The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting all of us, our families, our communities, our way of life, and for Start Network, the content of our work.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across many of our countries, at Start Network we have been working in three broad areas.
- Anticipating and responding to COVID-19 in low-income countries
- Looking after staff safety and wellbeing
- Focusing on business continuity and contingency plans
Anticipating and responding to COVID-19 in low-income countries
We are anticipating, preparing for and responding to the human impact of the virus in low-income countries, particularly in those communities already living with weak public health systems and poor public services.
Start Network is well-positioned to respond to the current and emerging humanitarian challenge associated with COVID-19. We harness the capacity of close to 50 NGOs, distributing over US$10 billion in relief and development programmes to hundreds of millions of people every year. Many of our members have demonstrated expertise in the prevention and control of the spread of infectious diseases in different countries across the globe, and past Start Fund responses to outbreaks such as Ebola have illustrated this.
The Start Network’s global Start Fund, our Migration Emergency Response Fund and our Start Fund Bangladesh have a proven track record as reliable rapid financing instruments, with the agility to deliver quality interventions in anticipation and response to crises. The Start Fund and the MERF have been alerted to COVID-19 in different countries, with the MERF being activated yesterday to prevent the spread of the virus in Cameroon.
The Start Fund, in particular, will be an important tool to channel early, anticipatory and fast funding to members before the bigger funds come online. And it will likely be an important gap-filler, particularly for national, local and community-based interventions that the larger funds might miss and that may be critical given the travel restrictions on international staff. However, it would be important to protect the levels and operations of the existing Start Fund to maintain our ability to respond to small to medium scale crisis and under the radar emergencies as donor and agency attention is diverted to COVID-19 response.
We are therefore investigating setting up a COVID-19 specific fund within the global Start Fund to both anticipate risks and respond to critical virus-related humanitarian needs. We believe that a dedicated COVID-19 fund within the Start Fund would offer the opportunity to provide early, rapid financing for NGOs to analyse, anticipate and respond to this crisis at the local level. More details will be released about this in the coming days and weeks.
Looking after staff safety and wellbeing
We are also prioritising the safety and wellbeing of our people.
In line with UK Government regulations, we asked all staff to work from home, starting on 17 March, offering workstation assessment for staff with known medical conditions. In line with the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, we have restricted business travel, and as many of our staff come from other countries, we are supportive of staff who want to return home to be with their families and work from there. We are approving this on a case-by-case basis once we’ve confirmed our legal and insurance arrangements are in place for travel. This is to offer staff as much protection as is possible in these scenarios, and bearing in mind advice from the FCO.
We have established an emergency SMS text group for all staff. We are holding weekly leadership briefings to update on the current plans and also to allow staff time to ask questions. Line managers have been asked to check in frequently with their teams. We are paying particular attention to new starters, to ensure that they do not feel isolated or unsupported during their first critical weeks in the organisation. We have set up daily coffee breaks so that people have the opportunity to meet and socialise.
Focusing on business continuity and contingency plans
We have also been working to ensure we can maintain core areas of the organisation’s operations and are putting in place contingency plans to reprioritise and pivot should the situation become prolonged. As we go through this process, we must apologise in advance for any potential disruption or slow responses to emails.
Our teams have been working to identify core functions and come up with delivery plans based on potentially reduced workforces in their teams to allow for dependent care/care for relatives, or in case large numbers of staff become unwell. We have been reviewing our 2020 work plans, so we can identify which areas of work will be most affected and proposing alternative approaches and timelines.
We are working on some financial modelling to consider the COVID-19 impact on our budgets, based on potential changes to our funding pipeline. We will also be considering administrative impacts, including supply chain and bank account access and we are working with insurers to ensure we continue to work within the scope of cover.
We are reviewing our current Business Continuity and Crisis Management plans to ensure that the underlining core elements of our business are also given appropriate focus. This includes HR policies, IT and premises considerations.
This crisis will strengthen our resolve – and our systems – to operate as a truly dispersed organisation, but one that maintains a common ethos, a strong culture and a can-do spirit. From our experience these past few weeks, this spirit is alive and well at Start Network.
Stay safe everyone!
Christina Bennett, CEO
Suzanne Lyne, CFOO
ALNAP's COVID-19 Response Portal
CDAC Network's resources for those responding to COVID-19