The Covid-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented crisis posing a threat to public health and severely affecting societies around the globe, but the way they have been impacted varies greatly.
Further to its contribution to several initiatives in Belgium and India, and struck by the significant variation of impact of the pandemic on communities across the regions where it’s active, Sofina has launched the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation.
In line with the aspirations of its stakeholders and the company’s strategic direction, the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund addresses the adverse consequences of the global Covid-19 pandemic on two key issues related to its focus sectors: specific challenges in healthcare systems and services and the digital gap in education.
At the initiative of its management team, Sofina pledged EUR 20m in commitments – with additional contributions being made by its management team and members of the Board – to support selected projects through the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund over a targeted two-year life span ending by mid-2022.
Our Funding Priorities – Digital Education and Healthcare
Sofina’s investment philosophy is characterised by the belief that knowledge of a sector contributes to the value added by the investor. In line with this guiding principle, the Fund focusses on themes which are core to Sofina’s activities such as Education, Digital Transformation and Healthcare.
The Fund provides grants for a min. amount of EUR 500,000 to non-profit initiatives, organisations and projects that aim to address the following key issues aggravated by the pandemic:
- The Digital Gap in Education
- Specific Challenges in Healthcare Systems and Services related to the pandemic
The contributions of the Fund are directed towards the geographies in which Sofina is locally present and active, with a focus on Western Europe, India and Singapore.
Projects supported by the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund
Agir pour l’école
Agir Pour l’Ecole (“Agir”) is an organisation active for more than ten years in France. It has developed programs to fight the inequalities in teaching reading skills in the early years of school (5-6 years old). Its program is currently deployed in some 550 classes across the country. Since 2016, Agir has developed an AI based app to leverage the time available to teacher and increase the efficiency of their teaching.
They approached the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund, via our common relationship with the Epic Foundation, to support the financing of the development and roll out of their “out of school” teaching for reading skills program.
StepOne is a telehealth platform that has been launched by volunteers in response to the Covid-19 crisis in India. The organisation provides healthcare access to citizens via various media (helplines, WhatsApp and web). Typically, people suspected to have the Covid-19 virus or those who have been positively tested are given a phone number at which they can reach a healthcare provider (doctor or trained paramedic), who then monitors the development of their symptoms and accompanies them as the disease progresses. While initially the platform was mainly providing counselling, they have progressively expanded the services offered. These now include mental health counselling and plasma donor-recipient management. The tool is provided as a support and extension to the government infrastructure and helps prevent further contaminations and deaths.
The solution offered by StepOne offers several advantages. It is:
- accessible: the citizens interface works via normal telephone call and the helplines are toll free.
- inclusive: citizens calling StepOne’s helplines don’t need to be educated or literate – most helplines support all local languages.
- affordable: the services offered by StepOne are affordable (and counselling is free) thanks to the use of a large volunteer force and delivery of medical services by the government or NGOs
Perpetuate the nursing profession
During the crisis caused by the Covid-19, nurses continued to work at homes and in nursing homes and care centres almost without means and in the shadows. The project supported consists of a research to identifying the reasons for the recurrent lack of nurses in healthcare facilities in Wallonia, Brussels and beyond, and to bringing solutions in view of increasing the number of nurses in first-line care through three axes:
- Diminish the abandonment of students during their nursing studies, increase the number of students in nursing schools;
- Diminish the abandonment of nurses in first-line care in their first years of work;
- Formulate socio-political, educational and managerial avenues aimed at making the profession more attractive but also more focused on the first line of care.
Teach for All
With its project Don’t stop learning, Teach For All is developing a multi-stakeholder collaboration to enable the continuity of learning and facilitate education systems building back better after this pandemic by developing digital learning skills. The Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund’s contribution to this partnership will support the expansion of this work in Western Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Spain) and will enable Teach For All’s global organization to facilitate and spread learning on how to reduce the digital divide and maximize technology to accelerate learning.
EducIT & APE
Accelerating the deployment of digital education at the secondary school level
This project aims to stimulate digital adoption in high schools of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. In collaboration, Agir pour l’Enseignement and EducIT will focus on the systemic levers that need to be activated to achieve quality scaling up.
