A Reflection on Covid-19 and Community-Led Development: The Journey Thus far

Wednesday, October 21 at 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (EST)

Facilitators: Gunjan Veda (MCLD) and Nelly Mecklenberg (Institute for State Effectiveness)

As the Adapting Community-Led Development (CLD) to Covid 19 series moved into its seventh month, participants from around the world took time to reflect on their experiences and discuss what had changed over the last eight months and what remained to be done to improve CLD during the pandemic. Although these times have been difficult for MCLD partners, we have experienced some major wins in the world of CLD. According to participants, as organizations’ immediate priorities were constrained, they have had to strengthen and adapt their programming to cope with the ongoing crisis and meet the new needs of community members. These quick adaptations demonstrate CLD’s ability to combat new barriers, create flexible programming, and work in collaboration with partners around the world. October’s call allowed participants to reflect on the challenges and their successes as the pandemic continues.

Where are we now?

On the call, participants looked back at the six previous calls: 

  • April – Early in the pandemic, there was a great deal of uncertainty and new territory. In this call, participants examined four barriers to programming – lack of access (because of mobility restrictions), fear/inability to convene (for village meetings or trainings), challenges to procurement and delivery (because of disruptions), and changing time availability and priorities of staff and communities. They identified the challenges these presented and possible ways to mitigate them.
  • May – Already in May, initial lockdowns were starting to ease in some place. Participants considered what resuming programming could look like in the short term and how we could use this experience to improve programming in the long term.
  • June – We conducted a scenario planning exercise looking three months ahead at different sized organizations, in different contexts, and in different lockdown situations. This introduced a tool that organizations could use for internally planning. 
  • July – This call addressed trust with communities – both how the pandemic diminished it (when teams couldn’t travel or continue progress on programming) and how it increased it (demonstrating trust in and flexibility to support communities as the situation changed). 
  • August – In anticipation of the UN General Assembly panel, this call looked at collaboration with local and national governments – how such collaboration was initiated, what worked, what could be done better.
  • September – This special session was a UN General Assembly panel, called Community Leaders Fighting COVID-19. It included leaders from international, national, and local levels, from the African Union, Afghanistan and Mexico. Take-aways from that panel are available here.

On just these calls alone, participants have done a lot of adaptation and work. Both community members and MCLD participants are tired from having to continuously grapple with new challenges and rapidly changing circumstances. While the world went on pause, participants noted that our workload increased and we had to alter our personal and professional routines. 

In a poll, participants admitted that many had to pause their programs and alter them in response to the lockdowns. The focus over the last few months has been on improving Covid-related programming and adapting community mobilization and meetings. Yet, even seven months down the line, community mobilization continues to pose a major challenge.

From the Field: Participants heard from two speakers, Akello Emma Grace from Spark Microgrants and Lumuno Mweeba Chongo from the Amos Youth Center, on the adapted responses of their organizations to Covid 19 in Uganda and Zambia respectively. Emma had spoken on the very first call in April about the early steps Spark Microgrants was taking to support communities in the pandemic. Due to the ongoing protests in Nigeria and resulting connectivity issues, Diane Maha from the Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI) sent her presentation as a write-up. It can be viewed here.

Akello Emma Grace (Community of Practice Manager, Spark Microgrants, Uganda): Before Covid 19 hit, Spark Microgrants had very clear goals for 2020. However in the last few months they have had to shift their focus and create very specific pandemic-related goals and expectations for their organization. Instead of the annuals goals, the organization is now setting monthly goals as they are more attainable in an environment that is constantly changing. In Uganda, they were able to focus on fundraising as a means to combat hunger and health insurance costs for community members. Grace also discussed their transition into remote meeting spaces and the development of systems that are designed to remain accountable during times of crisis. These meetings had an extremely high attendance rate and their new methodologies promote the idea that community-based structures can be strengthened, especially during a crisis like this.

Lumuno Mweeba Chongo (Amos Youth Centre, Zambia) discussed the challenges the center is facing and its transition from pre-Covid methods. The center would usually receive around 400 people a day, providing them lunch, counseling services, and free schooling assistance. However, the center had to close down in March in order to ensure the safety of its pupils. Since then, the center has been administering food packages to their students and families, conducting weekly health-check ins with families, teaching students over the phone, delivering school materials, and preparing scholarship awards for the upcoming year. While the center has been  able to adapt its services to pandemic guidelines, they worry about their students’ safety and their access to quality education and enough food. As life during Covid-19 progresses, the center hopes to meet all the needs of their students while ensuring that they will be safe from the virus. 

Brainstorming wins and challenges

In three breakout groups, participants discussed the changes they had experienced in their programming over the last 8 months, their preparedness for another round of lockdowns and the challenges that remain to be addressed. 

Breakout Group 1: In DRC, community based organizations have been able to continue their regular work (albeit with precautions) as the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t yet made it there. They have however been training women in how to wear and utilize PPE and how to talk to fellow citizens about taking precautions in the marketplace. Organizations from India and Uganda, however, had to make multiple adjustments including transitioning all program planning and much of the actual programming to virtual spaces. They increased focus on grant-writing, technical support and leadership training (with a focus on online communications).

Breakout Group 2: Representatives from Uganda and Nigeria shared the challenge of helping people to understand the pandemic and cultivating trust for the information being provided. Volunteers in Nigerian communities have been promoting discussions and disseminating information using group discussions and radio transmissions. In Uganda, meeting structures have been transformed from groups of 50 to smaller meetings of 10 people in continued efforts to promote community mobilization. This new structure appears to have benefited mobilization and improved participation within meetings. Challenges remain in order to be prepared for a second wave, including how to make programs operational early enough in a lock down to reach communities effectively. This remained a question for programs in Afghanistan, Uganda, and Nigeria. 

Breakout Group 3: The most significant adaptation has been working remotely and mobilizing communities and implementing partners in smaller groups. Some program staff are returning to their offices, but implementing partners are still operating under COVID procedures. In some cases, COVID has “re-awakened the community spirit” and encouraged new collaborative models. Online/phone meetings, smaller group gatherings and checking in on community members at home have seemed popular and rather successful. A significant amount of programming has still been focused on awareness campaigns relating to social distancing, masks and sanitation. While most programs said their staff are operating safely, their implementing partners in communities – as well as the community members themselves – are still not following the new SOPs (standard operating procedures) or taking precautions seriously. This is a significant issue (especially in Uganda for example) as many communities were not hit as hard and never truly experienced a true “first wave.”  Funding was a key concern for everyone inthe breakout group. Many large donors have ceased new funding or are only funding activities directly related to COVID response. The MCLD calls were cited as helpful as a source to not only connect to and learn from different organizations, but also develop fundraising networks.

Covid Working Group Update:

The Covid Working Group of MCLD will be conducting interviews and surveys with community members in order to get a better sense of the impacts of and responses to Covid around the world. These interviews will collect data and stories on community mobilization during the pandemic and will help highlight and share successful community responses to Covid. The working group is currently finalizing the interview guide and hope to begin interviews by early November. 

Next call

The November call of the Adapting CLD to Covid 19 series will be a conversation on vaccines, specifically, safety, access, and information regarding vaccine distribution. 

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