COVID-19 (C19) is throwing out the normal rule book; and causing everyone to have to think again about what they do, how they do it and why. There has been a rapid re-purposing of almost everything, demanding a much sharper clarity of purpose. Resources are being aligned to the main effort; other things are being side-lined. We are seeing adaptive programming in action – what has taken years to become mainstream development thinking has become normal practice almost overnight.
Normally, such innovation and out of the box thinking would be quashed by bureaucracy and process, worn down by the attrition of passing time. But now it is being given the chance to shine. Organisations and groups which can adapt are likely to be the ones that thrive in a new future.
Acacia Development Associates Ltd has been supporting some C19 response work closer to home in Scotland than its usual beat in Africa. (Even in the far north of Scotland, we are seeing very traditional service providers adapt their business model to the context. Mostly the thing that is changing is not what they supply, but how they supply it.)
Unsurprisingly, planning and preparation has been proved to be just as important in Scotland as elsewhere. As has the generation and sharing of good, reliable, timely information.
Although the situation is grave, and there is a lot of heat and light, the dim outline of a new normal is beginning to emerge. That new normal will be characterised by a great deal of uncertainty. In this context, the problem will not be that we don’t know what to do, but that we won’t know how to get it done. This will prioritise good contextual analysis; and care in navigating the situation lest our assumptions trip us up.
Governments (at home and overseas) will have little choice but to rely a lot on the third sector to deliver almost every kind of service except lifesaving medical services. We have already seen emergency funding made available to the Third Sector in Scotland and across the UK; and international development programmes around the globe are pivoting to C19 response. At home these grants focus mainly on survival; and not future sustainability – of either the service or the organisation delivering them. But for those organisations which take government funding, there will be a bill to pay in the future – greater evidence of effect and an implied requirement not to criticise. The organisations that survive this and emerge with their independence intact will be those which can deliver, adapt, and account and report all whilst remaining true to their organisational purpose and mandate. A period of ruthless Darwinism looms for the third sector.
Now, then, is the time to invest in both resilience and operational capacity for small organisations and groups as turbulent times firstly distract, then threaten, then offer hope to many of them. As with any uncertain journey, a decent map and a good guide is essential.