Thanks to its experience in the field and its model “Rentrée Numérique”, EducIT will directly support the deployment of digital technology in schools (adoption, training and support). Agir pour l’Enseignement will support the various educational networks (SeGEC and other stakeholders through workshops and detailed reports of the main lessons learned). Ultimately, this project aims to impact the entire open secondary education in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, nearly 320 schools, 21,000 teachers and 215,000 students.
KEF India (Kaivalya)
Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) is a systems transformation and behavior change organization, working on the most complex problems in the Indian education system, with an aim to enhance future prospects for children.
Drawing on more than a decade of experience in public education, KEF is currently working on specific projects targeting public education leaders and teachers to improve student learning outcomes through (i) leadership development, (ii) process improvement and (iii) technology development. KEF operates in 11 states, works in 500,000 schools, and engages with 390,000 Public Education System Officials. It influences 1.5 million teachers and impacts 87 million children.
The Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund supports two projects aimed at defining and implementing a set of ‘digital first’ strategies across two pillars namely: “21st Century Teacher Continuous Professional Development” and “21st Century Education Leadership”. The program builds on KEF’s current scale and will directly impact 7,000 district and state officials, 300,000 teachers and 1 Mn children, starting with three of India’s largest states: Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
ACT Fund (Education)
The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the learning divide and aggravated the learning crisis in India. But, at the same time, it has also helped build muscle around the use of technology for continuous learning, both in and out of the classroom. India’s EdTech ecosystem has hitherto left the low income segments untapped. However, with growing smartphone penetration and increased demand from all stakeholders, there is a unique opportunity for leveraging EdTech to solve the learning crisis in India.
Anchored by stellar names in the education, philanthropy and investment spaces, seeking to leverage the capabilities of India’s start-up and VC ecosystem and supported by sector experts, the ACT Education Fund sets out to mitigate India’s learning poverty in primary school and enable students to successfully prepare for life and work by harnessing the potential of EdTech for the bottom 75% of India’s population. The ACT Education Fund aims to deploy Rs. 100 crores (i.e. EUR 11.5 million) over five years towards this goal.
The Red Pencil
The Covid-19 sanitary crisis generates increased stress for the whole population. Children and youth are predominately at risk, as they are likely to be less equipped to cope with the increased stress, especially if they come from families from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. And if these children and young people feel overwhelmed by too many stressful thoughts and emotions, they are not able to devote themselves to learning and developing to become engaged and balanced young adults.
The Red Pencil is an international organization which provides psychosocial support through either online or in-situ Art Therapy activities for children and youth whose personal development, mental health and wellbeing have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. To facilitate emotional regulation and develop emotional intelligence, The Red Pencil will conduct art therapy sessions and workshops with the children and the youth and equip the caregivers with art therapy tools and techniques. By supporting this initiative, we are contributing to the long term to the harmonious development of these children and young people in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Singapore and India, so that they can become involved in their turn in their community.
Pratham Books / StoryWeaver
Pratham Books/StoryWeaver is a Indian digital content platform (www.storyweaver.org.in) that provides open and free access to storybooks. As content creator, StoryWeaver aims at scaling the creation and distribution of children’s reading resources in various Indian languages.
Facing the sudden closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic, StoryWeaver responded to it by creating user-friendly teaching & learning programs based on their existing material. With the financial support of the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund, StoryWeaver wants to scale their existing foundational literacy program and their scientific & mathematics programs for young children at elementary-level school. They will also create comprehensive, pedagogically sound content which will be linked to the Indian educational framework in some key languages, along with support materials for teachers and educators, broadcasted online, offline and on low bandwidth channels like WhatsApp or TV.
Understanding and addressing the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic with systems biology and network medicine
The current pandemic of virus infection has left us unprepared in face of enormous logistic, medical and human challenges. This is largely due to significant gaps in the knowledge of the biology of the SARS-coV-2 virus, the ecology of its spreading, the individual determinants of the immune response against it and of its pathogenicity in human tissues, all of which participate to the heterogeneity of the presentation of the clinical Covid-19 disease.
