Resilience & Sustainability: Pause, reflect and re-think

Shailja Mehta

“2020 was the year we lost, and 2021 is the year of losses.”

This comment has stayed with me ever since I first heard it during a webinar, about a month ago.

While nobody expected the first wave last year, so few were prepared for the second surge this year. The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially the vulnerable and those living in rural and remote parts of the country. It has exposed deep inequalities in our country and across the globe, and pushed those who were already struggling into further marginalisation.

Amid this catastrophe, thousands of civil society organisations have tried to show resilience and do their best to respond to the crisis, even as they’ve struggled with their own financial health and the physical health of their employees. At Dasra, we reached out to around 40 organizations to get a sense of how they have been affected as they take on this challenge. Of these, 71% have been hit financially and 67% said that their several of their staff and families were directly affected by Covid-19. Further, in the communities these organisation serve, most families have lost their livelihoods, many have lost their loved ones, and it seems like children and youth’s futures have indefinitely been put on hold. The losses have been grim and gruesome.

Even before the second surge struck us, we’d heard about its possibility. Yet, we did so little to prepare for it, though there is no denying that we were busy responding to the first wave and its aftereffects to the best of our abilities. The government and our health sector was definitely not prepared, however, nor was the civil society equipped for 2021.

However, even in the face of this, we have seen most of the organisations in the sector change gears to respond to the crisis, and almost immediately. The compulsions we’re facing as a sector to act and respond are very real and much required. However, what is also required is for us to take a pause, reflect and rethink our course of actions and strategies.

For us at Dasra, too, this has been a learning. If I would be honest, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative spent February and March planning for 2021-2022. We of course kept in mind the impact of the 2020 pandemic and the course corrections we had adopted last year as we were planning for the new financial year. Little did we know then though that come April, and everything would be put on hold to pivot and respond to the crisis, almost exclusively. We did though take the opportunity of a two-week-long organisation-wide break to pause, reflect and rethink our priorities for the year.

Since then, we have made a few attempts to bring together nonprofit organisations to share challenges, struggles, and create a space to openly share, listen and learn. Through state and national level Communities of Practice with a focus on adolescent well-being, as well as through another conversation with a few organisations across the country with varied focus and demographic interests, we’ve heard about

  • The impact of limited on-ground activities: Projects have either been cancelled or indefinitely put in hold until it’s safer for ground staff and communities to engage with each other in person.

  • The inability of organisations to support the communities: Due to restriction on mobility and funding, organisations are unable to support their communities to tackle the pandemic like they would want to.

  • The significant shifts in funding: Due to an urgent need to address Covid related awareness and health concerns, several existing projects and core areas of work have taken a back seat.

  • The years of development that have been reversed: Experts fear that a lot of behaviorual change efforts have been reversed and efforts made towards girl child education and delaying age of marriage undone significantly.

  • The lack of clarity on long-term strategic and organizational goals: Organisations are unclear of how to plan for the medium-to-long term given the impact of the pandemic on the country.

The conversations have highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need to build bridges with other civil society organisations for a coordinated and shared response to protect and support our communities. As we navigate the rest of the year, and plan our strategies for the next few years, it is imperative to think about the resilience and sustainability of the civil society to mitigate the long-term impact of Covid-19 and in pursuit of a sustainable development. 

 

Reference Example for easy understanding

Table 1

The policy gap(s) addressed by the program

The exclusion of young people in the decision-making process for policy issues surrounding adolescents

Community need(s) addressed by the program

Greater awareness and understanding of adolescent issues regarding their education, sexual and reproductive health, and early marriage

Opportunity for innovation addressed by the program

The opportunity to bring and work together with critical stakeholders on a single platform

Table 2

Day-to-day program activities

Stakeholder management, vendor management

Periodic program activities

Monitoring, Reporting, Training of Personnel

One-off program activities

Government advocacy, designing campaigns

Tools/frameworks/systems & processes/ways of working from the program

Systems Change Framework

Table 3

Program practices

Is the practice impactful? If yes, list down why?

Is the practice sustainable? If yes, list down why?   

Is the practice scalable? If yes, list down why?  

Is the practice innovative and/or unique? If yes, list down why?  

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers

Yes, as it allows young people to directly engage with decision makers and contribute to the decision-making process

Yes, as it equips young people with leadership skills. It is also cost effective due to the long-term gains it offers upon initial investment

Yes, as such training modules can be replicated across multiple initiatives by other practitioners & organizations. In addition, trained young people can also train other young people

Yes, as it follows an approach which centers its design and delivery around young people, in an end-to-end manner

+

+

+

+

+

Table 4

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

Source

  • Verbal evidence from community
  • Verbal feedback from on-ground team members
  • Project report & surveys

Details

Community feedback of adolescents feeling confident, understood, and acknowledge

On-ground team feedback on creation of government champions for the project’s objectives

Project report and surveys observe greater youth involvement and efficacy in engaging directly with decision maker

Table 5

RECOMMENDATIONS

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

The demographic it addresses

Adolescents from the age of 10 to 19 years

The gap/ need/ opportunity it addresses

The exclusion of adolescents and young people in the decision-making process for policy issues regarding adolescents and young people

Govt stakeholders

Holding consultations with critical stakeholders and young people from the inception of a program

Funders

Taking inputs from all stakeholders and young people before initiating a new project to ensure a deeper visibility and understanding of their demographic and its needs

Other Practitioners

Engaging young people in decision-making processes to adopt a more collaborative approach between stakeholders and young people

Community Stakeholders

Undertaking youth-led social audits and engagement with decision makers to engage directly with young people, understand their needs & concerns and influence change at the community level

5

Objective Review

Outcome

Promising Practices and recommendations ratified by at least one member/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of ‘the team’

5

Objective Review

Objective

To validate the final promising practice and recommendation(s) by at least one person/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of the team.

4

Document

Outcome

2-3 promising practices documenting:

 

  • What gap/need is addressed
  • How it is addressed and the change that is created
  • The potential for replicating along with recommendations for implementing

4

Document

Objective

To document the promising practices in a detailed manner

3

Develop into a recommendation

Outcome

Well-articulated recommendation(s) addressing:

 

  • Demographic to cater to
  • Gaps/needs/opportunities addressed by the practice
  • The change brought in by implementing such a practice

3

DEVELOP INTO A RECOMMENDATION

Objective

To construct a recommendation in a brief, specific and clear-cut format which would assist other initiatives in implementing the same

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Outcome

Obtaining qualitative and/or quantitative data to assess the promise of the shortlisted practices according to the five guiding factors

Arriving at first list of promising practices

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Objective

To substantiate the shortlisted practices by collating gathered data in the form of:

 

  • Feedback from the community
  • Verbal accounts of the ground team
  • Documentation reports
  • Other valuable data

1

List & Shortlist

Outcome

Identifying:

  • Policy gaps
  • Community needs
  • Opportunities for innovation and other aspects that the program is addressing.

    Creating a list of program practices that are working on-ground in bridging gaps/needs/opportunities.

1

List & Shortlist

Objective

To identify gaps/needs/opportunities and to shortlist program practices that are impactful, sustainable, scalable, innovative and/or unique.