Responding to COVID-19 crisis: Experimenting with emergent practices

Image courtesy: Vidushi Yadav

Dear friends,

The lockdown, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, has affected not just our physical well-being, but also our emotional security. To cope with this crisis, UAF A&P has put together a COVID-19 plan. It is based on the Emergent Learning framework, which we have adopted as integral to our learning system, to help us brace with the uncertainties we face in our individual and collective contexts. As a responsible member of the women’s funds’ ecosystem, we are sharing below what we are learning from practicing emergence in the hope that it might help you in coping with these times:

Supporting activist communities: Several governments in Asia and Pacific have opted to respond to this crisis from a law enforcement approach, simply adding more police powers to the Executive. For example, on 25 March 2020, the Philippine Congress enacted a new law that grants special powers to the President for the next three months. Under this law, complaints have been filed against those accused of spreading ‘fake news’. Other infringement of fundamental freedoms have been justified as a response to this virus outbreak in many countries in our regions. We are also being warned that medical surveillance practices currently being used to track the pandemic spread, could also become a potential tool to breach the right to privacy of citizens. We are closely monitoring these trends of reported human rights violations across Asia and the Pacific to assess how we can meaningfully support activists’ communities. We continue to process grant applications from women and non-binary activists at risk during these times too. We already provide grants that help meet well-being needs of activists — these can potentially cover health emergencies that activists may face due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We are also exploring ways to expand our grant-making to respond to additional requests for assistance from our grantees to brace against the economic impact of the crisis, such as loss of income or support for basic needs.

Developing an emergent institutional plan: Using the Emergent Learning framework, our team developed a simple and flexible organisational mitigation plan to systematically track our strategies to respond to this crisis. We review and revise the plan each week to capture the changing contexts as the pandemic progresses. No strategy is written in stone, we modify or change based on our collective assessment of the crisis situation each week. In our weekly review call, we try to create a safe space so we can express our needs honestly, and we listen to each other’s feelings and personal requests for help as our guide to revising our organisational priorities. During this time, we are also encouraging our team to reflect on existing patriarchal understanding and practices of productivity, and create alternative practices. We continue to remain accountable to each other and our constituents, ensuring that we are able to deliver on our assigned tasks, but graciously understand each other’s constraints due to this crisis to perform optimally. We realise that when we experience and extend empathy to each other, we pass on the chains of kindness to grantees and other constituents we work with and work for.

Practising collective wellbeing: Along with meeting work commitments, we are prioritising our team’s well being too. Every team member also straddles multiple roles as carers in our families and communities. When necessary, we are encouraging those that need time off work to fulfil unanticipated needs to take leave. We have also set up a buddy system to look after each other beyond work, and we have used our virtual chat room to check on each other personally each day. Virtually, we share well-being practices such as links for yoga exercises or meditation; latest information on Covid 19 and how to get help locally; even links for food deliveries as several of us are restricted to leave home because of the lockdown.

Being kind to the earth and ecology: For a team that was set up to work remotely, working from home was not new. But working from home during a lockdown because of a pandemic has added layers of complexity to our work arrangements. As a team, we have cancelled many of our face-to-face meetings, even our planned team retreat, which we are now holding virtually. Our extensive carbon footprint, previously an unavoidable aspect of our work, is now under control due to travel restriction. The practices we are adopting now are helping us reflect on how we can continue to consciously reduce our carbon footprint, and contribute concretely in ways that are kind to the earth and ecology. We are trying to develop facilitation techniques for virtual engagements so that we can reduce travelling for meetings and consultations in the post-pandemic world too. We are attempting to engage more on secured communication platforms, trying our best to be creative — including videos, pre-recorded grounding exercises, screen sharing, virtual breakout rooms, and other tools. We have found that for smaller groups, open-sourced applications like Jitsi and Signal work, but not so much for bigger groups. Do you have any recommendations to share with us?

Acting in solidarity and with co-responsibility. We are privileged to be part of the UAF Sister Funds consortium, a feminist sisterhood that together provide rapid response grants to women and non-binary activists at risk worldwide. We are currently discussing emerging regional trends on Covid-19 related needs, and strategising to figure out collective mechanisms of protection and support. For example, some of us are part of community action networks working in collaboration with our neighbourhoods or communities to respond locally to this pandemic. We are also collectively sharing our analyses with peer donors to facilitate the release of flexible funding and resources.

Embedding emergence in times of crisis. Two years of practising emergent learning as a team has equipped us at UAF A&P with tools to deal with the uncertainties brought about by this crisis. For example: moving our work virtually yet cultivating a strong team culture; reviewing our programme strategies and making adjustments based on feedback from our quarterly learning reviews; supporting each other to adopt personal practices of well-being — have become part of our organisational routines by now. In essence, our DNA as a rapid response grantmaker combined with our emergent learning practices have been our coping mechanism in this crisis.

We hope sharing these insights on our personal and institutional practices can help throw more ideas into the collective cauldron on how to navigate towards a post-pandemic world.

Team UAF A&P

A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific

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