Leadership and COVID-19: harnessing the power of our partnership
The test of leadership does not come when the waters are calm, the donor reports are submitted on time, and our bank balance is looking healthy. Real leadership is tested in times of crisis. The way we behave and act during a crisis establishes our credentials as leaders and we can be judged harshly on what we do, as much as on what we do not do.
Even in our wildest imaginations, as leaders assessing our organisational risk, we could not have asked ourselves: how will our organisation cope with a global pandemic? But as we all know, on 11 March 2020, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, changing the way we live our lives at the most fundamental level.
As this reality sinks in, the number of infections rises and “lockdowns,” “curfews” and “physical distancing” become our new shared language, to say that we are facing a “new normal” is a huge understatement.
The world as we know it has been transformed. For the lucky among us, much of our lives have moved online and technologies like Zoom have become household names – to the extent that, due to travel restrictions, I had to sadly and tragically bury my own mother via Zoom on 31 March.
Looking back six months, I would never have imagined being where I am today. I joined Girls Not Brides as CEO in September 2019, moving from Nairobi to London to take on the leadership of this incredible partnership. With over 1,400 member organisations across 100 countries, it was both an exciting and a daunting task. But I continue to draw strength from our membership, or what I call the power of the collective – a power that, as leaders of our own organisations and members of this partnership, we must harness and tap into, becoming each other’s support system.
I was lucky to visit Rajasthan in February this year, where I met with members of the Girls Not Brides Rajasthan State Partnership. They have been a source of courage and support for colleagues in India and in our London offices over the last few months, despite the challenges this pandemic poses for those working to end child marriage in the country. Arvind Ohja, our Rajasthan National Coordinator from the Urmul Trust, has continued to send messages of goodwill, updates and stories of courage, which have fuelled my resolve to continue our efforts to end child marriage, even in the midst of this pandemic.
So, dear members, colleagues and partners, let us navigate this together because, as the future unfolds and we settle into our new normal, while we have developed some practical resources on what we can do during this period, we still do not have a manual or “how-to” guide for this pandemic.
What we have is each other, and what we need to do is live one day at a time, making short-term plans and best-guess medium- and long-term plans, because there is no telling how long this will take to resolve. Will it be a few months? Will it be with us for years to come? We cannot know. But what I do know is that this too shall pass.
While we forge on, and in the spirit of encouragement, I want to share some simple facts which have made every day as leader of Girls Not Brides a little better than the one before.
I have found that, instead of dwelling on the end result, it is best to focus on things we can control, here and now.
For me these are:
- Be flexible. Allow flexible working hours as staff balance looking after family members and children who may be out of school. If you can, allow extra time off for staff to deal with this. An extra leave day or two can really boost your staff morale.
- Check in and stay connected. Hold regular check-ins with staff and peers, and assess how people are feeling. Point people in the direction of sources of help as appropriate. This time of lockdown can be isolating, especially for those who live alone, or those not used to working from home. Stay connected with colleagues, family and friends, via Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, SMS, phone – whatever means is available to you, use it.
- Manage misinformation. Discourage random sharing of information across staff, as this can create unnecessary fear and confusion. Create a taskforce team to assess and share credible information, and be clear on the lines of communication within your organisation.
Review staff workload. This is a time of what we call “all hands on deck,” so assess staff workload and share it where possible so that we balance out tasks and support each other.
- Stay healthy. Develop healthy habits that boost your physical and mental well-being – eat well, exercise, meditate or pray – whatever works for you, this will also help us to combat fear and panic.
- Be thankful. Gratitude lifts the soul, so let us remember that our governments and frontline workers are all working hard to keep us safe. Let us all be thankful to them, and also remember to thank your staff for the great work they are doing in these unprecedented times.
Finally, remember that this too shall pass! Let’s look to the future with hope, and keep our focus on our shared mission of working towards a world without child marriage.