Here’s how the Coronavirus can spread some good. 

Written by Matthew Wu, Political Science major and Economics minor at Tulane University, and Co-Founder of Give Back 2020

While it’s natural to despair about how the Coronavirus has impacted the world, it’s heartening to also consider how this event has potential to create a countervailing force for good. I penned a Views article last week arguing that the Coronavirus could finally persuade the American people that we need a broader, more generous safety net to ameliorate the pervasive economic inequalities in our society. I believe there are other potential “silver linings” to the virus that could lead us to a better union: it has motivated an improvement in our country’s solidarity, demonstrated the degree to which our community members care for one another, and presented an opportunity for the next generation of philanthropic leaders to develop. 

We’ve already seen an improvement to our country’s unity. Communities across the nation are now practicing social distancing, despite the innate human tendencies to socialize and roam freely. 

Doing so requires trust: trust that while we sacrifice our lifestyles in the name of containing the spread of this virus, our fellow community members will do the same. The free-rider problem is widely acknowledged by economists because the temptation to take advantage of the conformity of others is devilishly powerful: “If everyone else is staying inside, one gathering with friends can’t hurt, could it?”  

Mandating social distancing is one thing, but each individual who is currently walking the walk by doing their part to “flatten the curve” is demonstrating how our country’s social solidarity can be a force for good. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, who sits on the White House COVID-19 task force, said it best: “We’re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following these guidelines to a tee.” While there is undoubtedly room for improvement in our country’s distancing practices, this virus is underscoring the fact that we are our fellow American’s keeper—a lesson that will only increase that solidarity in the future. 

We’ve also seen the deep level of caring we Americans have for our communities. Businesses are repurposing their operations to address Coronavirus-related needs: Christian Dior is now making hand sanitizer, hotels are becoming quarantine centers, and other companies are looking into whether they can produce ventilators. Philanthropic initiatives are also popping up in New Orleans and other communities nation-wide at an unprecedented pace. 

I’m helping launch one of those initiatives today: Give Back 2020. We’re a Tulane student-led, New Orleans-based organization seeking to do two things: fundraise for New Orleans organizations on the frontlines of helping in the fight against COVID-19 and the economic devastation it has caused, and empower student leaders at other colleges and universities to do the same for their own community institutions. Two of my friends, Max Steitz and Ross Berlin, and I are working hard to maximize both the local impact and national reach of this organization, and we could use your help. 

We see the college network as an ideal medium for galvanizing philanthropic giving. We plan to make full use of the Tulane network to mobilize our fellow students, professors, and alumni to donate their time and/or money to the cause of helping the New Orleans-specific needs we selected: the Second Harvest Food Bank, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Music Relief Fund, and the New Orleans Business Alliance Gig Economy Relief Fund

We are also helping student-led teams at other universities across the country do the same by lending them our ethos and brand, giving them personal assistance as they follow our blueprint to build their own movements, and creating a national network of Give Back partners they can use to share experiences and advice in real time. Each team will choose their local philanthropies to fundraise for, and each team will devise their own strategy for raising funds that is tailored to their specific community and network. 

By helping them make a difference during this crisis, we seek to accomplish what I see as the third potential silver lining of COVID-19: helping to empower the future generation of philanthropic leaders. Many of our partners have never participated in a nation-wide philanthropic initiative before. All of them will have the skills and experience necessary to continue their charitable leadership when the “Give Back Movement” is over. We also aim to make the Give Back Network a useful resource for our partners as they do so. Hopefully, this combination of experience and mutual support will combine to make our country’s culture of giving back that much stronger down the road. 

We have seen that students across the country have found themselves with a lot of newfound time and a sudden, insistent itch to do what they can to help their communities. If you relate to that sentiment, we hope you will join us. You can check out our website, GiveBack2020.org, to see what you can do to help with the Tulane initiative as well as how you can get your friends at other universities involved.

The latest research shows that for every person who contracts Coronavirus, as many as 3.5 people other are infected. That number is a stark reminder of why we all should be practicing social distancing. It’s also indicative of the potential of exponential growth to impact a community— whether for good or bad.  

Once Coronavirus has run its course, it will have impacted every one of us in some way or another. Tulane students learned that much when our school moved classes online in March, sending freshmen, sophomores, and many underclassmen packing, and effectively ending college (at least as we knew it) for the senior class. The Coronavirus and its economic effects have laid waste to many communities, including New Orleans. In short, it’s a bad virus. 

Let’s strike back by spreading the “good virus.” The symptoms include increased social solidarity, the donation of your time and money to causes that matter to your community, and the realization that, in absolute terms, anything you can do toward that end is better than nothing. We have the potential to do a lot of good right now—let’s take advantage of that by doing what we can to help our community in this time of need. 

Be sure to check out our Instagram page @givebacktulane for important updates, and consider giving our launch day video a repost to spread the word! 

Cover Photo: Give Back 2020