February 25, 2021
(Updated on March 15, 2021)

event: when reality hits, exploring the implications of COVID-19 on global poverty and development

On Friday, March 12, we shared AVSI’s experiences in mitigating and responding to the impact of the pandemic in its many dimensions and forms. 


As part of the New York Encounter, AVSI-USA sponsored the online event “Not for Profit Alone” on the economy and emerging lessons from the impact of COVID-19. On March 12, AVSI-USA presented the panel When Reality Hits: Exploring the implications of COVID-19 on Global Poverty and Development, when we took the discussion a step further and considered what the emerging lessons learned might contribute to the field of international development and humanitarian assistance, in other words, for the fight against extreme poverty and the expansion of human development and respect for the dignity and freedom of all people. 

Laura Frigenti, an advisor to AVSI and Global Head IDAS Institute at KPMG US, spoke about the multiple dimensions of impact of the crisis, noting that we still can’t even imagine or measure the full impact on things like mental health. She pointed out how social service systems that provide quality, equitable education, health and protection services are so very essential to the ability of countries to prepare for and respond to such a crisis. She provoked us to think hard about the most appropriate response to such a crisis: 

“Can we think about another type of social protection that is not just handing out checks? How can we invest in upgrading quality of jobs to stay in tune with the future of work?” (18:00)

Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary General of AVSI, commented on the “new poor” and the worsening of food insecurity and the severe limitation on access to education for millions of children around the world, mentioning the grave crisis of learning that will take years to address. In looking at AVSI’s projects and how as an organization we have adjusted, Giampaolo noted that:  

“We have tried to be anti-cyclical. We need to address the loss of income but also safeguard health and education….multi-sectoral programs are important.” (24:30)

John Makoha, AVSI Country Representative for Uganda, picked up on the theme of preparedness and the building blocks for resiliency in front of crisis like this one, and the others which will come. Adaptation has now become the norm at AVSI, together with a greater willingness to adjust the way of working and even to fail, always keeping the person at the center. John shared how he has been reassured by how he saw his colleagues respond, with dedication to staying close to the communities we serve, even when difficult, and keeping an eye on the future.

“The first causality of COVID in Uganda was not health but the fact that other social services had been needed, and this gave us the realization that we need to prepare communities in the future with an eye to equity,” said Makoha.

All three speakers emphasized the important role of communities and non-profit, civil society actors such as AVSI by virtue of their closeness to the people, dedication and “vocation” to meeting immediate needs. John provided clear examples of how AVSI can help the government fulfill its fundamental responsibility toward the population, while Laura reminded us of the complementary role of civil society to be the “the hinge between society at large and those who were chosen to represent society”, in other words “the voice of the voiceless.” John also mentioned how valuable the unrestricted funds that AVSI receives from donors have become during this period of great uncertainty and rapid adaptation to new and old needs.  

Furthermore, the personal experiences shared by all the speakers highlighted how much we have all shared in a common experience during this crisis, around the world. Giampaolo summed this up nicely which his encouragement to consider a new form of engagement:  

“Another lesson is the new awareness about solidarity. We are all facing the same crisis. This could be the beginning of an evolution from solidarity to a new sustainable fraternity.” (55:55)

if you missed the event, you can watch it here:


Laura Frigenti


Laura is an international senior executive with strategic and managerial leadership skills with international, non-profit, government and economic (World Bank and UN) organizations, including at the Cabinet level. She has in-depth knowledge and expertise of Africa, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America markets, with direct experience in dealing with political and business leaders in over 30 countries. She has delivered advisory services and lending products to governments, both directly managing the transactions (over $10B) and in supervisory roles (~$10B per annum) over 25+ years.

Giampaolo Silvestri


Graduated in economics at the Bocconi University, Milan, he joined AVSI in 1996. He started as a referent for Eastern Europe projects, to become soon Projects Area Manager and later Executive Director. In July 2013, he was assigned by AVSI’s Board of Directors the responsibility of Secretary-General. In 2015, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation appointed him as a member of the National Council for Cooperation and Development to represent civil society organizations and other non-profit entities.

He has been promoting AVSI’s innovative way to implement development project, on different occasions, in his missions to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, through the partnership with major donors (European Union, USAID, Development Banks, etc.), businesses and private companies, and during various conversations with the civil society, and state and local institutions.

John Makoha


John Makoha holds a B.Sc. in Agriculture Economics (Makerere University, Kampala) and Post Graduate Diploma in Management from the Uganda Management Institute (UMI). He is married with four children.

As Country Representative (since 2009), John oversees the country program portfolio spanning different sectors of Education, Health, Agriculture, Water, sanitation and hygiene; spread over 45 districts in Uganda.

Between January 2003 and August 2009, John worked as AVSI’s policy and advocacy liaison officer in Brussels, Belgium; representing AVSI on international networks and meetings, liaised with the EU (parliament and commission) institutions. He also worked for AVSI in Nairobi, Kenya and has undertaken a number of short missions to other countries in Africa and Eastern Europe where AVSI is present.