, we partnered with United Way For Greater Austin to work with teletherapy provider BetterHelp to offer free therapy sessions via chat, phone, or video for more than 42,000 college students who might be dealing with mental health issues as a result of COVID-19. This extra support can be essential in helping students stay in school and make progress toward their degree.
In India, our partners collaborated in innovative ways to deliver online education opportunities. ConveGenius, a tablet-based education enterprise, pivoted to WhatsApp for their over five million users when students no longer had access to the devices. The company also incorporated expertise from our assessment partner, Gray Matters, to virtually track student progress. Masoom, an organization that supports night schools for students in grades eight to 10, collaborated with Avanti Learning Centres to facilitate smartphone-based classes that achieved 60% student attendance. Since these students can’t participate in formal schooling due to economic hardship, resources to continue learning and build career skills were essential.
In South Africa, learning at home is a challenge for families across the country due to lack of personal devices and prohibitive data costs. After rapid assessment of family circumstances, Apex High School sourced low-cost devices for their students so they could join in on the new virtual models. The Apex team developed a way to push data to each student every morning, and eventually moved to their own zero-rated data learning platform for online learning making virtual education affordable for families. In living out its motto to do “whatever it takes,” Apex High was able to keep its students on the same curriculum that had been planned for the year in spite of the move to a virtual classroom.
Family economic stability
As so many people lost employment because of the pandemic, our social enterprise partner Workex in India accelerated opportunity through its online job marketplace. Over the last six months, nearly one million candidates searched for jobs on its platform, and 50,000 employers posted 400,000 job ads. Hiring took place more quickly because of the platform’s artificial intelligence technology that can match, screen, and schedule interviews for job seekers — reducing time to hire by 80%.
South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Not only did the pandemic decrease job opportunities, but it made it even harder for those who are unemployed or categorized as non-essential workers to afford essentials. RLabs provided a solution for more than 40,000 young people to help their communities, earn virtual credit called Zlto they can use for essentials, and start building a resume of skills. SweepSouth — an organization that connects 5,000+ cleaning professionals to homeowners — started a fund for its domestic workers unable to work so they could purchase necessities for their families.
In the US, we made a zero-interest loan of $2.5 million to Grameen America to provide up to 7,000 micro-loans to female entrepreneurs in Austin and Houston who have been impacted by COVID-19. These micro-loans will enable micro-entrepreneurs to resume and sustain their businesses, thereby increasing household income and creating and retaining up to 10,000 jobs.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
These are the stories of some of the heroes among us, those who continue to pivot, innovate, and tirelessly serve their communities. They were doing this work long before the pandemic hit, and we are honored to support them as they heroically respond to the urgent and unprecedented needs of their communities. In the face of the international health crisis, they stepped up to meet this once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
I am because of others and others are because of me. I am hopeful that sentiment will take us into the new year and become part of our fabric. Let’s continue to show up for one another, to lift each other up when we’re down, and to support each other even when it’s hard. Human to human, there is no doubt in my mind that the world will head into 2021 stronger, better, and more united than ever before.