COVID-19: By Your Side

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing huge frailties in global employment systems, not least the precarious nature of business. Charities are being hit particularly hard by loss of income and fundraising opportunities, so how should Foundations respond? In this blog David Nash, Senior Flood Resilience Alliance Manager, shares what the Z Zurich Foundation is doing to support their partners. 

How adaptable program management ensures continued progress after the crisis is over

As I sit at home in a virtual lockdown and my personal freedoms are curtailed, I am reminded about just how lucky I am. I have a job I can do from home (in fact being a homeworker, I already did!), which means a continuity of income that keeps the lights and heat on and food in the fridge. I have a good internet connection, which allows me to be in virtual contact with friends and family (even if we can’t hug them). As I write, the risk this pandemic has on my life is low and controlled.

Others are not so lucky. In a recent conversation with a friend who runs a UK national charity, supporting very vulnerable people who have a life-limiting condition, I was given a reminder that not everyone has my good fortune. Her society’s income has dropped off a cliff, down to around a half and threatening her ability to get services to her beneficiaries who are extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. Her plans for fundraising over the summer, from marathon sponsorships to coffee mornings are in tatters because of the lockdown. At the same time, individual supporters are also finding it hard to make ends meet, so are having to withdraw support.

This story is not an isolated case.

At the Z Zurich Foundation, we have heard similar tales from those charities we support across the globe. Being there for our partners and communities is the reason we exist, even during extraordinary and unprecedented situation. Responding is even more vital.

Our approach to working with charitable partners is based to a large extent on trust. In any normal circumstance, we recognise that life is not a static situation. What you plan to do in any period can be knocked off course, meaning you need to re-plan. And our approach has always been to recognise that and work with partners to keep the bigger end goal in mind. It is an approach that has moved away from a donor:recipient relationship towards a more flexible collaboration focused on outcomes.

As a result of this pandemic crisis, we are reaching out to our partners to discuss what it means for them. We will be offering to bring forward scheduled grant payments for 2020 to be paid immediately to try and alleviate the cashflow crunch that many are facing. More importantly, we will offer these payments as unrestricted funding, to provide the ability to adapt work in the face of the pandemic – or simply to be able to ride out the crisis. We are also lowering our expectations around delivery of services during the crisis and its aftermath to enable these adjustments.

My particular expertise is with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, a global program focusing on flood resilience funded by the Z Zurich Foundation. Our community partners are probably secure enough not to experience existential cashflow issues. However, the places they work are likely to be severely affected by the pandemic (poor, rural communities with rudimentary healthcare systems) at the same time as monsoon flooding hits. We have been discussing with the Alliance partners how we can set up our work for the rest of the year in ways that adapt to the current crisis but also enable continuing work for when the crisis passes.

It is this adaptability that distinguishes the Foundation. We don’t embark on programs in a rigid service delivery model – simply paying partners to deliver results. Instead, we aim to work with them to achieve a common goal, helping them adapt their delivery plans in the face of changing circumstances.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. It is a real test of our warm words on adaptable program management. If the feedback from our partners is anything to go by, it is a test we are currently passing with flying colours.

This blog was originally posted by David Nash on LinkedIn 1 April 2020. You can read the original here. 

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