Plans flew out the office window this year when the coronavirus pandemic hit. If Toybox had not been able to adapt, our mission to support street-connected children would have stopped.
Some street-connected children have no homes to isolate in, no access to sanitation points and no money because informal economies collapsed. We quickly needed to find ways to reach and protect these children while ensuring our partners were safe.
Adaptive management is integral to our culture and way of working. Since 2016, we have worked with our partners to embrace adaptive management, but Covid-19 truly put our processes to the test. Were we really the responsive organisation we thought we were?
We were fast to react. From April 2020, our Covid-19 response projects started and we undertook short-term, small scale humanitarian work. Those in street situations are often unable to access government services meaning our response required us to meet immediate basic needs, such as cash transfers and relief packages of food, hygiene and educational items.
Alongside our partners, we captured the ways we have adapted by using a survey tool from GrayDotCatalyst. This tool is designed to document changes made, whether they have a positive or negative impact, and recommendations about keeping them longer-term. It is easily translated and accessed via a mobile device, allowing frontline staff to capture information easily and quickly.
Here are a few key ways that adaptive management helped Toybox respond to the Covid-19 crisis.
1. Quick decision making
As a smaller-sized NGO with few hierarchical structures, we made decisions and adapted our processes quickly. This allowed partners to respond and support street-connected children from the outset.
As volatility in the global marketplace grew, we adjusted our financial transfers from quarterly to monthly, enabling a more robust use of resources. A request to our leadership team to allow a proportion of project budgets to be used for emergency response activities was authorised the same day.
An emergency response programming guidance document was created, translated, and sent to partners with a concept note and outline budget to help them plan. These were received back into the UK office and approved, meaning partners could respond in just weeks.
2. Strong funder relationships
Due to the strong relationships we have with our donors, most donors were supportive of the adaptations we needed and gave generous additional funds towards our Covid-19 response projects.
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Those funders unable to redirect their grants found other ways to support by giving us additional funding to cover core project costs. Many also invited us to submit project re-designs to work this “new normal” into long term plans. Successful donor relationships meant conversations and changes were fast, and we could adapt while still meeting donor requirements.
3. Creativity brings better solutions
Toybox’s long-term focus on intentional adaptation means partners know they can come to us with innovative solutions for their challenges. Creativity during this time has been key. We put their ideas and alternative approaches into practice quickly.
For example, voucher schemes were set up in collaboration with local supermarkets for street-connected children and their families. Those partners with a focus on education moved to e-learning with children, including providing credit for mobile phones to facilitate this learning.
Using cash transfers was new to us, but our Kenyan partner received positive feedback from recipients: “most residents of informal settlements are on survival mode, this is a lifeline for them. It has given us an image as an organisation that has not forgotten its people in times of great need.”
Other plans in Nairobi were stopped and replaced by cash transfers to respond to participants’ differing individual needs. As with trying out new ways of working, some things were not successful and required adjustments, but we understand that this is how you find the best solution.
4. Constantly reflect to learn
Toybox constantly tracks adaptations and innovations and reviews these changes quarterly, including analysing the impact and whether the change should be kept. This global pandemic is not going away quickly, so we are moving to longer-term changes through project re-designs to factor Covid-19 adaptations into overall project goals. These re-designs will use the recommendations captured within the survey.
Global learning and sharing sessions
For partners, we held regular joint learning sessions to encourage and promote sharing of solutions and challenges. We held a specific session for CEOs to openly discuss organisational challenges in their contexts.
Actively adapting to virtual wellbeing
We prioritised staff wellbeing with initiatives such as self-care plans, fun remote team activities, and flexibility for those juggling work and childcare to provide individual and group support.
New ways of working = new skills
Working from home gave partner staff time to build capacity and develop new skills. Sanjay Gupta, CEO for CHETNA shared “through working in a different way, the frontline workers have developed new skills, such as making videos for teaching online, writing case studies, improving presentation skills”.
For those that have been able to find ways to work in this period, different ways of working have provided personal development in new areas. Product adaptations have also seen confidence and skills development for street-connected children; the food voucher scheme in Bolivia provided children with an opportunity to go into a supermarket for the first time and buy items they needed.
5. Keep things simple
Simplicity is our mantra. Initial complicated guidance notes were not being used by partners, who had even less precious time and resources for reaching vulnerable children. We stripped things back and called partners to check their understanding of the guidance and feasibility of how they could act in their context.
With Covid-19 still in the picture, Toybox plans to continue to document changes made while we continue our ethos of looking for new ways to improve our practices.