Ramil Andag, APCOM
Mabuhay and Sawasdee ka! I am Ramil Andag from the Philippines and presently the SOGIESC Rights Officer at APCOM. May 15, 2019 marked my second year of being in my present involvement with the organization. This experience allowed me the opportunity to manage and implement projects in the region, involving multiple countries and partner organizations.
It has, and still is a learning experience, I guess there is no template on running regional projects.
The COVID19 pandemic added various layers of challenges in project management and implementation. This piece aims to share some learnings in project management and implementation in the face of the pandemic. I have seen memes circulating on various social media platforms about ‘My 2020 Plans’ and ‘COVID-19’. These memes show pictures of how well planned your 2020 was and how those plans have been, in social media parlance, ‘shookt’ by COVID-19. And this resonated not only on a personal level but also on the project that I am working on which covers Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
At the end of 2019, APCOM and our country partner organizations for Finance Inc., a project supported by Voice, which aims to engage financial institutions and the private sector for LGBTQI inclusion, have assessed our 2019 project performance: where our project presently was in relation to our objectives, identified gaps, and plans for 2020. We were excited to embark again on a learning journey together for 2020.
Then COVID-19 happened and is still presently being experienced by everyone. The pandemic affected the entire world. The responses ranged from lockdowns, quarantines, and physical distancing, which limited people’s movements, prohibited travel and gathering of people. In the face of the pandemic, survival, health and safety are top priorities.
Activities planned for the 1st semester of 2020 had to be cancelled and activities for the rest of the year seems uncertain, depending on how the situation unfolds. For sure, this experience is not limited to APCOM, as most organizations working on advocacy and influencing projects, these changes the landscape and context where your project is situated in.
How did APCOM and our country partner organizations respond to this (so far). For sure, these may not be the best responses, but this is to share how we have so far responded, mindful that these responses as the situation and context changes. And for us, this is a process of learning and unlearning.
Know the situation
At the onset of COVID-19, preliminary data which were coming out were related to the effects of the pandemic to the general populations. And this made sense as the effects were felt by everyone. However, a question which APCOM wanted to contribute to shedding a light on was: how is COVID-19 being experienced and affecting LGBTQI communities, organizations and individuals?
APCOM launched an online rapid survey which looked into the above-mentioned themes. Various LGBTQI organizations in the region responded to the survey, including our four country partner organizations in Finance Inc., which eventually became our first special newsletter series on the effects of COVID-19. This gave us an idea of the situation in their respective countries, how their respective countries have responded to the pandemic, how the LGBTQI communities, individuals and their respective organizations have been affected by COVID-19. We also looked into how organizations and their operations are responding to COVID-19.
These gave us insights not only on what the COVID-19 situations are in the countries where Finance Inc. is being implemented but also into what the present limitations might be in relation to project activities. Knowing the situation is very important in identifying possible next steps and adjustments.
Communicate the situation with your funding partners
This may sound easy. But how do we communicate something which is by and large uncertain? This has been one of the challenges for me that time. However, I took comfort in the fact thatCOVID-19 is being experienced by everyone all over the world, even as surely, how it is being experienced is more nuanced and would depend in your context. What can be said is that COVID-19 is not just affecting our own organization. Funding partners are aware of this and they are also gathering information to inform their decisions. The situation which you relay to the funding partners should be informed by the information you have gathered from your country partner organizations as they are the ones who know the situations in their countries best.
Voice is and has been quite flexible in terms of changes. What is critical is that we communicate these plans and possible changes with them.
Keep ongoing conversations with partner organizations
Meaningfully involving partner organizations in decision-making is critical. This ensures that their contexts and insights are incorporated into whatever decision will be made. Keeping ongoing conversations with partner organizations also make decisions and possible changes to plans fit to their present situation.
For Finance Inc., online conversations including group calls where all country partner organizations and one on one calls were very helpful in collective decision making. There are no one-size fits all plans. There have been, and I suspect, there will be more challenges ahead. How do we make a project run in four countries experiencing COVID-19 differently? How do we discuss plans when the situation is uncertain? How do we even plan activities?
Considerations for safety
Organizations are made up of people. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping people safe should be and have been top priority. Safety of people should not be compromised for the sake of implementing activities.
These concern for safety is also being incorporated in terms of scheduling activities which will require physically gathering people together, and plans for provision of personal protective equipment (masks, hand sanitizers) in future activities.
We will survive
The situation is uncertain. It changes almost on a daily basis. We face and will still face challenges in our personal and professional lives. There will be moments when we do not know how to proceed.
But for now, let us all stay safe. Hopefully bringing with us lessons moving forward, including seriously reflecting on possibilities of public health threats into our risk analysis.
At the expense of a dated reference (but hey, classics are forever), I would like to paraphrase Gloria Gaynor: We will survive.