An important tool for responding to Covid-19 around the world? Local capacity.

June 29, 2020
Bandung Wangi, an Indonesian organization that provides HIV services for current and former sex workers, has strengthened its capacity with Pact's support. This photo was taken just before the pandemic. (Photo: Brian Clark/Pact)

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold around the world, it has underlined the crucial importance of local capacity, and specifically organizational resilience. After all, it is local systems that are grappling with the public health crisis and are best placed to deliver critical services. With Covid-19, local organizations are showing their resilience by adapting and working in new ways with their communities.  Continued focus on strengthening local systems and networks, especially in the health sector, is required to sustainably address all development challenges, including crises such as this one.

Developing the capacity of local systems and partners to achieve their goals is at the heart of Pact’s approach to development. Using proven tools, we assess organizations’ strengths and weaknesses and provide training, mentorship and grants that empower them to craft strategies, plan for change and take effective action to meet their missions. Whether community groups, nonprofit organizations, networks or local government, Pact recognizes the strengths of our counterparts and the leading role they play in advancing the well-being of their communities. Local partners are context experts, leaders in their fields, and committed to achieving hard-sought gains for their countries. Making them stronger allows us to leverage these advantages and create change that will last far longer than any time-bound program or handout.

With pandemic-related requirements for social distancing, use of masks and other protective equipment, and localized stay-at-home orders, local partners have had to shift to working from home where possible, and to deliver community-based services in new ways. Likewise, with Pact’s focus on participatory capacity development, we have shifted our approaches to leverage virtual platforms to support local partners to respond to the Covid crisis and strengthen their own organizations. In the LINKAGES project, for example, Pact’s role is centered around strengthening the capacity of local organizations providing HIV/AIDS services to key populations. Even during the pandemic, we remain committed to our partners and continue to provide ongoing support in new and unique ways.

Under LINKAGES in Indonesia, Pact is piloting innovative models of virtual facilitation to remotely implement a cornerstone feature of capacity development, the Integrated Organizational and Technical Capacity Assessment (ITOCA). To ensure full participation and inclusion, Pact’s Indonesia team tailored several platforms to aid in the facilitation of the ITOCA. For example, WhatsApp groups help to monitor tasks completed at home, Mentimeter engages participants during online meetings, and Google forms collect assessment results.

“The ITOCA facilitates problem solving at work and improves decision quality,” notes Crist, a coordinator advocacy officer with one of Pact’s LINKAGES partners. “It has improved our overall work performance and effectiveness.”

We are also helping our local partners adapt their own operations to the new environment we all find ourselves in. Developed through the Pact-led, USAID-funded ACHIEVE project, we have launched a series of tools that local organizations can use to engage in business continuity planning during Covid-19 to enable them to continue operations and adapt programming through the restrictions and challenges posed by the pandemic. The ACHIEVE Covid-19 Business Continuity Planning package includes guidance on risk management, change management, and the adaptation of organizational operations, communications trees, planning templates, training presentations on Covid -19 for community based workers, and Covid-19 fact sheets. These materials have been shared through a webinar hosted by the USAID-funded ASAP project to reach local USAID implementing partners around the world, and the templates are available online for anyone to use.

“The Covid-19 guidance was really impactful for us,” said a program manager with one of our partners in Nigeria, Jakin Initiative International. “Our case managers used it to provide social-distance guided services for OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) and their households. It led us in providing accurate Covid-19 prevention messages.”

We are seeing our local partners use the capacity we have helped them gain in other ways, too. In Liberia, for example, Pact built the capacity of local Community Forestry Management Bodies (CFMBs) to protect forests. Now CFMBs are leveraging their leadership and networking abilities to serve as information hubs on Covid-19. In Cambodia, Pact’s local partners are stepping up to provide online trainings for young women entrepreneurs to help their businesses survive during lockdown. In Eswatini, local organizations quickly pivoted their activities to help families build “tippy tap” stations for handwashing without running water, and they reallocated unspent funding from activities they had to stop to cover emergency cash transfers for vulnerable households. In many countries, Pact’s HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health programming has helped build up local health knowledge, resources and systems that are now being used to respond to the pandemic.

International NGOs will never be able to respond to every development challenge, especially when new ones such as Covid-19 will continue to emerge. Community based organizations regularly respond to crises such as conflict, drought, natural disasters, disease epidemics – primarily because of the commitment of their staff and members to working together to address their own challenges. Their connections with community members are the key to creating effective, lasting results – and ultimately their own resilience in a crisis like Covid-19. This is exactly why Pact focuses on elevating and highlighting the existing assets at the community level so that we can support them as leaders in responding to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.