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What We Mean by CARE in a Year of Cascading Crises: Part 1

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Acting on our 'Duty to Care'


Shefali Juneja Lakhina, Co-Founder of Wonder Labs in conversation with NCG's Disaster Resilience Director, Alan Kwok

California’s wildfire season is now a year-round occurrence. With rain and snow lessening the risk of catastrophic wildfires in many parts of northern California, our attention gradually turns to other priorities. For survivors, however, the arduous work of recovery from the 2020 wildfires has only begun. Until we gain more traction in our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts, natural hazard events like wildfires, extreme heatwaves, and droughts will continue to worsen.

As we look ahead in 2021, the new administration at the White House is staffing up to address four key priorities: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change. While we continue to bring together funders and other sectors to address the continuing effects of compounding crises – COVID-19, wildfires, and racial inequities, we invite you to explore ways to invest your relational, financial, and political capital to tackle the root causes of disasters in the coming years and empower communities of color so they are not bearing more than their share of the burden. 

Through this three-part blog series, What We Mean by CARE in a Year of Cascading Crises, we reflect on philanthropy’s role in disasters through Wonder Labs’ CARE framework in addressing the challenges facing those with disabilities and older adults and offering a pathway to prioritizing care.

In the first part of this series, I asked Shefali Juneja Lakhina, co-founder of Wonder Labs, about putting care at the forefront. Read the conversation below:

Alan Kwok: Why is “care” important for us to talk about as we continue to support communities grappling with crises and disasters?  

Shefali Juneja Lakhina: This has been a year of unending crises. Everyone has been personally affected in some way by cascading disasters – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a wildfire siege fueled by a changing climate, lingering smoke impacts, Public Safety Power Shutoff’s (PSPS’s), racial injustice – and their compounding impacts on housing instability, food and economic insecurities  and environmental injustice. It is evident that some in our communities have been affected far more, and to a greater degree than in previous years. Care, or the lack of it, has been a defining factor in how well we have supported people and communities in need. It is important to remember the impacts of these crises will be felt for years to come, to be lived out in bodies, memories, histories, identities and places. As we prepare for a future of looming climate crises, we must consider, how can we put greater care in deploying resources to meet this moment?  In past years, we’ve acknowledged how philanthropy has a power problem. This is the moment for philanthropy to lead with care as a solution.

Alan Kwok: How can we begin to think about strategies for incorporating greater care in philanthropy?

Shefali Juneja Lakhina: So many of us were deeply inspired by President-elect Biden’s recent references to fulfilling a ‘duty to care’. If more leaders in governments, communities, organizations and classrooms commit to a duty to care, we could make real progress in implementing more caring, just and equitable pathways to climate resilience. I would put forth two strategies for us to consider as we think about committing to greater care in philanthropy.

1. Committing to an ethical framework of CARE – Collaboration, Accountability, Responsiveness and Empowerment.

A CARE framework emphasizes the importance of collaboration through ongoing engagement and long-term partnerships, with the objective of holding ourselves accountable to the people and institutions we work with. A CARE framework can enable us to deeply listen and be responsive to people’s lived experiences while empowering our local partners to speak grounding truths and engage in transformative healing work. In empowering community-based organizations and local networks of care, philanthropy has a real chance to move past knee-jerk disaster response funding to instead focus on prevention strategies that can substantially reduce disaster risks and enable community well-being.

2. Approaching philanthropy as care work—as a relational way of learning with ‘vulnerability-bearers’.

We have to ask ourselves, how are we extending care in our everyday lives, funding strategies and grantee relationships? A commitment to care calls on us to be always reflexive about our positionality and biases, power and privilege, and personal beliefs about other people’s claims on identities and places. I would encourage reflection around how we can become bridges, reach out and take care of each other in authentic ways.  To do this work, it is also important to look at not only who is being funded, but also how funds and other resources are being deployed. We must pay attention to what is not being said, who is not included, and who has not been invited to your decision-making table, and why?

Alan Kwok: Could you give us some concrete examples of putting care into action to support communities at risk of and impacted by natural hazards?

Shefali Juneja Lakhina: Putting care into action will require addressing the systemic and underlying root causes of disasters. This will entail focusing on policy, people and places. We need to institute caring policy and legal frameworks, sustain multi-year funding for community outreach and capacity building, and ensure inclusive community infrastructure – utilities, roads, shelters – for public safety and well-being. Concretely, in this moment, we can show care by asking, what do communities need from us in addressing the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19? How can we support rebuilding and building, especially affordable housing, in areas with lower risk of wildfires?  How can we work with governments to ensure people are empowered to take protective actions in the face of compounding hazards?  

Alan Kwok: What do you envision the role of philanthropy when it comes to disasters-related funding?

Shefali Juneja Lakhina: Disasters are not inevitable. Disasters can be prevented each year. This recognition calls on us to address a deeper issue around how we can prioritize mitigation and adaptation funding and strategies. We will need on-going partnerships with governments and the private sector to proactively identify who is at risk, determine how we can mitigate potential hazards, and equip at-risk communities with the skills and resources to anticipate and prepare for hazards. By shifting from single-issue disaster funding to person-centered approaches, we can begin to engage with people’s whole lived experience. If we can be cognizant of people’s diverse lived experiences, needs and capacities, we can choose more caring, inclusive and just pathways for our communities. Philanthropy is well-positioned to embed CARE in support of healthy and safe communities.  I look forward to elaborating on these points in my two follow-up blogs, “Living with disasters and disabilities” and “Putting CARE into action for our rural elders.” Through these two blogs, we call attention to philanthropic opportunities and show how we can put CARE into action for people nearest the harm. It’s always exciting to partake in interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral reflections that can contribute to ensuring greater care (by committing to CARE) across all our work. Thank you for holding space for these important conversations. I really look forward to continuing this conversation with your readers.  

This blog was invited in follow up to Dr. Shefali Juneja Lakhina’s comments to the Natural Hazard Center’s Annual 2020 Researcher’s Meeting Plenary session, on July 15, 2020, convened by the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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