Civil Society and Covid: Five Reminders for Resilience

Natasha Ereira-Guyer

20 April 2020

Resilience is one of the buzzwords of our time. But for good reason. Its importance has never been more apparent than right now – in the throws of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, when, depending on your charity, coronavirus might be generating more work or might make carrying out your work more difficult. Resilience is the ability of systems – individuals, groups, communities, or organisations – to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses. And to do so in a way that reduces future vulnerability and ‘builds back better’ than before.

Having read and watched some helpful clips and articles aiming to provide some solace, hope and inspiration to us all at this testing time, we decided to produce our own piece for the sector.

In the context of small and medium-sized charities, resilience is determined by core competencies, core resources, and the capacity to adapt. In many ways though, resilience is a state of mind.

We have created our briefing package full of practical advice, but we wanted to take a moment to be sentimental too. We know we might be telling you what you already know, but realising this state of mind can be a real game-changer, so here are five things worth remembering:

1. Setbacks are common

The threats we face in the voluntary and community sector are numerous and extensive, so we should not see them as stoppages, catastrophes or even as barriers; they are simply setbacks. In the past we have had to deal with funding cuts, being turned down for a major grant, outreach challenges, problems recruiting the right project staff or volunteers, or getting enough Trustees of the right calibre on our boards. Right now, it is a silent disease, economic downturn and sudden (and possibly long-term) isolation. Given that setbacks can be a regular occurrence, we should steel ourselves to expect them. We can weave them into our development and next move, rather than be defeated by them.

2. We’re all stronger than we think

As a sector, it’s not unusual for the odds to be stacked against us. As a result, we (and our organisations) are in fact much less fragile than we’re often led to think; we’ve done a lot of this before.  The best voluntary organisations have a wide network of caring and committed people, vibrant communities, dedicated volunteers and Trustees etc they can turn to. This makes us very robust, able to sustain an awful lot of hits and still, somehow, keep going. Keep on keeping on. We need to remind ourselves of our strengths, courage, fortitude and abilities to persevere. We are in a better position to play to our strengths if we remember what they are.

3. This too, shall pass

Every trial we face is temporary. For now, we struggle and experience a sense of real turbulence; but in time, our pains will lessen and fade, and we will adapt. Even the longest and blackest of nights must be followed – eventually – by dawn. Remember that at some point we will look back on this one as history too. When we do, will we feel proud of how we responded? Remembering this makes it easier to be patient and develop a step-by-step approach; it allows us to engage with a more constructive part of our psyche, and ask questions such as this and change our behaviour accordingly.

4. Challenges come hand-in-hand with opportunities and learning

If we respond positively (thanks to reminders 1, 2 and 3, challenges stimulate us and refresh our ways of working. They give us a platform for reflection and change, pushing us to implement what makes sense, even if this defies the status quo of how we usually do things. In this sense, challenges are catalysts and allow us to turn a new page. As well as stimulating new opportunities for change, challenges can also stimulate new ideas and teach us. Finding new approaches to new constraints calls for problem-solving. Once such a space for innovation has been established, it tends to give rise to even more creativity and results in a ratchetting effect of creative solutions, where one innovation leads to another.

5. Better a plan that changes, than no plan at all

Having a clear sense of direction gives people energy and gets juices flowing. In such uncertain times, the most effective strategic plans are going to be the ones that leave room for flexibility farther up the road. Even if the planning is loose, having some kind of strategy can unite and mobilise your team. Step one of developing a strategy is to analyse the context in which you’re operating: map out your priorities, establish a sense of what’s certain and what’s not, and clarify resources that you have vs. resources that are within your reach. Step two is identifying and weighing up options: this involves brainstorming, plus considering potential threats. Step three is pulling it all together into an action plan and making sure everyone has a clear understanding of their role.