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Responding to COVID-19: Critical Shifts in a Time of Crisis & Opportunity

Updated: Apr 21

“We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.” -Maya Angelou


As a community of leaders who care deeply about equity, compassion and dignity for ourselves, our communities and everyone we serve, we want to reach out in these challenging times. We have been in deep reflection with Dr. Monica Sharma, founder of Radical Transformational Leaders and other leaders on the COVID-19 crisis as we work to support each other and our partners regionally and globally.


We have been asking ourselves:


  • What are the universal values that need to be acted on as we face this challenge?

  • What are the immediate problems we are currently trying to solve as individuals, family members and community members?

  • What are the larger shifts this crisis may provide an opening for?

  • How are we responding to immediate COVID-19 challenges while also creating the foundation for a unified thriving community for the future?


Through our reflections and conversations so far, we have identified the following shifts relevant to the current crisis and want to amplify what’s working to realize these shifts:

Shift 1: FROM social distancing TO social connection and physical distancing

We must adhere to the shelter in place order that has been placed by the Governor and by County/City officials. And we can connect with family, friends and colleagues in new, re-inspired and re-imagined ways.


Virtual and creative paths to connect, organize, strategize and act are emerging, for example:


  • Partners in Santa Cruz County came together in mid-March to provide a rapid response online Parent Support Group. The support group addressed current challenges and immediate solutions and also gave space for a discussion about opportunities for the future. One of the organizers and leadership program (LCT) alumni shared her universal value of compassion for herself, for parents and for everyone and invited others to share their universal “why”.

  • Communities across the country are creating handwritten cards for isolated seniors.

  • Leaders are organizing online resource databases for parents and others navigating uncertain times.

  • Individuals are volunteering at the local food bank and other service based organizations

  • Yoga studios and teachers are offering free online classes, some focused on providing access for the most marginalized to participate such as people who are incarcerated.


In fact, examples are emerging from all corners of the globe of strangers expressing care and compassion for one another as we face this crisis - take a moment to read a few inspiring stories here!


We’d love to hear from you:

  • How are you and others in your community supporting social connection while adhering to the necessary shelter in place and physical distancing orders?


Shift 2: FROM me TO we


It is critical that we take care of ourselves and our families during this time. It is also critical that we support each other and our interconnected society.


As the National Immigration Law Center shared in a recent email communication, “This global pandemic is showing us how interconnected and interdependent we all are. In times of crisis, our weaknesses as a society get amplified, and we are seeing that in our fractured health care system and economy. As businesses and communities begin to close their doors across the nation, we see opportunities to envision new doors that will lead us to a more inclusive and healthy society.”


We have seen and heard local examples of individuals and organizations showing support to neighbors, elders, small businesses and non-profit organizations in our communities:

  • Individuals and organizations are sharing resources and response opportunities (we have chosen to focus our response on how to utilize the RTL fram


ework for social change during this crisis. We trust that you are well connected to organizations that have curated resources for immediate needs and support. If not, we encourage you to start with your local 2-1-1)

  • People are standing up for each other when they see bias and isms displayed

  • We see new initiatives forming to shift the broken patterns in our systems that are amplified in this crisis, such as local foundations raising funds and shifting to unrestricted grant making for operational needs, or a petition for healthcare conditions in prisons to be addressed.

  • Globally, we are coming to each other’s aid - for example, Cuba has sent a team of doctors and nurses to aid in Italy, and China has sent medical supplies to Italy with hand written notes.


As Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life notes - this pandemic is highlighting just how inextricably linked we are, and how communal our responses need to be. “The Coronavirus will force us to reconsider who we are and what we value, and, in the long run, it could help us rediscover the better version of ourselves.”


We’d love to hear from you:

  • How are you or others in your community promoting a culture of ‘we’?

  • What new doors are opening for generating shifts away from what is not working?

  • How are you seeing people act in a way that reflects and honors our interdependence?


Shift 3: FROM reactive solutions TO solutions that respond to the immediate need, identify opportunities for systems and norm shifts, and are sourced from universal values

Over the last several weeks, we have seen an unprecedented global response to a public health crisis, with much of society willingly upending life as we know it to protect each other to face the threat head on. For example:

  • We have seen communities band together, reaching into a deep reservoir of resilience

  • Many transformational leaders are shining a light on the often invisible or ignored inequities that this crisis is making visible. From healthcare to housing to economic security, the enduring impacts of this pandemic will not affect every individual at the same level.

  • Cross-sector leaders in Contra Costa County came together virtually in March to co-design solutions to immediate issues related to the COVIDovid-19 response while also identifying what’s missing, opportunities for new ways of doing things and critical systems shifts to work toward together. LEO Alumni who participated noted less polarization and a new sense of unity and collective effort to move beyond now seemingly unimportant barriers and differences of the past.

  • Many experts are raising awareness that this pandemic and our global response will undoubtedly reorient us to ourselves, our communities, our government and our accepted systems and norms as a society.


If and when we can pause to see the possibility in it all, we see openings for new patterns, new responses and a unity that we now know is possible.


We’d love to hear from you:

  • How are you and those in your community contributing to the generation of a new normal driven by equity and dignity for all individuals in our society?

  • What is possible with the knowing that humanity can and will come together when faced with a collective crisis?


Shifting Narratives:

It is up to each of us to not only shine a light on what is not working, but help generate a new orientation that drives toward the results we want to see - toward a world where solidarity overcomes polarization, and where every individual can access wellbeing, economic security, dignity and thriving.


Here are some articles that align with the shifts identified above and contribute to new narratives:


  • “[Mutual aid is] a way to organize, but it’s also a way for people to remember the ability of humans to be kind and empathetic and dignified.”

-People are Helping Each Other Fight Coronavirus, One Google Spreadsheet at a Time by Sigal Samuel on Vox


  • “To overcome the virus as a nation, as a world, it is imperative that we prioritize health equity and inclusion and utilize our global connectedness for the positive: taking inclusive stances that prioritize the health of all people through our actions, our companies, our communities.”

-Striving for Health Equity and Inclusion During a Pandemic, posted by Thamara Subramanian on the Inclusion Solution


  • “A widely impactful public health crisis is upon us. The tentacles of its impact are many and pervasive, from social, to economic, to environmental implications. As a civil rights organization and as stewards of human rights, this outbreak calls on us to maintain vigilance and lift our voices to demand the policies and practices that will preserve the wellbeing of all.”

-Ten Equity Considerations of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak in the United-States by the NAACP


  • “...careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harms that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures…”

-Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response by Human Rights Watch


  • “In closing, we will survive COVID-19. And by the time the pandemic has been managed, we will have learned so much from this moment and how we can better prepare for these types of scenarios; we will see where there are gaps in our communities, cities, nations, and where we have strengths.”

-Decolonizing Community Care in Response to COVID-19 by NDN Collective


We’d love to hear from you:

  • What new narratives are you seeing?


We would love to connect further with you in this critical time, to share ideas about tools, practices and shifts that can help us collectively shepherd transformational change as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

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© 2018 by Megan Joseph