As with many of you, my mind has been a bit of a whirlwind for the past month, with forced changes to schedules, habits, and even world-views resulting in this perpetual feeling of uncertainty and the desire to take action but not really knowing which direction to turn.
In between the chaos, I have had time to reflect a bit on what all of this means for the sectors I work in, international development and humanitarian relief, because in all reality, the needs will increase and become more complex in the era of a pandemic. How do we move forward when, literally, no one can move and are restricted to their country, neighborhood, and homes?
My first reaction was, DISASTER. The sectors will come to a halt, projects will be postponed, we will hunker down until the storm passes and try to pick up the pieces when this is all over. My second thought was that this is a bad idea. When the world is brought to its knees, our sector must continue, we cannot sit and wait it out because people’s lives are at stake. So again, how do we move forward?
In the midst of things, there have been snippets of inspiration, nestled between the news reports of spikes in illness and death. Whether that be food parcels for those who are food insecure or notes to elderly neighbors, checking on them, making sure they have what they need to shelter-in. What do these moments of inspiration have in common? They are local, they are community based, they rely on people within the community to plan and deploy.
As an advocate for local capacity building, this really hit home. International development and humanitarian relief is often very top-down, donor priority dependent and while developing the capacity of local organizations has become more of a priority in recent years, has it been enough? Change is frequently not voluntary. In project management, change often comes as a result of an issue, something that didn’t go as expected and requires adjustment.
For me, this pandemic highlights the absolute need for migrating to a more localized approach and may be that catalyst for changing the way we perceive and approach how we work with local partners. As we are sheltered-in, it is the local community and partners who will be able to reach those in need. Have we provided them with the tools and agency they need to be able to best serve their own community? How can we continue to support our partners remotely? And of course, then what? How do we move forward?
I don’t have answers-per say- for these questions but I do think that this pandemic, this situation does provide us with the opportunity to reflect and really think about how we, as a sector, need to move forward.