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Funders respond to coronavirus (COVID-19)

By Andrew Grabois
March 3, 2020

Editor’s note: Since the publishing of this post, Candid released a pop-up webpage about coronavirus. View philanthropy’s response to the pandemic: candid.org/coronavirus. While we’ll be updating this webpage regularly, there can be lags getting data from different sources, so there may be short-term discrepancies. Check back regularly for updates.

Read a Candid Blog post updating this post.

On the last day of 2019, China advised the World Health Organization (WHO) that some people in the city of Wuhan (Hubei province) were infected with an unknown strain of viral pneumonia.  Those infected were traced back to the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. On January 7, Chinese officials announced that they had identified a new virus belonging to the coronavirus family, which was called novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Since then, the renamed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has killed 3,000 people, infected nearly 90,000 in at least 60 countries, and is present on every continent except Antarctica.

Candid has been closely tracking the global private philanthropic response to COVID-19 through news stories and other publicly available resources. Although the response to COVID-19 has taken on familiar patterns of funders and recipients, its scope has dwarfed funding for recent natural disasters. Since September 2017, Candid has identified pledges and donations for eight major hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires totaling more than $898 million; philanthropic funding announced in the last five weeks for COVID-19 alone has reached $980 million.

Chart of Philanthropic funding for recent disasters. COVID-19, $979.9 million. Hurricane Harvey, $341.1 million. Australian bushfires, $158.1 million. Hurricane Irma, $128 million. Hurricane Maria, $62 million. Hurricane Dorian, $46.3 million.

Epidemics and pandemics are not natural disasters, however, so if we want to compare funding for like occurrences, we would have to go back to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 in West Africa. There, Candid identified pledges and donations worth more than $363 million announced over a period of six months, still only a third of the COVID-19 response.

Although COVID-19 is a transnational epidemic on its way to becoming a global pandemic, almost all private funding we’ve been able to identify from publicly available sources—76 percent of the pledges and 93 percent of the dollar value—has so far come from just China and the United States. And if you count Hong Kong and Macao, both “special administrative regions (SAR)” of China, the two countries account for 84 percent of pledges and 97 percent of dollar value.

Country/SAR Grants Amount (USD)
China 68 $728,717,361
United States 66 $182,323,780
Hong Kong 11 $32,218,724
United Kingdom 3 $8,419,120
Macao 3 $6,240,000
South Korea 3 $6,200,600
France 4 $5,717,530
Japan 7 $4,326,000
Germany 3 $1,892,100
Australia 2 $1,586,200
New Zealand 2 $1,339,842
Austria 1 $432,600
Singapore 2 $357,500
Italy 1 $144,200
TOTAL 176 $979,915,557

In the United States, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced an immediate commitment of up to $100 million to “strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.” This commitment accounts for 55 percent of the entire U.S. contribution from private philanthropic sources and is consistent with U.S. private funding during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when contributions from the Gates and Paul Allen family foundations accounted for more than 57 percent of U.S. funding from private philanthropy. The only other U.S. funder in the top 20 is Citadel, LLC, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. The single most generous donor so far has been Tencent Holdings, a Chinese Internet giant that pledged $216.3 million both directly and through its foundation, totaling 22 percent of private contributions globally. Although the company’s name might seem ironic to English speakers, considering the size of its contribution, the name actually means “galloping fast information” in Chinese.

Funder Grants Amount
Tencent Holdings 2 $173,040,000
Alibaba Group 1 $144,200,000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 4 $100,000,000
Squirrel AI Learning 2 $73,542,000
Tencent Charity Foundation 1 $43,260,000
Baidu 1 $43,260,000
ByteDance 1 $28,840,000
Country Garden Holdings Company 1 $28,840,000
Geely Holding 1 $28,840,000
Meituan Dianping 1 $28,840,000
Jack Ma Foundation 1 $14,420,000
TAL Education Group 1 $14,420,000
Rongcheng Group 1 $14,420,000
Future Education Group 2 $14,420,000
Beijing Kuaishou Technology Co. 1 $14,420,000
Li Ka Shing Foundation 1 $12,876,180
HKBN Ltd. 1 $12,827,940
China FAW Group Co. 1 $8,652,000
Citadel LLC 1 $7,500,000
Reckitt Benckiser 1 $7,296,520

As is usually true of the response to most natural disasters, companies have responded first and disproportionately, accounting for 86 percent of all COVID-19 pledges and 81 percent of the total dollar value. When you count grants from both companies and their foundations, those figures increase to 95 percent of pledges and 86 percent of dollar value.

Funders by type. Companies, $793,929,777. Family foundations, $105,000,000. Corporate foundations, $51,247,600. Independent foundations, $28,296,180.

Other observations:

  • Most COVID-19 pledges and donations came in during two weeks. Between January 23, when the first pledge was announced, and February 5, funders committed 74 grants worth $638 million, which constitutes 42 percent of pledges and 65 percent of the total dollar amount.
  • Unspecified recipients in impacted areas of China received 57 percent of pledges constituting 75 percent of the total dollar value of all contributions; multiple named recipients received 8 percent of pledges and 13 percent of dollar value; and among single named recipients, the Red Cross accounted for 15 percent of pledges and 6percent of dollar value.
  • A number of Chinese technology companies are offering to build things like “hot diagnosis maps,” "pneumonia prevention channels,” and the technical infrastructure for video meetings and online education courses. One of the largest such commitments came from Squirrel AI Learning, an adaptive learning education company specializing in K-12 after-school tutoring. Squirrel AI announced that it would provide $72.1 million worth of online education courses across China free of charge to K-12 students.

Will private philanthropy continue to fund the front-line response to COVID-19 or will it largely step aside, as it did during the 2014 Ebola crisis, in favor of mega-funding from a few well-endowed family foundations and large-scale actions implemented by nation states and transnational organizations? It’s hard to know. A lot depends on how well the public sphere performs. You can be sure of one thing: Candid will be watching.

We are in the process of adding these COVID-19 pledges on our free, publicly accessible Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy funding map. This resource was created in partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Tags: Novel coronavirus (COVID-19); Foundations and grantmaking; Disaster philanthropy