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Community Contribution

CLA in the Time of COVID-19: Adapting, Pivoting and Partnering to Maintain Nutrition Progress

Oct 23, 2020
Abigail Conrad

USAID Advancing Nutrition is the agency’s flagship multi-sectoral nutrition project. Led by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI) and a diverse group of experienced partners, we strengthen the enabling environment and support country-led scaling of effective, integrated, and sustainable multi-sectoral nutrition programs, interventions, and food and health systems.

A Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Moment

Like so many other U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects and activities, USAID Advancing Nutrition was caught off guard by COVID-19, which forced us to quickly reassess and adapt our programming as the pandemic spread across the globe. This unprecedented challenge propelled us into new and uncertain territory and reminds us daily how shocks require development projects to adapt quickly and skillfully in the face of uncertainty and instability. USAID’s framework for Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) supports development partners in the face of unanticipated challenges and is guiding our current efforts to pause, reflect, learn, and adapt based on the best real-time evidence available. As Project Director Heather Danton noted, COVID-19 has put us all in a “CLA moment.”

Adapting in Real Time

We originally developed a CLA Plan in the first year of the project, and it guides our efforts to support adaptive management of our operational and technical work. In project years one and two, we developed staff awareness about CLA by engaging staff across teams to develop the CLA Plan, hosting project-wide events to build awareness of CLA, holding small team meetings to discuss CLA and what it means in the context of our project, and implementing a CLA tracker to monitor use of CLA across diverse activities.

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This strong foundation helped us quickly adapt to COVID-19 and make both project-wide and country- and activity-specific adjustments. We formed an internal COVID-19 Task Force with broad staff representation to assess needs and provide guidance to support project decision-making. The Task Force developed guidance and a tool to help teams reflect on how COVID-19 could affect project plans and what adaptations might be necessary. These findings informed discussions about USAID Advancing Nutrition activities and global nutrition work, generally, with USAID.

Understanding that teams across the project would face similar challenges, we also created several working groups to monitor and disseminate emerging information, synthesize best practices for virtual engagement, develop guidance for remote data collection, and help teams develop new skillsets. These working groups have supported adaptations across the project and created a shared repository of information to prevent teams from duplicating work.

We also initiated several specific COVID-19 awareness and risk mitigation activities. USAID and our Social and Behavior Change and Knowledge Management teams collaborated with UNICEF and members of the Infant Feeding in Emergencies Technical Working Group to adapt infant and young child feeding (IYCF) counseling cards that use images from the IYCF Image Bank for COVID-19. This group also created an IYCF counseling package for health service and nutrition workers to use when counseling mothers and families in cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Our Knowledge Management team is curating key resources on COVID-19 and nutrition on our website and has prepared briefs for nutrition social and behavior change programs about how to adapt to COVID and handle misinformation.

Our country programs have tailored specific adaptations to their country context and specific activities. In the Kyrgyz Republic, our Chief of Party, Nazgul Abazbekova, has spearheaded the move from in-person activities to remote implementation, including virtually recruiting and training community mobilizers, sharing videos on social media, and conducting household baseline surveys by phone. This team also recruited and trained 900 social mobilization and nutrition activists via WhatsApp, and will soon start to provide virtual, rather than in-person, home visits to “1,000-Day” households (those with a pregnant woman or child under 2 years of age).

The Road Ahead

As we ended FY20, we came to terms with the fact that COVID-19 is going to continue to affect our work for the foreseeable future. As we begin FY21, we are identifying ways to assess risk and implement precautions across our activities and country programs more consistently and in a way that allows us to implement and support critical nutrition services while limiting risk for our staff, service providers, stakeholders, and community members with whom we work.

This blog was produced for the U. S. Agency for International Development. It was prepared under the terms of contract 7200AA18C00070 awarded to JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. The contents are the responsibility of JSI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the U.S. Government.