How to adapt your organisation during a health crisis

Written by Chioma Ike, Circuit Pointe, Nigeria

This guide was written in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.

What advocacy work is your organisation involved in?

Circuit Pointe is a non-governmental organisation based in Nigeria and we focus on women and girls and parliamentary rights movements. Our organisation was established in 2015 and we have been operating in South East Nigeria, where we support communities to abandon the practice of infantile female genital mutilation (FGM).

Please give an overview of the current COVID-19 situation you are facing in Nigeria (2 April 2020):

The Ministry of Health is coordinating with other public-health focused institutions to sensitise, prevent, monitor and manage the spread. A few days ago, the Nigerian Government ordered lockdown for some states, restricted movement for other states, and even shut down public gatherings. Official social distancing is not happening at the moment.

Has there been any impact on the running of your organisation so far?

Across Nigeria, we are witnessing panic buying, and this is impacting our finance because most of our staff want a salary advance.

How did your organisation respond in these early stages of the crisis?

In order to remain a step ahead, we have taken proactive measures to protect our staff and the communities we serve.

In February, we assessed our business continuity plan for a communications and protection readiness. We focused on ensuring that staff and volunteers are able to stay connected remotely and can carry on our core activities.

We also organised an internal training to sensitise staff on preventative measures, such as washing of hands regularly, maintaining a social distance of four meters apart within and outside the organisation, and we distributed portable hand sanitizers and safety kits to all staff and volunteers.

Have you adapted your work practices to respond to the crisis?

From February onwards, we started alternate work days – where some staff come on Monday, some on Tuesday. So, at every point we have a limited number of staff in the office. We also have some staff that share lifts to work so they also don’t have to use crowded buses.

Have you altered your workplan in response to the outbreak of COVID-19?

We reorganised our project schedule. We postponed community-based activities and we brought technology-based activities forward. For instance, we dropped our joint campaigns with key influencers that were scheduled for March and April because they involve multiple public gatherings.

At the same time, we kicked off our SMS-based media sensitisation and we’re including COVID-19 awareness messages in our SMS blast to community members.

As we have established a relationship with these communities, we feel it is important to educate the community members on preventative measures, on symptoms and how to make safety kits such as facial masks using locally available materials in their homes.

And lastly, we’ve kept our donors aware of what is happening via email.

What have you learnt so far and what would you have done differently?

Wider outreach:

I saw a call for applications to support NGOs raising awareness on COVID-19 from Co-creation Hub (CcHUB, a technology innovations centre in Lagos). I wish our organisation had explored requests for support option earlier for wider outreach.

Asset sharing:

I wish we had engaged other NGOs for asset sharing. For example, while we were sending out our SMS blast last week, we also had committee members who were trying to reach us in order to ask questions, seek clarifications and have other questions answered.

We don’t have a toll-free line in place, but if we had engaged an NGO that had that asset before this work, it would have been easier for us to manage.

Home-working provisions:

I wish we had put infrastructure in place to support staff to work from home earlier, because when demand is high, it becomes more expensive. I am sure we have witnessed a hike in the price of items, especially office equipment.

We are grateful to AmplifyChange for their flexibility in the organisational strengthening aspect of our grant, because we have been able to provide the needed infrastructure and our staff now work from home in response to COVID-19.

What are your top tips for an organisation to respond to a crisis in its early stages?

  • Keep finances as adaptable as possible to support staff and changing business operations
  • Keep your workplan flexible to respond to the changing situation
  • Support staff to work alternate days, if helpful
  • Assess your business continuity plan at an early stage, to stay one step ahead
  • Do internal briefings for staff on safety measures
  • Be prepared to change the way you work and stay adaptable to respond to your employees’ needs
  • Share assets with other organisations as demand will increase in a crisis
  • Communicate regularly with and support your staff
  • Communicate regularly with donors to let them know how your work is continuing and adapting during the crisis
  • Investigate how you can offer support to other organisations
  • Make provisions for home working at an early stage – if technology is not readily available, adapt your practices and workplan to be more offline based.

Chioma Ike, Circuit Pointe, Nigeria

Chioma Ike is a change-maker and a women/girls’ advocate. Chioma is the Executive Director at Circuit Pointe, an NGO focused on women/girls’ empowerment and rights movement in Nigeria. She holds a certificate in Project Management, is a recipient of Anita Borg’s 2018 Pass-It-On Award and is currently enrolled for a distance International Action Learning MBA with a major in Sexuality and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Visit Circuit Pointe’s website for more information.