For Investors / For Startups / News & Events / Open Call
April 23rd, 2020

Innovation in Crisis: What We’re Seeing

By Wes Panek

When we initially launched our 2020 Open Call, we did so with the need to continue to build power for vulnerable communities across the country and our eyes toward the upcoming 2020 elections. COVID-19 changed those plans and raised the stakes. The crisis ensuing from this pandemic will be one of the biggest economic, political, and cultural turning points of our lifetime – and the activists and entrepreneurs we’ve funded at New Media Ventures are facing these challenges head-on. 

The last few weeks have surfaced countless examples of leadership, adaptability, and how to show up for communities in remarkable ways. This strength is not an anomaly but a key characteristic of the exact type of leaders we are proud to invest in at NMV. 

NMV entrepreneurs have shown us the blueprint for how to show up in a crisis and come together to mobilize movements for change.

As the pandemic cracked the fault lines in our democracy and economy open even wider, organizations dedicated to building a future where everyone can live and work in dignity, United for Respect and Coworker.org, mobilized quickly for workplace protections for essential workers. With millions of families facing school days disrupted for the foreseeable future, ParentsTogether became an organizing hub for paid leave, caregiver support, and building power for families. 

As we all navigate a different state of affairs than we imagined, we are eager to share insights and lessons from these leaders. After reaching out to the teams behind this work, we want to share the two themes that have emerged that support progressive innovation in turbulent, uncertain times: collaborative organizing and inclusive movement building.  

These highlights demonstrate agile and thoughtful approaches in response to daunting problems and constantly evolving circumstances.

Collaborative Organizing

The coronavirus pandemic is remaking how we build power. Seemingly overnight, political campaigns had to pivot from in-person voter engagement and live event fundraising to entirely virtual organizing operations and voter contact. NMV entrepreneurs leveraged their strengths as collaborative organizers to meet this challenge and protect democracy. Within the portfolio there is case after case of the resilience necessary to navigate change during a crisis, share resources among mission-aligned partners, lift up new ways of building, and scale national organizing efforts. 

Run for Something, in collaboration with more than 35 organizations, launched a Candidate Support Hub to support campaigns and candidates finding new ways to reach voters where they are. The crowd-sourced repository hosts more than 40 virtual organizing and voter engagement resources. Sister District and Swing Left both launched Virtual Organizing Hubs with robust how-to resources, virtual community organizing guides, lessons learned, and resources from many movement partner organizations. 

NMV entrepreneurs build with and in community with one another. Many COVID-19 initiatives have been built in collaboration and partnership, efficiently leveraging each portfolio member's own strengths to expand impact and reach. For example, Town Hall Project launched the Mutual Aid Hub, an aggregated resource of mutual aid initiatives across the country. The map is also embedded on Indivisible's new COVID-19 site, and to ensure the data is shared with communities at risk for social isolation in this climate, the data is also on AARP's new mutual aid site as well. This crisis presented a moment to quickly adapt and build to the needs of impacted communities with coordination, clarity, and focus. 

Inclusive Movement Building

People are eager to see their humanity reflected in the media, and how we shape the cultural narrative of this chapter in history matters. NMV media entrepreneurs Prism did not skip a beat to meet that need. The site launched a series related to the impact of COVID-19 on elections and vulnerable populations, including people who are incarcerated and transgender communities. These diverse, complex stories are vitally important reporting, and set an elevated standard for how media can cover communities in a crisis. 

While NMV media entrepreneurs lead shifts in storytelling, NMV movement entrepreneurs are responding to COVID-19 by expanding powerful ways to show up for communities. In response to the rise in anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment, Hollaback! partnered with Asian Americans Advancing Justice to create a digital bystander intervention training that was attended by thousands. PeoplesHub is a long-established leader in building meaningful movement leadership in virtual communities. They shared the blueprint for their model of transformative online organizing in “Creating a Transformative Online Space” and issued an e-book, Leading Groups Online, by trainers for both PeoplesHub and fellow NMV portfolio organization Sunrise Movement

These are just a few of the examples of the type of leadership that is necessary in times of crisis and reinvention. We are confident these leaders will shape the future of resilient, progressive innovation. They reflect collaboration and an ethos that if we are to shift power, we must do so in community and in partnership. We hope these ideas from activists and entrepreneurs wrestling with the biggest challenges facing our democracy inspire you to share your own leadership in our current Expanded Open Call

What’s Next 

The structures we are working to shift will not cede power overnight and the threats facing our democracy at the moment are not the first and will not be the last. Building the infrastructure, tools, and coalitions we need to weather these storms and hold power to account will take time.  

COVID-19 changed our plans. But we still have the power to rewrite the rules of power in our country. NMV entrepreneurs have shown us the blueprint for how to show up in a crisis and come together to mobilize movements for change.

As investors, we are committed to supporting founders and leaders who are showing up in this moment to help push the country forward. If you’re doing innovative work in this space, we want to hear from you and we look forward to building and rebuilding with you.