Leadership in the time of COVID-19
Last month I received a letter from a group of emerging leaders within the Start Network, who are working together to build ‘hubs’, groups of civil society organisations that will form the backbone of the Start Network once they evolve and grow.
Part reflection piece, part manifesto ‘Crisis at a Time for New Dreams’, describes the changes that are necessary to improve the system failures that are surfacing in this time of crisis. It sets out the arguments for why Covid-19 has made localisation inevitable, testing our resolve to get funding to local NGOs quickly and directly and challenging us to shift power, decisions and responses to those best placed to deal with both the primary and secondary effects of the disease.
The letter also lays down a gauntlet for Start Network to accelerate our localisation ambitions, including a seven-point call to action to both short- and longer-term actions to respond to immediate needs and to drive a lasting step-change in humanitarian response.
In many ways, I agree with the hub leadership that Covid-19 has all of the right ingredients for dismantling the barriers to localisation. It is global in scale, but also highly local in its presentation and transmission. It has restricted international travel and movement within countries, it has broken supply chains and logistics, making it harder to mobilise an international response. It requires community action to get ahead of the outbreak and treat those who become ill. And it requires sustained action even without sustained access to deal with the virus’ primary and secondary effects.
But the experiences of these past few months have demonstrated to me that localisation is not inevitable, as the letter states. Instead, Covid-19 seems to be forcing a roll-back of localisation, a default to old ways of working, protectionism within the international community that safeguards national and institutional interests at the expense of their localisation commitments and effectiveness on the ground.
Using Covid-19 as an opportunity to radically reorient our approaches to humanitarian action will require deliberate action, affirmative action and this is where Start Network will work together with its hub leaders and members to make that happen, including by:
- Creating operational space for fundamental change. This includes helping to identify, harness and mobilise capacities and expertise within hubs and their member organisations and to test new models for collaboration. This also includes channelling funding directly to local NGOs and streamlining due diligence requirements and costs so this may be done more seamlessly.
- Providing core support to the hubs and its member organisations to be able to deliver lasting impact and value. This includes supporting hub programmes, operations and risk management by providing technical expertise, high-level skills development and critical infrastructure.
- Brokering and supporting relationships among hubs, members and funders by making introductions and then getting out of the way; and importantly
- Finding shared intention and resolve to bridge diverse worldviews and take collective action so that we can do more together than we can do alone.
As Start Network, we commit to supporting the hubs and their leadership as drivers of our vision for a decentralised and distributed network and we look forward to working with them to explore ways to put into practice the changes described in the paper and above. During the coming weeks, we will host webinars to discuss the ideas the hubs have put forth and the actions we might take to realise their ambitions to use this crisis as a time to realise new dreams. Sign up to hear more about those webinars.
What do you commit to? Share your commitments with us @StartNetwork #ReshapeAid