COVID-19 highlighted the importance of flexibility and maintaining the principle of needs-based support
– lessons learned from working with Somali Civil Society
In February this year, I was in Hargeisa. I was a happy intern who just had the opportunity to work with his very first development project, and I had also got the chance to be on the ground to follow our work on site. A few weeks earlier, our team had just started planning the activities for the launch of our civil society project in Somalia. It would turn out a few weeks later that Europe had developed into an epicentre of a far-reaching pandemic.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed demands on organisations around the world to change working methods and business goals. The same has applied to our industry, development consulting, and how we work with project management in many ways. In Somalia, FCG Sweden is currently working on implementing the EU’s three-year Technical Assistance for the Capacity Building of Somali Civil Society programme, or Urur Kaab in Somali.
Urur Kaab is, by nature, a purely technical assistance programme aimed at strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Somalia. Urur Kaab rests primarily on three components:
- Enhancing the organisational and programmatic capacities of CSOs in Somalia
- Enhancing the capacity of civil society to understand and advocate for the needs of its constituencies
- Developing partnerships and networking abilities of civil society actors
COVID-19 and the adaption to a new reality
Somalia was not hit by the pandemic as badly as firstly anticipated. During the initial outbreak, we received updates on the need for awareness raising on the risks associated with infection and appropriate mitigation measures. The programme team consulted the EUD on types of activities in which CSOs could support to limit the spread of the pandemic. Following these consultations, the programme repurposed funds to support interventions that would mitigate the spread of the virus amongst the most vulnerable communities.
The programme has Programme Liaison Officers spread all over the country. They were given a key role in coordinating support efforts nationwide and were in a unique position to report back on how the situation was developing. Four regional organisations were awarded grants to perform activities, including broadcasting programmes on television and radio to spread information about easily implementable measures to counter COVID-19.
The TV and radio broadcasts were used to attract health experts, religious and cultural leaders who could echo the recommendations of social distancing and washing of hands. Somali CSOs understand the context best and therefore are best equipped to understand what strategies to use to reach their target audience. The oral tradition among Somalis is strong. Using media platforms as TV and radio was therefore critical to maximise outreach.
Why flexibility matters
The Urur Kaab programme was in its inception phase during the outbreak of the pandemic, with planning and recruitment processes as top priorities. The pandemic forced us to be responsive to the emerging needs of the programme beneficiaries. In other words, the overall purpose of the programme of supporting Somali civil society was the prime focus here.
A personal reflection is that the pandemic, apart from the rapid increase in virtual meetings instead of physical ones, has forcibly increased reprioritisation. This means going back to the core of the programme and bearing this in mind.
Consequently, the CSOs received support in developing communication programmes and were given enhanced communication capacity. Lastly, a lesson drawn from this is the need for built-in flexibility in development programmes. When used purposefully, it can be a useful tool to monitor, implement and coordinate in-kind support when needs arise. At the very heart of things, it serves the overarching purpose of improving people’s lives.