How to build resilient organisations during a pandemic

By Epaphras Chinyakuza

For most organisations, traditional resilience planning doesn’t do enough to prepare for such a pandemic. The rapidly evolving threat around the COVID-19 virus is impacting how organisations operate and the funding partners’ community across the world. Most organisations maintain resilience plans for them to ensure continuity in their operations, disaster recovery and crisis management.

Though these plans might be effective for a range of disruptions, they may fall short during a global crisis such as coronavirus or other pandemic events because disruptions that are caused by natural, human-made, technology or operational failures are different from those caused by pandemic events. These differences include potential increased scale, severity and duration of pandemic events, requiring the need for organizations and their Boards to expand beyond traditional resilience planning strategies.

In addition, NGOs typically have less incentive to devote resources in distinct pandemic management capabilities since pandemics are lower-probability events, it is important to consider differences in today’s environment and respond accordingly.

There is need for organisations to integrate pandemic planning considerations into existing resilience management activities to provide a comprehensive response and to provide continuity for their developmental work.

Additionally, NGOs should consider establishing pandemic-specific policies and procedures, capabilities for employee communications, telecommuting and personal/family leave to minimize disruptions.

Key takeaways and key steps for the organisations: how to plan and respond to pandemics

  1.                    Invest in technology and infrastructure to support remote work and virtual collaboration capabilities

A pandemic requires employees to stay at home to limit exposure and to prevent or slow down the spread of the disease, requiring the activation of remote working capabilities. A pandemic may lead to a complete shutdown of the entire area, forcing a high number of employees to work remotely for an extended duration. Due to Covid-19, the President announce a National lockdown on the 27th of March 2020.  This resulted in heavier-than-normal traffic on remote connectivity networks, which caused capacity and load access issues during the early days of the lockdown.

It is important that organisations invest in tools to enable personnel to work remotely and collaborate virtually, assess their current bandwidth to support remote work.

  1. Plan for geographical segmentation of functions and activities

A pandemic can have severe consequences in impacted areas and geographies, making them inaccessible for an extended period of time. As a component of the impact analysis, organisations should identify the chain of activities and functions, along with interdependencies (e.g., people, process, technology, data, facilities, third parties) and related impacts, to inform potential mitigation strategies.

From a pandemic planning perspective, companies should pay closer attention to the geographical concentration of these critical activities and functions, and how to segment them for work transfer to alternate locations and sites. As prudent risk management and to the extent possible, organisations should look to diversify focus areas across geographies to avoid single points of failure and increased exposure due to regional outages and geopolitical events. For example, an organisation might be implementing its projects in Masvingo only and in the event of a pandemic, this area might be the hotspot for the pandemic and this might be locked for a lengthy period.

     iii.            Consider the systemic nature of pandemics when designing response strategies

There is need to challenge and stretch the boundaries for traditional Risk Management and Disaster preparedness plans to address pandemic events. During a pandemic, some of the standard strategies may not be viable options.

  1.                Assess reliance on third parties

Today, there is an increased interconnectedness with third parties such as suppliers, banks and other organisations that might be working together in consortiums. These third parties are also vulnerable to pandemic events. However, organisations must develop a thorough understanding of their critical third parties, and their resilience programs, and develop alternate plans, for instance, some banks like BancABC are processing cash withdrawals three days per week. In this case, the organisation should also align its operations to the plans of the third party.

Organisations should also validate alignment between their alternate plans and those of their third parties. In addition, organisations must assess third-party capacity, for example the ability for the suppliers to continue providing goods and services for the organisation or they should look for an alternative supplier.

  1.                  Engage with beneficiaries

Beneficiaries generally assume discontinuation of the implementation of certain programmes during disruptions that are beyond an organisation’s control and involve life safety concerns than they are toward those that are perceived to be preventable. However, they expect transparency and timely updates.

Organisations must continue to communicate with beneficiaries through multiple channels, reinforce that their interests are a priority and provide information to alleviate their concerns. These beneficiaries may have specific or frequently asked questions around an organisation’s programmes potential risks to them in future.

A clearly drafted frequently-asked-questions document published and disseminated through multiple channels, including the organisation’s website and social media, can prove to be a useful tool to proactively address beneficiaries’ and third parties’ concerns.

Additionally, organisations may consider reaching out to affected beneficiaries to check in on their safety and offer assistance, where appropriate. For example, Tugwi Trust has launched the Food Drive programme which aims to assist the beneficiaries affected by the National Lockdown.