March 29, 2020

COVID-19 threatens to decimate the developing world. CEO of ActionAid UK, Girish Menon, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss strategic preparations as the novel coronavirus spreads into the Global South

COVID-19 threatens to decimate the developing world. CEO of ActionAid UK, Girish Menon, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss strategic preparations as the novel coronavirus spreads into the Global South. 

Girish notes: "We have no idea how it's going to unfold, we have no idea when it's going to end, we have no idea of how the new normal will be defined."

ActionAid is an international charity and human rights organisation that works with women and girls living in poverty and aims to end violence, foster women's economic empowerment and protect girls' and women's rights. They work in approximately 40 countries in the Global South, in Asia, Africa and Latin America and have a keen interest in helping girls and women in humanitarian crises.

The conversation with Girish focuses exclusively on the devastating impact this global pandemic could have in the developing world and is framed in light of "The Global Impact of COVID-19 and Strategies for Mitigation and Suppression" report from the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team published on 26 March 2020.

While populations in low-income countries tend to be younger, they also tend to experience poorer health, live in larger households where the elderly would struggle to self-isolate and often live in highly concentrated environments -- including refugee camps and urban areas.  Moreover, a lack of clean water, poor sanitation and health infrastructures that lack capacity and sophistication all point to a highly disturbing scenario whereby mortality rates and economic impact could devastate societies.

We discuss ActionAid's strategic thinking and manoeuvring in the face of COVID-19, and the challenges faced by NGOs, and their chief executives, in terms of decreased funding, strained operations and governments that are struggling to cope.

We also consider how women and girls could be disproportionately impacted by this global pandemic since in low-income countries two thirds of informal sector workers are women -- compounded by the potential for increased domestic violence that we have seen before in moments of crisis.

ActionAid's largest fundraising market is the UK, which constitutes 1/3 of the funds they raise globally. Therefore, any reduction in UK income could have a highly detrimental impact on ActionAid's work. We discuss ActionAid's Southern Africa Food Crisis Appeal, which they launched two months earlier -- 45 million people are facing one of the worst food crises, impacting the poor and most vulnerable the most. While attention now focuses on the coronavirus, a key point worth underscoring is that these themes are deeply intertwined. 

During this time of acute crisis, Girish notes how he's been in daily contact with his peers in other organisations. ActionAid maintains close co-ordination and communications with other leading organisations through its membership of 'Bond' -- the UK network for organisations working in international development -- and the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee). Girish mentions how they have already started considering deploying a global fundraising appeal as the pandemic hits the Global South. 

Girish's key takeaway for NGO leaders and CEOs: Stay mission-focused and be true to your culture. Don't be distracted from your mission. Focus on what you can control and manage because the world is unpredictable.

 

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