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Monday, September 20, 2021

How investing in our people helped us adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic

In August 2021, Charity Navigator launched the fourth and final beacon of the Encompass Rating System -- Leadership & Adaptability. Although achieving a score within this core area of organizational effectiveness directly affects the overall rating of Encompass-rated nonprofits, nonprofits evaluated for the Star Rating System can also achieve a score, but their ratings will be unaffected. In this and future blog posts, we will share stories of Leadership & Adaptability from nonprofits within both rating systems.

Evidence Action: Encompass-rated (100 out of 100)

Like many other organizations, the pandemic has caused significant disruptions to our operations and continues to do so in different ways.  To protect our staff and the communities we serve while also ensuring continued impact, we temporarily paused or delayed some programs, changed the way we deliver others, and undertook critical new initiatives. Our teams were able to rapidly adapt our operations in part by developing a strong leadership who is attuned to the needs of the populations we serve. 

Approximately 90% of our staff and leadership are local to the countries where we operate. They are supported by a global team primarily based in Washington D.C. To ensure strong collaboration and communication between globally dispersed teams, we provide regular opportunities for global and regional leadership teams to develop shared norms and build critical leadership capabilities. We also place significant emphasis on our organizational  vision, mission, and values, a foundation shared by teams across all of our geographies. 

At the country level, investing in our leadership means giving them the tools, training, time, and latitude to effectively listen and respond to the needs of individuals and communities served by our programs. This capacity to listen and respond was critical to swiftly adapting during the pandemic. 

In the case of our Dispensers for Safe Water program—which provides access to safe water to over 4 million people in rural Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi—our leadership team shifted our operations within weeks of the virus spreading in those countries.

Our program installs chlorine dispensers next to commonly-used water sources in rural communities, enabling people to treat their water. We maintain over 27,000 of these dispensers and resupply them through a last-mile supply network that is critical for keeping these communities healthy, and provides a strong platform for delivery of other vital supplies.

During the first weeks of the pandemic, in anticipation of government-mandated lockdowns and to protect our staff and the communities, our team moved rapidly to distribute sufficient supplies of chlorine to last the communities several months. We maintained this strategy until January 2021, when we returned to normal program operations.

We also leveraged this same last-mile supply infrastructure to launch a temporary emergency response to help control the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020. Following the WHO’s early recommendation on prevention of COVID by washing hands frequently with soap for 20 seconds, our leadership team knew that we were uniquely positioned to provide soap to the rural communities we serve, where widespread access is uncommon.

Within weeks, our leadership contacted suppliers, secured over 4 million dollars from several generous donors, gained exemptions from the governments for our circuit riders to move during the lockdowns, and coordinated training for communities on how to properly use soap and disinfectant. Between March and July 2020, we delivered over 3 million kilograms of soap for handwashing, 99,000 liters of disinfectant, and 44,000 informational stickers with the help of our network of 54,000 community-elected volunteers

This rapid pivot exemplifies one of our core organizational values: “Think big, act urgently”. To do so effectively requires that we invest in and empower our people, giving them the tools to understand the needs of those we serve and shape our programs to improve the lives of millions more.


Written by Grace Hollister, Chief Engagement Officer of Evidence Action. Evidence Action scales evidence-based and cost-effective interventions so that hundreds of millions of people in the world’s poorest places have better opportunities and their lives are measurably improved. 

Photo Credit: Evidence Action

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for the great work you have done so far.