Empowering Changemakers During the Pandemic



A New Narrative for Challenging Times

Countries across Europe have started to turn the corner on COVID-19. But the pandemic’s effects will be felt long after lockdowns have ended. Our understanding of ‘normal’ has been shaken. Many of us feel exposed and vulnerable — economically, socially, psychologically. Individual and shared wellbeing are compromised as a result.
But Ashoka Fellows from the UK, Ireland and around the world are stepping up to help. They are using creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to challenge this narrative. By mobilising their organisations and designing new solutions, Fellows are empowering individuals, families, and communities to reclaim their sense of agency and act.
The impact of this work is already being felt worldwide.

Empowering Individuals

Alison, a global e-learning platform founded by Mike Feerick, has engaged more than 14 million learners since its founding in 2007. Its new COVID-19 course, which like other Alison courses is free of charge, enables enrolees to learn about the virus’s history, symptoms, transmission, and prevention. World Health Organisation guidelines inform the curriculum. And to date, nearly 210,000 learners have taken the course which is being published in more than 100 languages.

Marc Koska has a long history of empowering healthcare workers to administer injections safely. His Blow-Fill-Seal auto-disposable syringe may be used just once to inject a patient with medicine, which helps to prevent the spread of bloodborne disease and infection through needle re-use. Marc’s organisation ApiJect recently partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to found the Rapid Aseptic Packaging of Injectable Drugs (RAPID) Consortium, the goal of which is the manufacturing of pre-filled syringes at low cost and huge scale to help healthcare workers across America address future pandemics and bio-threats.

Krystian Fikert is mobilising MyMind, a community-based mental healthcare service provider, to give online counselling for those struggling with the pandemic and its effects. Leading medical professionals’ recent recommendations in The Lancet make clear how essential this kind of readily accessible mental healthcare is right now. MyMind is doing its part. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the service has seen a 34% rise in clients seeking help with anxiety, and a 20% rise in clients dealing with symptoms associated with depression. Counsellors are providing users both the space and tools they need to validate their reactions and build resilience for future challenges.

Empowering Families

Jen Lexmond developed the EasyPeasy platform to help parents embrace their changemaking potential as their children’s first teachers. Cognitive, socioemotional, and communication skills — developed in play from a young age — are central to a child’s readiness for formal schooling and long-term academic success. The ways in which parents interact with these youngest of learners help to develop brain circuits that are central to developing these skills. And that’s how EasyPeasy is empowering parents during lockdowns: the service — made completely free of charge for all users through the end of May — is sending parents ideas for interactive offline games via mobile phones. More than 32,000 families have engaged in EasyPeasy play since the organisation’s founding.

Tom Ravenscroft is enabling learning at home for families with older children, too. Many of his Skills Builder resources are now available for free to parents and carers who wish to support school-age children’s remote and home learning. Since founding his organisation in 2009, Tom has built partnerships between educators, employers, and youth organisations to promote eight essential enterprise skills that every young person needs to excel. The resources available to families provide practical guidance for developing older children’s key competencies such as listening, presenting, leadership, and problem solving.

Empowering Communities

Al Harris founded Blue Ventures in 2003 to catalyse community-driven coastal conservation efforts in Madagascar that also boost local fishermen’s incomes. In response to the pandemic, he’s repurposed the organisation’s community health program and partnered with the Ministry of Health to provide people with soap and access to handwashing stations. Al and his colleagues have also started to add testing kits to the medical commodities supply chain and are training Community Health Workers and local health staff on testing protocols. They’re coordinating with government and humanitarian programmes to ensure that support and relief packages reach those who need them most.

The UK’s National Care Force is using a secure, digitised system to help verify the identities of care providers, healthcare workers, and volunteers keen to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Ken Banks and colleagues at Yoti have built this online identity platform and are making it available for free for up to three months for public health organisations, emergency services, and community initiatives tackling the pandemic. Yoti is also partnering with DIMAYOR, which administers Colombia’s top professional football leagues, to provide digital support as teams determine players’ health before returning to play.

Nightly sing-alongs across Italy during the height of the country’s COVID-19 crisis inspired Sanderson Jones to introduce Lifefulness Live — a virtual sing-along with neighbours. Sanderson was impressed by the sense of community that singing from balconies and doorways could build and is using multiple social media channels to link participants around the world three nights a week. Guest performers have joined in the live streams. Sanderson’s organisation, the Lifefulness Project, promotes principles to live by for building more inclusive, secular communities. It adds to the momentum generated by Sunday Assembly, a non-religious congregation that Sanderson co-founded in 2013 to celebrate community integration and personal wellbeing.

Ashoka Fellows from the UK, Ireland and around the world are empowering individuals and communities to build resilience and effect change. Each of us can do the same — in our families, neighbourhoods, and communities. How are you employing your changemaking potential?