Adapting CLD processes to continue through COVID-19

The 10th call in the Adapting CLD Programming to COVID-19 series marked a year (or more) of lockdowns in many parts of the world. The pandemic has forced organizations to pivot their programming and priorities – beyond just the immediate needs and response to the pandemic. During the call, participants heard from organizational representatives and reflected in breakout groups on how their organizations’ work have evolved and adapted in ways that will have impact beyond COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated existing issues such as hunger, poverty, and violence against women, and communities – and CLD organizations – will be confronted with the fallout from this for some time to come. But the pandemic has also showcased the ingenuity and resilience of communities worldwide, and forced new ways of working and collaborating that can support all kinds of initiatives. 

The call featured two main speakers to share experiences from their countries and organizations: 

  • Suhalya Bazbaz, Director, Community Cohesion and Social Innovation, Mexico
  • Arthur Nkosi, Country Director, CorpsAfrica, and Co-Chair, Malawi Chapter MCLD

Update from the Movement’s COVID Working Group 

Before hearing from some of the Movement’s National Chapters and call participants, Gunjan Veda provided a brief update on the COVID Working Group’s progress. The COVID Working Group has collated data from other organizations, and conducted interviews with community representatives to gauge their perspectives on community health and development. The working group plans to release a set of case studies to compile relevant data in about two months. 

Making Decisions in a Changing Context 

Suhalya Bazbaz detailed how COVID has pushed Community Cohesion and Social Innovation (CCSI) to “mainstream uncertainty as the new normal” in order to adapt to the pandemic and future shocks in its work with indigenous peoples in Mexico. The organization has been re-evaluating decisions frequently during the pandemic to account for safety. The pandemic has shined a light on existing structural inequalities and how they manifest in this time of hardship, and the pandemic has spurred Community Cohesion and Social Innovation to try to consider these inequalities in greater depth. 

COVID restrictions are increasingly blamed for a lack of inclusion of indigenous peoples in government decision-making and the absence of state laws and policies to champion economic equality. CCSI has had to adapt its work both to address immediate COVID-related concerns but also its far-reaching implications, including integrating a more balanced approach to physical and mental health in future programs. 

Innovation to Support the Most Rural Communities 

Arthur Nkosi (Country Director, CorpsAfrica, and Co-Chair, Malawi Chapter MCLD) described how COVID highlighted the importance of communication between government officials and communities. After 10-12 months of misinformation, the Malawi Chapter of MCLD, in collaboration with media and medical professionals, facilitated a broadcast to address citizens’ concerns around vaccinations and combat any misinformation surrounding them. The WHO and large NGOs throughout Malawi have since approached the chapter about partnerships to produce similar broadcasts related to the vaccine rollout. This lays out a template for future collaboration.

Solutions Lying in Collaboration

Collaborative solutions to increasing access to education during the pandemic have been at the heart of CorpsAfrica’s work. Arthur Nkosi raised several problems to do with equal access to education in Malawi that COVID highlighted, and explained how maximizing technology during this ‘new normal’ has been vital to CorpsAfrica’s solutions. They joined forces with major technology companies like MasterCard to brainstorm innovative educational approaches that can be used during the pandemic, as many Malawian teachers are still hesitant to teach in schools. Again, some of these solutions have included broadcasting information via radio or the internet to continue to inspire young learners, and can help address broader problems of equal access.

The Benin Chapter of MCLD has forged new partnerships during the pandemic in order to ensure that accurate, accessible information is available to their communities. Pascal Djohossou (West Africa Coordinator, MCLD) described the materials that were compiled in Benin to share information about the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, the Benin Chapter of MCLD is developing a partnership with Tostan, an organization operating in West Africa, to combat misinformation and promote awareness of COVID-19. The Benin Chapter also partnered with the government to produce posters about combating Coronavirus and supporting your immune system. These posters have been essential in increasing the awareness among communities about how to stay safe during the pandemic. 

On the call, others described innovative approaches that have been used during COVID, such as expanding information campaigns, public service announcements, and posters, which can be used to promote healthy behaviors and information on nutrition as well as vaccinations. 

Breakout Groups

Separating into breakout groups, participants discussed the panelists’ points and trends they were finding in their work. 

Group 1

Breakout group 1 discussed the impact of COVID, climate change, and other natural phenomena on accelerating food insecurity, as well as the need for implementing organizations to incorporate relief provisions and long-term plans to address food insecurity during future crises. 

Group 2

The main themes of Group 2’s discussion were unity and the use of new technologies. They discussed how NGOs need new ways of approaching communities who do not welcome vaccines, and they agreed that a united front of social workers could help NGOs garner more support from governments. Furthermore, many pointed out an increase in the integration and adoption of technology into their organizations’ work. While this technology has benefited some of their educational programs for students, the cost of technology has created a rural/urban divide that may worsen over time. Lastly, the group noted the long term detrimental effect of the pandemic on local businesses and markets and how organizations should begin prioritizing mental health in their work. 

Group 3

Group 3 focused their discussion on how the pandemic necessitated expanding new technologies to communicate with and disseminate information to communities. These adaptations will likely lead to lasting changes in organizing, but also may exacerbate existing inequalities, especially concerning internet access. Other underlying issues which COVID has brought to the forefront include food insecurity and nutrition, violence against women, and inequitable access to education, solutions to which lie in harnessing community resources and investing in people. 

Concluding Thoughts

Participants concluded the call by reflecting on the rise of communication technology and its future role in community-led development initiatives. The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the need for comprehensive and proactive policies to address food insecurity, which will be the focus of the upcoming Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue. Mental health has been a crucial issue both within our organizations and the communities we work with. The upcoming April 14th call in our series will focus on issues of mental health that the pandemic has exacerbated, and what we as a sector can do to cope better. 

View the recording of this month’s call below: