Navigating uncertainty through flexible funding for long-term resilience programmes

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The impacts of climate change, rapid demographic and economic shifts, and a global pandemic are changing priorities and needs for the international development and humanitarian community to meet and deliver on. Long-term programmes and flexible funding, key aspects of proactive programming – a form of adaptive management which emphasizes planning for the future – can enable sustained progress in the face of uncertainty.

Navigating uncertainty

As the recently published IPCC report on climate change makes devastatingly clear, climate change is here and the destructive impacts we are seeing today from droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and floods will likely intensify in coming decades. Together with rapidly growing urban centers and other economic and geopolitical shifts, international development and humanitarian organizations are facing a ‘sea of uncertainty’. This is characterized by increasing complexity and cascading risks that could have near and far-reaching consequences, including undercutting development gains and objectives.

For the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, our proactive programming approach supports us in steering through these uncertain and complex waters while also making progress on our objectives.

Adaptive management is flexible, but not always explicitly forward-thinking

Recognizing the need to adaptively manage in ways that respond to today’s needs, longer-term objectives, and future uncertainty, the Alliance has adopted the term ‘proactive programming’ to describe how we work. As embodied in Figure 1, our proactive programming consists of six key characteristics that place a strong emphasis on planning and decision-making for the “what if’s,” not just the “oh no’s,” and in doing so considers these possibilities not just as risks to be mitigated, but as potential alternative pathways to be optimized.,

Much like a sailboat without a sail, without each of these characteristics – collaborative decision making, change-oriented focus, budget flexibility, investing in internal learning, trust, and long program timeframes – our approach doesn’t work.

The characteristics of proactive programming: collaborative decision making, change oriented focus, budget flexibility, investing in internal learning, long programme timeframes and trust.

Long program timeframes and budget flexibility

Because of its vital role in keeping our ship afloat, we focus here on the hull of the boat: long program timeframes. Yet, without at least one sail, a hull is unable to move forward nor adjust to changing winds, and so we also focus on the forward most sail, budget flexibility.

2024, the conclusion of Phase II of the Alliance, will mark 11 years of sustained and consistent funding from the Z Zurich Foundation. This long-term support combined with flexible funding has allowed us to learn and evolve our own work over time and gather the evidence needed to influence wider flood resilience policy and practice. This has been instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June 2020, partly in light of the impact the pandemic was having on our work, the Z Zurich Foundation provided an 18-month costed extension to the program. This extension gave partner organizations more time to achieve our objectives. It also provided us with space to adapt to the challenges and changing needs and contexts posed by the pandemic in ways that support program objectives.

COVID-19 response by Philippines flood resilience team
Philippine Red Cross flood resilience team participating in COVID-19 relief.

Budget flexibility has always been a characteristic of the Alliance approach, partner organizations are funded to deliver outcomes, what staff and activities should be invested in to do so is up to the partners. During the Covid-19 pandemic this has been critical to continue achieving our objectives while also meeting the needs of the people we work with.

Concern Bangladesh, for example, with their local implementing partner Assistance for Social Organization and Development (ASOD), re-directed Alliance funding to distribute sanitation equipment, personal protective equipment, and cash, and mobilized local Community Resilience Action Group (CRAG) volunteers to deliver these materials and assist the local government in their COVID-19 response. This was accompanied by clear messaging on COVID-19 risk and mitigation measures. These efforts supported continued engagement with communities and enhanced coordination between the community representatives and government departments involved in the response, which in turn has improved support for the communities for COVID-19 recovery and flood resilience.

What has a long-term program timeframe and flexible budget helped us achieve

Coupled with a long program timeframe a flexible budget has enabled us:

  • To conduct a systematic and iterative review of our work over several years and to make necessary course corrections without administrative delay;
  • To better weather disruptive events (such as the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • To refocus our programs to further strengthen relationships with government and communities and to support them during the pandemic; and
  • To maintain our programme momentum during the pandemic

What does long term program timeframes mean for you?

For donors: In areas where you want to catalyze real change, fund long term programmes (at least five years) that have in-built systems and processes for collaborative learning, problem-solving, and restructuring in response to crises, challenges, and changing needs.

For practitioners: Work to educate your donors on the level of effort that achieving successful outcomes takes, particularly when success is a legacy of multiple years of sustained engagement and not just the result of isolated pockets of short-term funding.

Long term programming is just one aspect of our proactive programming approach, yet it is a key characteristic that donors and practitioners can integrate into their own approaches, in concert.

Donors can create the enabling environment for long term programmes within which practitioners can then create and implement sustained change. Doing so will provide organizations and programmes with the flexibility to manage and leverage the shocks of climate change while continuing to work towards achieving their outcomes and objectives in the long run.

Foundations for change

If you want to learn more about the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance’s proactive programming approach and how our adaptive management allowed us to navigate the uncertainty brought on by a global pandemic read our latest Foundations for Change: Lessons from year three.

The report is also full of examples of the work we’ve been doing, what we achieved, and learned in 2020. You can find a short summary in the same place.

Look out for the opportunity to join us virtually to learn more about our approach, and share your experiences.

The best way to stay up to date with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is via social media and our newsletter.

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