Through virtual reality, children in isolation are able to immerse themselves in a world that allows for escapism, creativity and freedom. Picture: Supplied
Through virtual reality, children in isolation are able to immerse themselves in a world that allows for escapism, creativity and freedom. Picture: Supplied

How NGOs focused on in-person support are adapting in a Covid-19 world

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Dec 2, 2020

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Cape Town – The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted business models. NGOs whose work centres on human interaction perhaps even more so.

Having little to no access to the people they support, in-person, high human-touch business models have had to rethink and retool an entire model built on in-person support.

“How do you go virtual with healthcare though?’’ was among the many questions that needed answering, according to Megan Nethercote, strategic director of F/NE Group Global, a strategic marketing communications agency whose non-profit arm, F/NE For Good, primarily supports NGOs in the healthcare space, such as Reach For a Dream Foundation and the Breast Health Foundation

‘’How do you deliver dreams to children with life-threatening illnesses if your volunteers aren’t allowed near the dreamers? How do you help breast cancer patients navigate unfamiliar hospitals and their treatment plans if you aren’t allowed to walk through the door with them? How do you fund your charity if no people are walking through your charity store and buying donated goods?”

Reach For a Dream has spent the past 32 years delivering dream experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses in hospitals. Picture: Supplied

Working closely with organisations such as the Reach For a Dream Foundation and the Breast Health Foundation for a number of years, Nethercote says, the ’’magnitude of what NGOs are currently facing is very real to us”.

Reach For a Dream has spent the past 32 years delivering dream experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses in hospitals. Volunteers could no longer reach dreamers as dreamers needed to remain isolated and safe from any exposure to Covid-19.

Nethercote says: “Our starting point was that the mission hadn’t changed. Reach For a Dream exists to give dreamers hope and beautiful experiences, but it was very clear that how dreamers could be reached needed to change.

“Instead of trying to find a way to safely connect volunteers with dreamers – in other words, how to get them into hospitals and dreamers safely out of hospitals – we focused on the organisation’s key objective.’’

Picture: Supplied

Like most things in 2020, the answer lay in virtual reality (VR).

“One of the innovative businesses in our network is Eden, a company that specialises in hardware, content and platform-based Virtual Reality solutions.

’’Working closely together, our team, Reach For a Dream and Eden have developed a pilot project that gives dreamers a beautiful, immersive VR experience, while at the same time keeping human touch to bare a minimum to ensure their safety,” says Nethercote.

Natalie Lazaris, Reach For A Dream’s business head, says on their website: ’’Through virtual reality, the boundaries are bridged and children in isolation will be able to immerse themselves in a world that allows for escapism, creativity and freedom.

’’The idea is not to replace the actual dream, but to make otherwise impossible dream experiences come true with the power of VR and at the same time ensuring the safety of our dreamers, and ultimately enabling our dream children to dream.”

While VR is the perfect solution for Reach For a Dream’s current challenges, Nethercote and her team understand that technology isn’t going to solve every problem other NGOs are facing.

Volunteers of the Breast Health Foundation, for example, help cancer patients navigate both public and private hospitals and treatment programmes. It’s a hands-on support structure that educates and assists women in navigating the complexity of a fragmented healthcare system and simplifies their journey.

F/NE For Good is working with the Breast Health Foundation to find innovative and meaningful ways to still reach and support their community of patients.

“We’ve learnt from the pandemic that we regularly need to approach things from new angles. If we remain true to our core objectives, how we achieve them can be agile and flexible.

‘’Covid-19 has thrown us all a curveball. Our goal as F/NE For Good is to ensure that incredible organisations, such as Reach For a Dream and the Breast Health Foundation, can continue to support vulnerable communities, despite these unprecedented challenges,” says Nethercote.

IOL

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