News and analysis
August 20, 2014

Foundations Create Fund to Respond to Ebola Crisis in Africa

Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

A girl suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has her temperature taken at a government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

Several philanthropic organizations have teamed up to establish a new fund to respond to an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,200 people in four West African countries.

The Dubai-based Legatum Foundation provided the founding gift—it declined to release the dollar amount—for the Ebola Crisis Fund. It will be administered by Capital for Good, a nonprofit grant-making organization, and Geneva Global, an international philanthropic consulting firm. The goal is to expand the fund to $1-million in the next three months. The money will go to community organizations that are working directly on relief or that have the ability to communicate with rural popluations about the dangers of Ebola.

"Through the Ebola Crisis Fund, it may be possible to douse the early flames of a forest fire with a garden hose rather than the much greater resources required in the later stages of an epidemic," Alan McCormick, managing director of Legatum Limited, the foundation’s corporate partner, said in an email.

The New Field Foundation, which has funded women’s community organizations in West Africa since 2006, has committed $19,000 to the fund, says the executive director, Sarah Hobson. Grass-roots organizations have the ability to reach tens of thousands of people by radio using familiar and culturally sensitive language, she says. The foundation’s contacts in West Africa describe an environment in which misinformation and fear are rampant, she says.

"As traders are prevented or unwilling to travel to the affected areas, there are beginning to be food shortages," Ms. Hobson says.

Shira Gitomer, program director at Geneva Global, says she and her colleagues have also been communicating with their contacts at community-based organizations in West Africa. Groups working on the ground face difficult conditions that include poor infrastructure and limited medical supplies, she says.

"When I was talking to organizations about a month ago, a lot of it was about awareness raising," Ms. Gitomer says. "Now the rhetoric has changed a little and has shifted to personal protective equipment. They are really asking for basic support, like gloves."

Through existing relationships, she and her colleagues have already identified about a half dozen organizations in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone that could receive grants through the Ebola Crisis Fund, Ms. Gitomer says. They have also started fielding emails from other organizations that the fund is now vetting, she says.

Because many are small groups with limited capacity, she expects each grant to max out at about $40,000, Ms. Gitomer says.

Last week, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation said it had donated $2.8-million to the American Red Cross and $100,000 to the online fundraising platform GlobalGiving to use as a matching gift, both to combat the Ebola outbreak. Alison Carlman, senior marketing manager at GlobalGiving, says that gift helped attract $260,000 more from 1,500 donors. The money will be used to support about a dozen community organizations in West Africa, she says.

Since the current Ebola outbreak began, 2,240 people have been infected and 1,229 people have died, according to an update published Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.