This is the first week of lockdown in India when the globe has already experienced 8.2 lakh confirmed cases and around 40 thousand deaths till date by the worldwide pandemic caused by COVID-19. The virus is brutally killing people around the globe and in India too, it confirmed its presence in over 1500 human bodies.
Recently, one of my friends asked an official of the state health department to serve the community as a volunteer in this difficult time of COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have not allowed him to do so. COVID-19 needs a specific set of people with specific knowledge and skillsets. As a development manager, we need to respond, but the question is, how can we?
COVID-19 and the pandemic created by it is certainly going to change and reshape a lot of things for the future. In the present context, there is a need for a lot of funds to handle the situation. After the period of lockdown, it can be assumed that the economic condition of the country will run through a lot of difficulties as specified by The Economic Times. A further fund crunch is expected since the government needs to spend a lot on prevention and treatment. In this situation, crowd-funding will be helpful and a few organizations like SAFA, Shakti Foundation and different government bodies are already doing that.
A development manager can innovate new strategies and ways of generating funds to serve the needy. On a positive note, several funders around the world are responding to this situation in a compassionate manner. An article published in IDR briefly explains how the funders can respond to this situation, from increased flexibility to release extra untied funds to their grantees.
To deal with the present crisis and the consequences of this virus attack, collaboration would be very important where the government, NGOs and market can work closely using the complementary skill-sets these three sectors have. The government should take inputs from NGOs on preparing policies and strategies to serve the communities effectively to deal with the situation. Corporates are the huge resources of funds, tools and technology. Singapore is already using a contact tracing mechanism and other technologies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and it would be a pioneering step for us. Whereas to make that collaboration possible, effective communication by development managers will play an important role.
Context-specific planning needs to be done keeping in mind the diversity of Indian localities and other different factors e.g. rural-urban setting, religious beliefs, rate of literacy, occupation variations among people (organized/unorganized), language, power dynamics in the society. Collaboration with different local organizations, institutions and resource persons will be helpful to tackle the hazards of COVID-19 as those sources have a better understanding of the ground and local context. That can also help in terms of utilizing local resources and in mobilizing resources effectively. Few social purpose and philanthropic organizations like RAHI, GOONJ, Omidyar network, Apnalaya have reached out to vulnerable sections of the society. A development manager’s role is much more critical to respond to this crisis within a limited timeframe. Creating a nudge to make people understand the need to be physically isolated will also be helpful in this scenario.
Another important factor that development managers can think about post this pandemic, is the importance of risk management i.e. non-programme factors of a Program Theory. We have heard several times that prevention is better than cure. To prevent this kind of situation in future, there should be more than one risk mitigation plan in place. Accordingly, there would be a need for a huge amount of resources to tackle this kind of situation. Collecting and managing these huge amounts of resources is critical. Is not it the right time for social purpose organisations to also think about business continuity plans?
So, the role of a development manager is multi-dimensional. Most importantly, along with serving the needy, there is the need to think about the survival of the organization itself and to find a way to normalize the operations of the organization to keep the employees and stakeholders satisfied. The managers need to put their energy in strategic planning, resource optimization, employee engagement along with doing proper financial management. The most important part of the planning is to continue the outreach operations to serve the needy and at the same time, being safe and keeping the stakeholders safe. There is the urgency to invest a good amount of extra financial resources also to continue the operations in this situation.
Social Purpose Organizations will have to play a crucial role to deal with the consequences. In a few cases, NGOs and governments are working together. As this outbreak is creating fear, there is the chance that sectors like tourism will get a shock. Due to the economic crisis, there would be an emerging need for people in the unorganized sector to have alternative livelihood options. NGOs and government and corporate can work here in collaboration to take care of the people.
This is the time when the world is facing a crisis of good leadership. A right decision taken in the right time can change the way we live our lives. It can also shift the designing of interventions for impact; can save the world from another epidemic. As development managers are equipped with a different set of mindset, skills and tools, this could be the right time to apply them. Maybe even a few new domains like poverty alleviation, public health and nutrition, will be given more importance in future in response to this kind of outbreak.
Collectively, this is the time to reflect, to think and generate new ideas to make the world a better place to live. It is good to see that the world is moving towards a global response plan, which is much needed, where the UN has launched a US $2 billion global humanitarian response. We have seen the urgency of various funders, philanthropists, corporate organizations, government bodies, and regional and national Social Purpose Organizations to tackle the situation. This does create hope to build a better future together, where we will work for both people and the planet.
About The Author: This piece has been written by Nilanjan Panda, who is a student of the ISDM Class of 2020 in the 1 Year Post Graduate Program in Development Leadership.