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By now we all know people who have been seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic: we’ve lost friends and loved ones, jobs, incomes.  Further down the line some will lose their homes.  Wellbeing and mental health are suffering.

Many civil society organisations were initially set up to respond to challenges around welfare, wellbeing, mental health, access to services and support, healthcare, etc.  As part of my work, I’ve been working with two funders identifying and supporting those organisations that have suffered significant income loss over the past year and that are critical to their communities.  What I have seen in this work is that how organisations have been responding to the pandemic suggests whether or not they will survive in the longer term.

All organisations have been trying to include an element of online activity where they can: from care homes providing digital communication between residents and families to mental health charities conducting 1:1 and group therapy in online settings, but not all plan to continue with digital or online work.  What I have learned about organisations in times of crisis and change is this:

Some can pivot: some organisations have seen that online working has helped them to deliver against their mission.  They have either been able to reach more people, tackle isolation and social phobias in a way they couldn’t before.  Some have decided to continue with a mix of online and face-to-face activity (when that will be possible again), while others have switched their business model to almost fully online, including making the organisation fully digital (doing away with office premises).  These organisations are not always the larger, more well known names and not always more financially stable than others.  These organisations can however see opportunity and understand when it is time to change and embrace that change.

Some cannot pivot: organisations that provide social care or primary healthcare will never be able to take all of their work online.  It is not possible or appropriate.  To deliver their mission, these organisations have to remain in bricks and mortar premises and have to continue to have high face-to-face engagements.  And we would want it to be so.  That not withstanding, some in this group have identified that online, remote working can compliment their core work and that this complimentary online working can be incorporated in a small way to their operating model.

Some will not pivot: Then there are those organisations that see all of this as a temporary change, a blip, before getting back to what they used to do.  There are some organisations who do not see the value in changing their intervention design to include online/digital working.  Believing instead that things will get back to how they used to be in 2019.  These are the organisations that are most likely not to survive in the long run.  Not because they did not unquestioningly adopt digital working as part of their longer term operation, but rather because they do not appreciate the scale and permanence of the change around.  Nor do they fully appreciate the opportunity that digital and online working brings to their mission.

There is no doubt that things have changed significantly and probably permanently.  There is no doubt that some interventions are not made better or more impactful because of online working.  It is true however that those organisations that cannot see or take advantage of changes in context or opportunities to do things differently are going to be left behind.

How has your organisation performed during 2020 – can you see a clear direction for its mission during 2021 and beyond?


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