What have we learned from rapidly shifting to support SMOs during the times of COVID-19?
In the face of the global COVID-19 crisis, the Spur Change Program found itself in a unique position to provide immediate training and capacity building opportunities to small and medium-sized organizations (SMOs) within a context that none of us would have ever imagined. Since the very beginning of COVID-19, we have been in touch with many SMOs across Canada to better understand their challenges and needs and identify capacity development opportunities that can support their project/programs.
As many SMOs start to look at recovery and finding new alternatives, how do we learn from what has happened and move forward in a better way? What are some ways that we can best support SMOs during times of crisis here and beyond?
We hope to share some insight into our capacity development immediate delivery response through online engagements and rapid needs analysis.
Webinar: Pivoting our program in times of crisis
From the early stages of COVID-19, the Spur Change team shifted the program to find out how we might best support SMOs during this crisis. Our first action was finding out the most immediate needs from SMOs during COVID-19 beyond the ones identified through our initial needs assessment.
In collaboration with the Inter-Council Network of Provincial and Regional Councils (ICN) and the Fund for Innovation and Transformation (FIT), our first stop was to invite SMOs to join us in a webinar to share updates on our programming and discuss how we could best support each other in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout this webinar, we had the opportunity to identify SMOs’ immediate needs such as online training, information sharing or other resource support.
In Ethiopia, we are working to provide food and sanitation hampers to all of our families. Our educational centres are closed. In Guatemala, there is a ‘shelter in place’ order and a strict curfew. We are unable to run workshops at this time. We are working with local programs to support the food and sanitation needs of our participants. – Webinar Participant
After such insightful discussion and testimonials, we realized how important it was to pivot our activities, at least temporarily, and concentrate our efforts on 3 main areas identified by over 125 SMOs consulted:
1) How might we best support local partners / implement a project in the Global South in the COVID-19 era (especially in the vulnerable area)?
2) How might SMOs get the best support for their fundraising activities in an emergency context?
3) How SMOs could adapt their programs in crisis through rapid risk assessment and contingency plans?
3 main capacity-building areas
Using a variety of learning approaches from online and offline (asynchronous) learning, we rapidly developed three main capacity-building opportunities for SMOs to engage with and feel better supported during the crisis.
One of the advantages of having a remote team working in different parts of Canada is having the experience of offering online learning opportunities to SMOs prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Online Webinar: Supporting Local Partners in Times of COVID-19
Our first response was to host a panel discussion with four partner SMOs from across the country that would share their experiences, provide real-life examples on how to support local partners during the pandemic, and indicate the different activities and support structures needed to implement programs and resources to share with partners (e.g. low literacy tools, best practices and useful guides/toolkits).
With over 80 participants registered, our four main speakers allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of their current situation and challenges in working with local partners by sharing some of the key actions they had taken to continue on with their programs.
While each SMO works in a different context, some of the key takeaways of the online discussion were:
- Focus on your core organizational goals
- Communicate and create awareness with different stakeholders in the clearest and easiest manner
- Be prepared and open to change as you move through the pandemic
- Find alternative ways to make adjustments to your program (i.e., fundraising activities, partnership development, etc).
- Online Training Series: COVID-19 Risk Analysis and Contingency Plans
Many SMOs have expressed risk management as one of their crucial needs. As they adapt and take control of the current situation, SMOs are in need to adopt crisis management tools that can help them limit the consequences of the pandemic on their international activities and community members.
This 3-week training series was facilitated by Aleas with the aim to provide SMOs with tangible tools, from understanding the security issues related to COVID-19 to increasing organizational capacities and safety plans of international activities.
With 61 SMOs registered in both English and French trainings sessions, the Spur Change team made sure to provide a variety of engaging methods, from asynchronous learning to live sessions and group discussions that helped to increase understanding of concepts and tools. The sessions were divided between English and French-based cohorts. Each training session included an asynchronous section (i.e., materials to review and prepare), a live session with group discussions and Q&As, and homework assignments for the following sessions.
“ While none of us could predict the impact that Covid has had, it may give us some opportunity to help build the capacity of local organizations. So instead of being about our own staff or volunteers doing the work on the ground, more of that responsibility can be handed for implementation and evaluation…We found this exercise to be useful because while we have procedures in place, a lot of them have been common sense procedures that are not written or formalized” – CTF
- Online Workshops: Fundraising in the Time of Covid: Canadian Global SMOs
Through our initial consultations, we heard how challenging it has been for many SMOs to either cancel their fundraising activities or shift their programs due to the pandemic. Understanding these challenges of resource mobilization, the Spur Change team invited SMOs to explore their organization’s current situation, pivot their fundraising activities, and design an action plan tailored to their current situation.
This workshop was facilitated by the Saben Group and Kabisa, with the aim to better assess the organization’s current funding position, realign goals according to donors expectations, and create an action plan moving forward.
“We clearly need to make a major effort to build our fundraising plan, which practically is non-existent. That will take some time to do, but the ideas and approaches shared by the presenters will be very helpful to guiding us in that process over the next several months” – Participant SMO
Over the course of the workshop, participants had the opportunity to not only reflect on their organizational funding structure but also to converse with other organizations on the different steps they are taking and ultimately share resources. SMOs are known to be agile and shared through this training creative ways to adapt their fundraising activities to the context of the pandemic.
Moreover, participants were invited after the workshop to submit their Fundraising Action Plan to the facilitators, at which time they received written feedback and gained access to a one-on-one coaching call.
We clearly need to make a major effort to build our fundraising plan, which practically is non-existent. That will take some time to do, but the ideas and approaches shared by the presenters will be very helpful to guiding us in that process over the next several months. – Participant SMO
At Spur Change, we are reminded of how important our role is in creating future learning opportunities for – and with – SMOs, considering the emerging challenges and trends that many SMOs face on a local and global level. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has definitely shifted our perspective on how we do things and how we chart our future programming. This uncertainty creates incredible possibilities that we all must navigate to strengthen our work.
We would like to thank our 4 main speakers Bella Lam, Catherine Bourgoult, Catherine Pappas and Wendy MacDonald for their contribution to our capacity development process. Similarly, none of this would have been possible without the contribution of our learning consultants from Aleas and Kabisa. Last but not least, to the entire team of Spur Change, ACGC and all the Inter-Council Network who committed to share our trainings and workshops throughout their networks.