5 minute inspiration: What are we learning from COVID-19?

by 17th Nov 2020
Alima Traore in Cote d’Ivoire, photographed as part of a CARE project exploring the impact of COVID-19 Alima Traore in Cote d’Ivoire, photographed as part of a CARE project exploring the impact of COVID-19

We asked CARE’s teams responding to COVID-19: what would you change if you could do it all over again? The answers showed that, as ever, CARE staff show remarkable learning, adaptability, and ambition to change the world – even in the face of a global pandemic.

The last seven months have been a roller coaster no one could have predicted. We’ve had amazing success — working with more than 24 million people in 69 countries to respond to COVID-19. Women we work with, communities, partners, and CARE staff have shown amazing courage and ingenuity on so many fronts. It’s an attitude neatly captured by Alima Traore (pictured above), who owns a small business in Cote d’Ivoire:

“But despite the presence of the Covid-19, I couldn't give up. I couldn't give up everything because in life everything cannot be rosy. There are ups and downs and you have to know how to adapt.”

Let’s be clear: not everything worked. It may seem counter-intuitive to find inspiration in all the actions we want to change, but one of the things I love about working at CARE is our drive to constantly improve our work, now and in the future. That’s why we have a podcast series and a research project on learning from failure. The fact that we are ALREADY learning and adapting – and have been for months – inspires me.

So, seven months into the crisis, and with the benefit of hindsight: what have we learned that we can implement now, and that we use for next time?

What would we change?

Build as many mechanisms to listen to others as to share our messages

Many countries said that they would start much earlier to build ways for communities to share what they need with CARE. That includes feedback and accountability mechanisms like hotlines, phone interviews, text messages, and suggestion boxes. At the beginning of the crisis, we focused on mass media as a way to push messages about COVID-19 out to people we work with. We learned that any time we do that, we need to have a way for people to share back with us.

Build genuine partnerships as early as possible

In fact – start now, before the next crisis. Do more with partners and in finding the right partnerships – either inside government or out, local or national. So much of the work in COVID-19 is happening with and through partners that we need to spend more time building partnerships where other actors can tell us what they need most.

Invest more in communications materials and get them out faster

This encompasses communications materials to talk about COVID-19, broadening the scope of COVID-19 materials to talk about gender-based violence and gender equality sooner, and building better advocacy and influencing materials sooner.

Integrate COVID-19 responses more holistically across the portfolio quicker

Many countries talked about needing to move past the immediate health crisis to plan for long-term effects faster. That means investing more in food security, livelihoods, or other responses beyond immediate health. It also means thinking immediately how EVERY project will adapt to the crisis, rather than just a few.

Assess faster and iterate

We would do more to get a quick read of the situation, and frequently update our understanding so we could see how issues were evolving. That requires embracing imperfection and sticking to the principles of the Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) for all of our needs assessments.

What are we doing about it?

Investing more in 2-way communication with project participants and communities

We are also doing a lot more work to learn from them as we go, to adapt to meet their needs, and to design work with communities and community leaders. Burundi is a great example, where the CARE team not only shared text messages with thousands of women in villages savings and loan associations (VSLAs), they also had a number that women could text back with questions, comments, and needs. The team reviewed that data to shape their responses starting in April.

Working on more local partnerships

Malawi is one of 46 countries where CARE is working on technical assistance to local partners. Our team in Malawi is training community-based trainers (e.g. village agents, farmer-to-farmer trainers, care group health promoters, school management committees) alongside community leaders and structures in COVID-19 prevention messaging, and how these trainers can safely and quickly share messages with their groups/households including facilitating development of a contingency plan/new meeting protocols, for example with VSLA groups.

Check out a variety of podcasts from experts around CARE and our partners talking about how we’re working to get better at this:

Collecting rapid and frequent data

CARE Bangladesh and CARE Nigeria have already done a second round of their RGA to understand how the crisis is evolving. Haiti, Malawi, and Nigeria are doing several rounds of rapid SMS (text message) surveys, to inform rapid programme adaptation and advocacy. Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania will be joining them.

Working more on food and livelihoods

When our analyses started showing us the full scope of the food and financial crisis that was coming along with COVID-19, we started finding more ways to reach people who needed support to eat and pay their bills. Half of our country teams are using cash as a response, up from 10% in March. 19% of countries are focusing on livelihoods (up from 6%) and 59% on food (up from 13%).

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org