From Cholera to COVID: building on CLA investments to improve COVID 19 response
I’ll admit, I had about a minute on the second day of COVID lockdown where I thought, “maybe this time will be slower for me. It’s so hard to prioritize learning in emergencies.” After all, I’m the Director of Knowledge Management and Learning, and the vast majority of my time usually focuses on development programming. I won’t be travelling in the immediate future, so I was planning to get around to some of the long-term items that coast along my to do list as immediate priorities got put on hold for COVID response.
I could not have been more wrong. Collaborating, Learning, and Adaptation have been at the heart of CARE’s response to COVID. I’ve been more engaged with more people on CLA in the past two weeks than at anytime before.
We’re having to flex all of our adaptation muscles (and quickly build new ones) to re-purpose existing programs to meet new needs. In less than a week, 79% percent of CARE offices had contingency plans in place for how their current programs would adapt to the new situation. In 4 days, the Gender in Emergencies team published advice about how COVID is going to put special burdens on women. We’ve written new guidelines for how savings groups can adapt to COVID, and how we should think differently about cash and voucher programming.
Perhaps most surprisingly, we’re also finding space for pause and reflect. Even amid the breakneck pace of trying to protect all of our staff, and get contingency plans in place for the inevitable lockdowns, we’re making space to learn. Even better, we’re applying our learning to what we’re doing now.
The team took a little time to go back over our After-Action Reviews from our past responses to the 2011 cholera outbreak in Haiti, the 2014-2015 Ebola response in West Africa, and more recent outbreak responses in Yemen, DRC, and Ecuador. That allowed us to crystalize some core program recommendations for how to get it right this time.
I’ve been amazed at how hungry people are for these tools. Teams involved in the pause and reflect conversations—which are usually about 30 minutes—are finding it helps sharpen their thinking and turn their reflections into action points to move forward. Instead of feeling like an extra crammed onto an already full plate, people are finding that having even a small space to breathe and think helps them figure out what’s next.
From a morale standpoint, this feels like it’s making a difference. Having these conversations lets people see their own expertise and gives us a space to recognize the incredible human power we have here. Teams see how much they are capable of, and how much they have to offer the wider community. We’re also making everything open source so that anyone who wants to use our tools can access them.
The process has also highlighted that our past investments in CLA—like hosting After Action Reviews, documenting the findings, and saving them somewhere accessible—are invaluable. We were able to access that learning and reflect it back to teams almost immediately. I have never been so grateful for meeting reports in my life as I was this week—even the detailed reporting of the small group work.
In a comment that will keep me going on my worst professional days, a much-valued coworker who sat in on one of these calls told me, “In such times of stress and uncertainties, when there are too many unknowns and fears, it is important to have such anchors that remind us of our commitment to serve women and girls at the best of our capacity.”