The persistent burden on public health worldwide calls for disruptive strategies to tackle the problem. A multidisciplinary team at the Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc and the UCLouvain Health Science Sector propose to develop a holistic approach based on systems biology to discover new pathogenic mechanisms of the disease and identify individualized, more efficient treatments. With this pioneering project, called Hygieia, they will develop a pipeline of phenotypic (i.e. clinical, epidemiological) data and biological samples collected from first line caretakers, that will feed a central biobank and database; combined multi-modal data generated by sophisticated “omic” analyses from these samples and phenotypic data will be analyzed with algorithms developed by a biostatistical team to reveal critical strata of biology involved in the response to the infection, but also efficacy of treatments and vaccines. By establishing a flexible interface, this pipeline and analysis platform will enable the team to test new, emerging treatments in collaboration with national and international partners, thereby reaching higher statistical power and solid conclusions.
Save the Children
Save the Children India implements sustainable, community-driven projects in India to provide children with quality education and healthcare, protection from harm and abuse, and life-saving aid during emergencies.
Institution-based learning and physical activity abruptly stopped during the pandemic, and the Indian government recommended moving to online distance learning. The online education initiatives exposed the digital divide in education as less than 25% of households can access digital resources due to a lack of digital equipment and affordability. The supported project, conducted in the Madhya Pradesh region, aims to:
- support education continuity during school closures, providing alternative non-digital learning opportunities for children to easily transition to formal school education afterward, thus reducing learning loss;
- ensure a safe and sustained return to schools at reopening with the procurement of sanitary equipment and the establishment of safety protocol.
Avanti’s Ghar Pe School program
The purpose of Avanti is to enable young Indians from low-income backgrounds to have equitable access to high-quality education nationwide (the “bottom 10M children”) and starting with the 2M middle-school students in the Indian states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Avanti presently runs the following three programs:
- JNV: The preparation of students in grades 11 and 12 at the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Schools (JNVs) for college entrance exams.
- Sankalp: In collaboration with the Government of the Indian state Haryana, teachers are being provided with technology and content (power back-up, ICT equipment, and specially designed workbooks) to teach mathematics and science in grades 9 to 12.
- Ghar Pe School: Helping students from low-income families learn at home by enabling access to a library of content, coordinating assessments, and hosting live sessions.
The Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund is supporting Avanti’s Ghar Pe School program.
Swasth (Hindi word for “healthy”) is a non-profit collective of 100+ largely private sector organizations who are building open-source digital health technologies and standards for public good in India. The platform will support the public effort of building the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) by creating Digital Health Infrastructure and Standards to bring private healthcare ecosystem into the NDHM open interoperable network.
TrustCircle is a globally recognised, research backed and evidence-informed AI driven solution that focuses on prevention and early response to mental health particularly in children and young adults in India. It aims at enabling resilience through simple three minute self-reflections, supported by a wider suite of journaling, visibility, assessment and response tools.
As the Fund aims to make a meaningful contribution to mitigating the adverse consequences of the crisis, the measurability of the positive impact represented a key decision-criterion within the selection process for sponsored initiatives.
The Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund strives to measure and communicate the results and achievements of the initiatives and projects sponsored by the Fund.
Our Cooperation with the King Baudouin Foundation
The Fund with a limited lifetime of two years is set up within the King Baudouin Foundation, one of Europe’s largest foundations, which was created in 1976 and is since supporting projects and individuals who are committed to creating a better society in Belgium and internationally.
The Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, is overseen by a committee, chaired by Mr. Pierre Gurdjian, and composed of independent members and representatives of the King Baudouin Foundation, as well as representatives of Sofina. The committee is responsible for allocating the grants in accordance with the outlined mandate of the Fund and the statutes of the King Baudouin Foundation.
How does it work?
The EUR 20+m Fund are financed by Sofina and members of its Board and management team.
For more details on the Fund, please refer to the Frequently asked questions.
We received a large number of applications and were selective in identifying the projects that the Fund supports. Due to the success of the Fund, we are proud to announce that its budget has been fully allocated. It is therefore no longer possible to submit applications for support. If you have any questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected].