Authors Posts by comms


Photo Credit: AP

Since the spread of COVID-19, as many individuals and organizations around the world are operating remotely the risk of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (GBV) Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) cases, as well as fraud and corruption is more likely to increase than to decrease. In a time when such threats are on a rise, the humanitarian and development community must be vigilant and prepared to ensure that affected people are protected and that they remain at the centre of our work.

To remind humanitarian practitioners on how to effectively practice and ensure community protection against sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, Community World Service Asia and Act Church of Sweden jointly hosted a webinar on ‘Protection against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse during COVID-19 Response.’

Speaking about PSEA[1], Ester Dross, lead facilitator and moderator of the webinar, shared a brief history of SEA and what we need to change, to implement effective PSEA policies and processes,

In 2001, a study commissioned by Save the Children highlighted high levels of sexual exploitation and abuse happening in refugee camps in West Africa. Exchange for sex against food or other vital services did not only happen amongst refugees themselves, but also from humanitarian workers to refugees. Since, many other studies had similar findings. As a result, most of organizations today have Code of Conducts or separate policies including protection from sexual exploitation and abuse. Policy violations unfortunately continue to come to light, underlining the need of continuing focusing on PSEA and work on improved implementation of these policies.

Sexual misconduct is a broad term encompassing any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation. Sexual misconduct can be committed by a person of any gender, and it can occur between people of the same or different gender. The webinar highlighted the three types of misconducts; Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Gender Based Violence.

Power imbalance always lies at the root of the various forms of sexual misconduct. This disparity is heightened while employed and residing in tough situations, where conflict, catastrophe, hardship or even a pandemic has forced the most disadvantaged people towards much greater inequities, with higher threats and lesser control.

More than 250 humanitarian and development practitioners took part in this 90-minute discussion-based webinar that shared a wide array of diverse expertise and knowledge from all over the world. Panelists, Sylvie Robert, PSEA Coordinator, Ethiopia, Maria Kjersem, PSEA Network Co-Chair, UN Women, Ethiopia, Seng Aung Sein Myint, National PSEA Coordinator for the PSEA Network, Myanmar, Jules L. Frost, Head of Programmes & Partnerships, CHS Alliance, Geneva and Elisa Cappelletti, PSEA Network Coordinator, Bangladesh joined the session to share best practices on the topic under discussion. Considering the current COVID-19 crisis, the panelists shared best practices on effective inclusion, information sharing, recruitments and trainings on prevention and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Identifying Gaps to improve Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

In terms of improvement, the two major area where progress is most required are identified as awareness on policies and rights and the need for efficient and robust complaints systems. Both are linked not only to meaningful participation and effective information sharing, but also to senior management commitment to implement policies and take disciplinary measures if needed.

To resolve gaps in these areas, organizations need to ensure that they remind populations of their rights, their entitlements, what to anticipate from organizations operating in the neighborhood, what laws are relevant and what actions to anticipate from workers while employed remotely and know what constraints are in effect,

said Ester,

We need to continue to promote involvement by the communities to ensure that behavioral rules in our policies are well understood and that our CRM[2] is still relevant, or to consider alternative ways to address feedback, contribute to community understanding of anticipated activities and what to do if there are severe concerns.

What is different today? What key issues and challenges can we identify during the current crisis?

Participants in the webinar discussed the main obstacles they face in relation to implementation of PSEA in the continuing pandemic.

  • Existing taboos prevent communities from disclosing sexual exploitation to others, which becomes a major challenge in identifying actual cases
  • Inadequate budgets to include capacity development around PSEA and strengthening complaints mechanisms and procedures with implementing partners
  • Lack of awareness and accessibility, as well as deep rooted cultural practices hinder prevention of SEA
  • Failure to apply current PSEA policies on the ground. Many policies and procedures are in effect but field workers are not yet aware of them
  • Maintaining confidentiality when working and investigating remotely
  • Increased risk of violation of data protection as more information is communicated through unprotected channels
  • Increased use of technology also for receiving sensitive complaints – exclusion of people with no access to technology or low technological knowledge

Ensuring adequate information sharing and participation from communities, and receiving and investigating complaints has currently become a global challenge.

We need to be vigilant and prepared!

Think creatively! We will not be able to address all our problems, but we can curtail the present scenario by resolving some of the issues. Ester highlighted some key practices that global humanitarian community can strongly work together on to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse, violence and harassment.

  1. Policies: Most of us have made strong public commitments to policies on PSEA. It is important to reiterate those public commitments, remind staff and communities what we want to implement and how.
  2. Inclusion: Inequalities and vulnerabilities have become even more exacerbated. A commitment to inclusion of a wide set of different voices will significantly and positively influence long-term objectives and changes for the communities we work with.
  3. Participation and Information: As already underlined before, communication and participation have always been key. Communities must continue to have a voice for them to make choices through meaningful participation, even in times of rapid responsiveness and restricted access.
  4. Awareness Raising and Training: To be successful in raising awareness and improving participation, communication and inclusion, a specific focal point for prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA focal point) working with staff and communities and identifying specific risks related to sexual exploitation and abuse in regards to the COVID-19 response should be designated for each program, country and region. These can be first line responders, medical staff, protection officers and others.

Key Takeaways:

  • I found the webinar to be very informative with practical examples of ensuring that PSEA is not forgotten about in times of restricted access but instead rethink alternative ways to inform beneficiaries and receive complaints.” Tracy Robinson
  • “The current crisis motivates us to link up and openly share experiences and challenges on PSEA. This is an opportunity!” Sylvie Roberts
  • “Assessment is a vital practice through which we can ask what you need as a community to address your complaints on PSEAH – The concept of ‘nothing about us without us’ applied.” Axel Schmidt
  • “GBV inside the communities is extremely important but needs to be tackled differently from SEA as we do not have a direct influence on the community members. So, this is more about advocacy but obviously needs to come into account in terms of our programming.” Ester Dross
  • “The different modalities shared in the session will be helpful to identify contextual initiatives on PSEA.” Mausumi Sharmin

[1]Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
[2]Complaints Response Mechanism

The coronavirus induced lockdown enforced all over the world has led to a standstill in all daily activities in the province of Sindh in Pakistan. All and any movement between urban and rural centers has been barred. In an effort to continue its program implementation, Community World Service Asia engaged community groups in organizing health sessions to continue raising awareness on the prevention and precautionary actions against COVID-19 among vulnerable populations in Umerkot and Mirpurkhas. The EVC[1] team stationed in Umerkot, facilitated the collaboration and consultations by introducing digital platforms like smart phones and WhatsApp groups as an alternative to physical trainings.

The online training sessions helped to sensitize members of Steering Committees, Theater groups and Community Groups on promoting social isolation and practicing basic hygiene and safety measures against COVID-19 to minimize virus transmission. The project team urged the community members that were trained to further share the lessons with the rest of the people living in their own villages and those nearby.

More than 800 health awareness sessions have been held in the last two months with community in the area, ensuring inclusions of people with disabilities, women, widows, the elderly and children. Since women in these rural villages are primary care takers for their families, separate and more focused sessions were held with them to develop a clear understanding on the safety protocols of COVID-19.

Traditionally, men are the household heads in these rural settings and are primarily responsible for earning an income and providing financially for their families. Most of these men in Umerkot and Mirpurkhas rely on daily labor to earn an income. Since the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the men are forced to stay home without jobs and incomes to bring home. While the women, who earned additional livelihoods through farming and home-based income generating activities, like kitchen gardening or handcrafting, are also facing loss of livelihoods but an increase in household responsibilities.

The structural inequalities built into our world are now more evident than ever. The gender dimensions of the pandemic are numerous and numbingly severe, but they are not new and not surprising. Women, girls and marginalized communities are particularly impacted by this new-age crisis. In Pakistan, on average, every one in four women experiences emotional, physical or sexual violence. This accounts for approximately eight million women grappling with various forms of violence every year[2]. The risk of violence has likely further increased as economic and social pressures mount amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Protection and response services are also under pressure. Local women in Umerkot and Mirpurkhas are facing a surge in domestic violence, restricted access to reproductive healthcare and rights, and a heightened care-giving burden.

With the men staying home, without jobs, and rising frustration, the stress and household responsibilities for women in these areas has increased many folds.  Moreover, this region of Sindh has been hit by locust attacks and drought in recent times which already left these communities struggling for food security. With the COVID-19 and its associated lockdown, food shortage has further increased for many families here. Women are the last mouths to be fed in these traditional households, where feeding children and men is prioritized. This is leading to a further degradation in women’s health in these villages.

Community Voices in Corona Times:

Ghulam Murtza Lashari is a member of the steering committee in Sobho Khan Lashari village which is located at a distance of 11 kilometers from Mirpurkhas. He shared that their village houses 690 people and 113 families. Seventy percent of the people in this village work on daily wages as part of the local labor workforce. “Families of our village are dependent on daily wages and they purchase ration for their households with that daily income that they earn. The current lockdown situation has led to a lack of income generation and has resulted in extreme food shortages here.”

“Women are seriously impacted in the current situation. Pregnant women are also unable to seek proper healthcare. They rely on men who are still unemployed and unable to afford health services. Before the lockdown, our women were able to earn money by working in agricultural fields and would often use the money for their health care. Unfortunately, there is no work in the field now.” Irshad Ali, Community Group Member, Sobho Khan Lashari village, Mirpurkhas

“Our village is five kilometers from the city of Umerkot, with a thousand families residing in the locality. The main source of income for our people is everyday wages through skilled and some unskilled labor work. As part of the Steering Committee, we gathered donations and distributed ration (food items), with the collaboration of prominent individuals and landlords to 146 of the poorest families. Moreover, we are helping the most vulnerable families to enroll in the emergency program of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Ehsaas Kafalat[3]. Members of the committee have delivered COVID precautionary sessions in our communities. We are worried about this situation because the women in our village will continue to be at high risk due to family care, domestic abuse, and malnutrition risks.” Rashida. President Steering Committee and DEG[4] member from Kharoro Charan

“We began discussions with the Chairman of the Union Council for nutritional care, provision of masks, soaps and other things to combat coronavirus and hunger. With this initiative, we have provided soaps and food to a few households, and distributed them among very poor people. However, several families are still waiting for food assistance and financial support. Over 600 people live in our village; 60 percent belong to the labor force, 5 percent have small shops in the villages and 20 percent are tenants. We have compiled lists of candidates, discussed with the local minister and the president of the union council, but nobody has looked back on the people yet. Women are facing multiple issues such as malnutrition, heavy work load and household conflicts due to financial stresses.” Parkash, Member of Steering Committee at Muhammad Ali Halepot village, Mirpurkhas

“The men are continuing to lose jobs here. Emotional stress is rising among families due to lack of resources and financial support. Women are struggling. If the situation does not change soon, problems of domestic violence will increase even more and will have a significant impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of women and children in these areas. All movement has been restricted. This is also an issue of concern since people are worried about accessing appropriate healthcare in case of contagions and other illnesses.  

To help our people, the Steering Committee members negotiated with the local landlords to contribute wheat flour and ration to the poorest families of our village. As a result, the landlord agreed to donate ration to 50 widows from the village. We received 1700 soaps from the Union Council which we distributed among houses here. We are trying to do our best to help the people who are affected by the lockdown and unemployment. But much more has to be done.”Prem, Member of Community Group, Haji Chanesar Marri village in Umerkot,

“Since the general OPD is closed, the local patients are facing a lot of difficulty as they are unable to access any medical facility or expert. With the absence of public transport, traveling to bigger central health centres is not an option either. I have three patients with asthmatic disease in my house. We recently faced several problems to provide healthcare to them as there was no health service nearby. Luckily, with the aid of a paramedic in our area, we were able to arrange a nebulizer for their respiration. With limited resources, cases like this are likely to rise and will be threatening human lives.” Kewal, Member of Community Group, Kharoro Charan village, Umerkot

“Most women in the village support their families through their handicrafts production, which is largely based on orders they get from fellow community members and local and urban markets. Their husbands mostly live in faraway cities, such as Karachi and Hyderabad, working as tailors, masons, drivers, cooks or other jobs to earn better incomes for their families. Since the lockdown, both men and women in our village have suffered from lack of working opportunities. They are no handicraft orders coming in and most men have come back home as there is no work in the cities. It has become difficult to manage the household expenses with no or limited income coming in.” Kalawanti, an artisan from Kharoro Charan village in Unmerkot

[1] Every Voice Counts Project, implemented by Community World Service Asia in Umerkot and Mirpurkhas.
[2] UNFPA Pakistan 2020
[3] Government of Pakistan has launched Ehsaas Kafalat Program 2020 registration centers for merit-based financial assistance of poor and deserving women throughout the country.
[4] District Engagement Group

Photo credit:

Pakistan has been hit by severe locust infestations since June 2019. The Food and Agriculture Organization has warned of ‘potentially serious food security crisis this year in several regional countries including Pakistan due to locust attack’.

Since Pakistan and Iran’s recent wet winters made a favorable breeding environment for locust swarms, the two countries have been most prone to locust attacks this year.

Agriculture accounts for twenty percent of Pakistan’s GDP and analysts fear that the pest damage by locusts could cut Pakistan’s economic growth to less than 2% by the end of the fiscal year in June 2020. Pakistan’s agricultural sector has already struggled for years in the face of drought and dwindling water supplies and this will add further damage to this sector that provides food and livelihoods to thousands of agrarian rural communities.

Pakistani farmers are currently struggling to combat the worst locust plague to hit the country in nearly three decades; insect swarms have decimated entire harvests in the country’s agricultural heartlands and have sent food prices soaring. On February 1st 2020, tackling the insects was declared as a national emergency as a large scale of cropland was destroyed in the country’s most fertile Punjab province.

According to the United Nations, heavy rains and cyclones sparked “unprecedented” breeding and the explosive growth of locust populations on the Arabian Peninsula early last year. The same locust swarms made their way to Pakistan after wreaking havoc on agriculture lands in other neighbouring countries, such as Iran. Locust swarms from southern Iran have started migrating to Pakistan from the areas of Iran-Baluchistan border and have started devastating standing crops in different part of the country. These locust swarms have laid hundreds of thousands of pods which will hatch as soon as they get a favorable environment and are feared to devour the new batch of kharif seasonal crops.

Thirty-eight percent of Pakistan’s land (60% in Baluchistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab) has become a breeding ground for the desert locust. If the breeding regions do not contain the hazardous pests, the entire country could well be threatened by a locust invasion (FAO).

It has been estimated that the losses to agriculture in case of a locust invasion can reach to about Rs205 billion, considering a 15% damage level for the production of wheat, gram and potato.

At 25% damage level, the total potential losses are estimated to be about Rs353bn for Rabi (winter) crops and about Rs464bn for Kharif (Summer) crops.

With the Covid-19 looming high and threatening lives and livelihoods of the people of Pakistan, it is imperative to effectively and quickly contain and control the desert locust infestation to save the country’s prime production sector and livelihood and food security source.

Community World Service Asia’s Response

In response to the locust swarm attack in Sindh, Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is supporting 1,600 farming families with conditional cash grants for tilling/ploughing their lands to eradicate the locust eggs before hatching. With this support, around 1,600 hectares of land will be rid of locust eggs and will be prepared for the next cultivation. Under this project, CWSA is also supporting the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with provision of pesticides and is providing training to approx. 2,000 farmers on Integrated Crop Management and Integrated Pest Management approaches as preparedness measures. This will enable communities to efficiently manage pest attacks in the future.


  • Food and Agriculture Organization


Shama Mall
Deputy Regional Director
Programs & Organizational Development
Tele: 92-21-34390541-4 

Palwashay Arbab
Head of Communications
Tele: +92 42 3586 5338

Following the first webinar on remote management practices and the role of Human Resources, this second webinar was targeted for managers on their role in effective remote management.

The webinar on Remote Management and the Role of Managers in the context of COVID-19, was organized by Community World Service Asia and Act Church of Sweden on May 14th and delivered by Uma Narayanan, an independent HR and OD Consultant.

Remote Management: a set of adapted procedures in COVID-19

The webinar discussed Commitment 8 of the Core Humanitarian Standards on Staff Competency where staff are supported to do their job effectively and are treated fairly and equitably. As increasing numbers of people are required to work at home, organizations must adjust and perform all functions and manage staff remotely. In this case, it is critical to maintain staff morale, ensure work-life balance is maintained, a positive attitude toward all staff is adopted and they are trusted to manage their workloads. Managers have a crucial leadership role to play here.

The webinar also presented some of the work force trends seen globally. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), 2.7 billion workers are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also anticipated that the working hours will reduce in the second quarter of 2020. Some sectors see a catastrophic loss and there is increasing job insecurity amongst workers in various sectors. Mental health of staff is a big concern globally. This is reaffirmed by some of the webinar participants who stated that staff are highly concerned about their jobs. Disruption to on-going programmes are causing a lot of pressure to the managers, who are answerable to donors.

Participants further cited the following challenges managers face while remotely managing diverse staff spread over various locations:

  • It is difficult to evaluate employee working hours and generate workload analysis for HR teams
  • Transparency and accountability to communities has become largely dependent on Internet connectivity which is not always consistent
  • Ensuring the safety of staff from violence and abuse is a challenge for managers
  • Remote management requires increased guidance and clearer communication on concepts and procedures to staff which increases the time managers spend on coordination
  • SMEs[1] and indigenous organizations need to invest more in technology and skilled HR but do not have the funds to make such investments
  • The same work from home policies cannot be applied to staff working in different contexts and in different situations
  • Remote management for support functions such as Administration and Finance teams is quite difficult. Programme staff is easier to manage and can occupy themselves with many tasks such as reporting and monitoring.

Steps to increase effectiveness of Remote Management

Primarily, the managers need to set clear goals and ensure there is a direction for their team.  Managers should practice being a VUCA leader.

As a leader, the VUCA Model approach is effective in improving and enhancing managers’ abilities to cope with the current pandemic. The VUCA environment is composed of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, all of which we are facing in the COVID-19 pandemic. An effective leader will counter volatility with a vision, uncertainty with understanding, address complexity with clarity and manage ambiguity with agility.

A few participants while acknowledging the VUCA model highlighted the lack of vision in their organization and lack of leadership support in technology.


Participants were encouraged to share some of the best practices they have adopted to improve staff management and organizational productivity during the crisis.

  • Managers can distribute workloads efficiently, providing equal growth opportunities to staff and ensure all staff have the same amount of work and no staff feels under worked or redundant in this situation
  • There should be SOPs and channels in place for preventive measures and prompt responses from managers whose teams are working in high-risk zones
  • Developing situation and crisis specific policies for effective staff management has become a priority
  • Remote delegation requires a lot of remote support and capacity building for staff
  • Media personnel are among the high-risk group of people as reporters have to travel continuously to gather news and capture moments in public places, hospitals, isolation wards or hold press briefings in small crowds

[1]Small and Medium Enterprises

Facilitated by Smruti Patel, Naomi Tulay-Solanke & Dr. Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi

When: June 2, 2020
What time: 2:00 PM (Pakistan Standard Time)
Where: ZOOM – Link to be shared
Language: English
How long: 90 minutes
Who is it for: Humanitarian and development practitioners working in or with hard-to-reach areas, NGOs, and INGOs involved in COVID19 response all over the world
Format: Presentation & Discussion
Speakers: Smruti Patel, Global Mentoring Initiatives & Alliance for Empowering Partnership Naomi Tulay-Solanke, Community Health Initiative (CHI) & Liberian Women Humanitarian Network Dr. Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi, Lebanon Support


The webinar will help explore:

  • The support that local and national actors are receiving from the international community as per Grand Bargain (GB)commitments during the Covid-19 response
  • The importance of tracking progress against the GB commitments using the 7 dimensions framework
  • Increased challenges faced during the Covid-19 crisis and potential solutions
  • Experience Sharing of local and national organisations from different regions


The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time. In addition to the loss of lives and the disruption to millions of lives, the economic damage is already significant and far-reaching.

However, the COVID-19 crisis response and the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) presents opportunities to accelerate progress on the Grand Bargain commitments and reverse the existing inequities. Local and national civil society organisations have a critical role to play and have been at the forefront of the response to COVID-19. They have been supporting efforts of their governments and providing information, providing food and physio social assistance and more. Their support has been critical also because drastically reduced international travel and supply lines had made large scale international mobilization impossible. Many international actors are also dealing with their own operational disruptions and domestic COVID-19 crisis.

The webinar will provide a framework for localisation and exchange experiences from different regions and discuss how localisation is progressing, the challenges it encountered and the way forward. These discussions will help to capture the views of local and national NGOs and the recommendations from the discussions will contribute to the GHRP revision progress which is taking place after every 6 weeks.

Community World Service Asia is hosting a series of learning and experience sharing events in Asia, particularly focusing on the steps taken by organisations to blunt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This webinar is a part of this learning program and jointly hosted by CWSA and the Alliance for Empowering Partnerships (A4EP).

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is a humanitarian and development organization, registered in Pakistan, head-quartered in Karachi and implementing initiatives throughout Asia. CWSA is a member of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) Alliance and a Sphere regional partner.

The Alliance for Empowering Partnerships (A4EP) is a network of organisations committed to rebalancing the humanitarian architecture and practices to enable locally-led responses. Their vision is a world where sustainable, independent and accountable local organisations promote a society based on democratic principles, equality and social justice, and particularly in aid-recipient countries, are leading voices and play a leading role in relief and humanitarian assistance.

This 90-minute webinar will also be an opportunity for sharing best practices from participants and how they have taken into account the current crisis, including best practices in partnering and advocating for localisation in country, regionally and internationally.

Register here: Localisation during COVID-19

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    Smruti Patel

    Smruti is the founder and Co-Director of the Global Mentoring Initiatives based in Switzerland. She has been working in the humanitarian sector since 1995. Smurti Patel was a member of the Tsunami Evaluation team for Multi-Agency Thematic Evaluation: Impact of the tsunami response on local and national capacities, and since then has been an active advocate for locally led responses. She lead the development of Network of Empowered Aid Response (NEAR) from idea on paper to the launch of the network at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 and has been involved in the research to develop localisation framework for the Start Network, to assess and measure their progress towards localisation. The “Seven Dimensions Localisation Framework” has been used and adapted by many organisations and regions. Smruti is now actively involved in advocating for the change in the humanitarian system to more locally led responses. She is a member of the Charter4Change coordination group and a member of the International Convening Committee of Alliance for Empowering Partnership.

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    Naomi Tulay-Solanke

    Naomi Tulay-Solanke is a Liberian Feminist, a human rights activist, a humanitarian and the Founder Executive Director of Community Health Initiative (CHI), a national non-governmental organization that is providing healthcare and social services to women and children in underserved and hard to reach communities in Liberia since 2014. Naomi is a founding member of the Liberian Women Humanitarian Network also a founding member of NEAR and the Feminist Humanitarian Network. She is passionate about the role and recognition of local actors in humanitarian work.

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    Dr. Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi

    Dr. AbiYaghi is a political scientist. She is a founding member and the current director of Lebanon Support, an interdisciplinary action-oriented research center. She specializes in contentious politics, the sociology of public action, and the political economy of knowledge production in the MENA. AbiYaghi has held positions in academia as well as international organisations. She strives to create spaces for synergy between the scientific community and the practitioner field.

Photo credit: ACT Government-Australia

Key principles of safe and efficient complaints handling Ways to develop key messages on raising awareness on the need for complaints systems Increased challenges during Covid-19 crisis and potential solutions

These were the discussion points of the webinar on Remote Complaints Response Mechanism (CRM) and the Collective Feedback Mechanism the context of COVID-19 hosted by Community World Service Asia and Act Church of Sweden on May 13th.

More than 200 humanitarian and development practitioners took part in this two-hour webinar that offered a wide range of expertise and knowledge-sharing from across the word.

Ester Dross, expert in humanitarian accountability, facilitated the session and was joined by panelists Madiha Shafi from the Danish Refugee Council, Turkey, Syed Rashid Bin Jamal, PSEA Officer of Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), Bangladesh, Sameera Noori, Managing Director at Asia Leaders Organization for Humanitarian Aid), Afghanistan, Khadar Abdulahi Nur, CRM Officer for Danish Refugee Council, Somalia and Iqbal Shahid, Program Specialist for Concern Worldwide in Pakistan.

Upholding Quality and Accountability and Maintaining Performance during COVID-19

When operating in a humanitarian environment, we are all mindful of the power imbalance. The most vulnerable have the least power. That leads to a gap between what we want to accomplish and what communities want to receive or how they want to be treated. It has led many organizations to agree on principles that will strengthen their responsibility to right holders and members of the society.

During the COVID-19 crises, accountability is even more important. Given the need for many of our staff to work remotely and the challenges with participation an information sharing, there can often be an increase rather than a decrease in inappropriate behavior or gaps in programming and implementation, leading to complaints

. shared Ester.

Going a bit back in time, discussions on accountability have finally led to the Core Humanitarian Standard in 2015. The overall aim of the standard is to put communities and people affected by the crisis at the center, based on the Humanitarian principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Independence, and Neutrality. The commitments focus on the quality of the response, the structure of the projects, and the response and the organization itself and its resources. Ester added,

If our organizations and staff do not live up to our commitments or cause negative impacts, it is crucial for people to be able to raise concerns.

Ester discussed the key pillars to ensure that organizations have a robust system of Complaints and Responses.

Our system needs to be accessible! This not only includes access in the sense of locations but also access considering various capabilities (children, disabled, elderly, minorities, women etc.). It must be entirely inclusive, taking into account the circumstances of possible complainants.

How safe is our system? Can people access it without taking risks? Security for everyone includes physical and psychosocial safety and health problems. Community must be able to access communications modes with ease.

Confidentiality is key so that community members feel that they are secure and can entrust us with sensitive information. Information and details on complaints need to be safeguarded from any intentional or unintentional disclosure.

The system needs to be transparent. Potential users need to be provided transparent mechanism information.

The COVID-19 virus has presented a stress test for organizations worldwide, with the internet playing a crucial role in keeping critical infrastructure and resources connected and available. The panelists shared best practices and asked participants to further share how their organizations are managing programs in the current crisis, while maintaining high levels of quality and accountability and adhering to relevant standards, specifically the Core Humanitarian Standard, which is key for successful complaints handling.

Recommendations Highlighted:

  • Effective social media management is key for information sharing in this crisis
  • Staff training on misconduct and Protection against sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) to highlight expected behavior when responding to COVID-19 especially in remote areas
  • Development of pamphlets to share free helpline numbers for counseling and feedback
  • Organizations urged to review Complaints Response Mechanisms to ensure once complains are received, they can be channeled to appropriate staff as quickly as possible
  • Review IT structure, data management, official communicating software and digital media interaction to ensure that confidentiality of reports is not breached
  • Develop a channel through which complaints at community-level reach programmatic teams at offices efficiently through effective use of mobile phones
  • Seek alternative remote communication channels that will best suit discussing issues of sensitive nature and communicate clearly to the communities on the channels available. In this case branding of your CRM channel is essential to distinguish between reliable channels and fake ones
  • Trust is very important, if affected people feel they can trust us then they will gain confidence to share complaints
  • Good mapping of existing information pathways that continue to operate during the crisis is needed. This can be leveraged for complaint feedback and response mechanisms
  • Involve differently abled persons (who are 15% of the population) in the CRM process and ask them what the best accessibility is for them. How can we as humanitarian workers best cater to their needs to improve accessibility? How can we adapt the messages? How can they be involved efficiently?
  • Gender implications must be considered in CRM channels as well. A gender balance in committees and recruitment of more women call operators is encouraged

Photo Credit: Muhammad Hamed (REUTERS)

Without education, there is darkness around us. There is no ray of hope about when the schools will reopen. However, we, as teachers, have to remain strong and deliver our best to overcome this challenge. A time will come when the schools will be filled with children and that is when we will collectively fill all gaps and deliver quality education once again,

says Talib Hussain who is a teacher at the Nationalized Muslim School in Maheshwari Para, Umerkot, Pakistan.

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the closure of most of the educational institutions across the globe has also affected the education of 46.8 million schoolchildren in Pakistan. Millions of young and old learners will be further affected by the crisis in the near future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the whole sphere of life including businesses, schools, hospitals and other working spaces. The lockdown has gravely affected the academic system and has had a huge impact on students and teachers especially in the rural areas as we have limited access to the internet and advance tech to apply remote teaching,

shares Talib Hussain.

The unavailability or limited internet connection among students is a major hindrance in the continuation of teaching or school activities and homework. Students are unable to continue studying from home.. They need a mentor to guide them with their studies. Most poverty-stricken households in Umerkot do not have access to the internet or smartphones. Consequently, an online alternative is challenging to adopt here,

added Talib disappointedly,

There is a need for online classes to resume studies and engage students back to learning. But the lack of resources to purchase android phones and internet connections for teachers and students is a very costly initiative.

 Investing in the internet or smart technology is out of the question, especially at a time like this when communities have lost their livelihoods and incomes are either nil or at a bare minimum.

Even though Umerkot is far from being a well-developed area, people in its villages have still been severely affected by the COIVD-19 lockdown. The families of daily wagers and those working in bigger urban hubs are suffering the most as their sources of income has diminished.

People are running out of food and essential household needs. The government has initiated the Ehsaas1 Program to provide relief to people on the basis of merit, transparency and impartiality. However, the aid is not sufficient for large families, having limited resources, to cater for all members in the family. If the situation is not contained soon, it will become tougher to facilitate a huge majority of the poorest populations,

expressed Talib worriedly.

Talib makes sure he informs and updates his own children regularly on the developments of the coronavirus pandemic. He ensures they keep their hands clean, use sanitizers when needed and wear masks when leaving the house.

Seeing that children are disengaged from studies, I often wear my teacher hat and try to ensure they spend some time studying and learn something new at home each day. However, not every parent possesses such skill or knowledge that I have been trained with. But they can try. Therefore, in addition to building awareness on COVID-19, we must also sensitize parents to engage their children in reading and writing exercises at home. This way children will spend some time with their books rather than watching television or playing around the whole day. If this lockdown exceeds till June, it will become necessary for the government to work on alternative education plans to ensure the continuation of learning and gaining literacy.

  1. Launched on March 27, 2019, the objective of Ehsaas is to reduce inequality, invest in people, and lift lagging districts. Under the Ehsaas program 12,000 Rupees is given as per family via SMS Registration.

Jeevo Kolhi quietly stands with his vegetable cart, in the scorching heat, by the side of the street in the city of Hyderabad in Sindh, hoping someone will stop by and buy some vegetables from his cart. Though Jeevo’s small business has fortunately been excluded from the Province’s lockdown measures, his sales have been gravely affected and his problems have multiplied.

There is a new policy everyday. Most days, without any warning, the authorities raise the stringency and lockout measures and ask us to wind up the cart and return to our homes before our business day has even started. Since the vegetables I sell are perishable products, I cannot keep them in storage and shut my business for even a day.

Jeevo was only able to carry on his business for three days out of the whole week at the end of April.

The government has allowed vegetables to be sold till 5 p.m daily as soon as the clock hits 4 p.m., enforcement officials become aggressive and start ordering us to return to our homes immediately. This has made our businesses barely functional

The revenue from Jeevo’s daily sales has also dropped since people are reluctant to come out and buy anything from small vendors such as him, assuming vendors on carts would lack hygiene and protective measures.

I take care of cleanliness and make sure all vegetables and my hands are clean so people should not be scared to buy vegetables from me or from those who run small vegetable carts like me,

shared Jeevo.

With nine children and a wife to support, Jeevo is struggling to make daily earnings sufficient to feed the family of eleven.

Before the lockdown our life was good. We were making all ends meet as I was not the only income bearer. My wife and three daughters work as house-cleaning maids in the neighborhood and would earn a monthly salary from it. Since the lockdown, they have all lost their jobs. They will only be able to restart work if the virus is contained and the lockdown is lifted. Until then I am the sole bread earner for my family.

Jeevo and many other families like his are suffering from unemployment, food insecurity and poverty amid the coronavirus crisis. Jeevo is apprehensive that if the outbreak continues and the lockdown does not end, he and his children will have to resort to asking for charity and food to survive.

I look after cleanliness so people should not be conscious to buy vegetables from me and from those who run small vegetable carts.

When: May 27, 2020
What time: 2:00 PM (Pakistan Standard Time)
Where: ZOOM – Link to be shared
Language: English
How long: 90 minutes
Who is it for: Humanitarian and development practitioners working in or with hard-to-reach areas, NGOs, and INGOs involved in COVID19 response all over the world
Format: Presentation and sharing of Best Practices
Moderator & Facilitator: Ester Dross

A key aspect of our shared commitment towards Accountability to Affected People is an organisation’s ability to develop or review organisational policy relating to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and managing internal investigations.

The webinar will help explore;

  • Key principles of protection from sexual exploitation and abuse
  • The importance of information and participation from communities and innovative ways to develop key messages on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse-related risks
  • Increased challenges during Covid-19 crisis and potential solutions

Community World Service Asia and Act Church of Sweden are jointly conducting a webinar on good practice for the protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and potential misconduct committed by humanitarian workers. Since in many places we have to operate remotely, the threats of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as fraud and corruption are more likely to rise than decrease. We need to be vigilant and be prepared.

The webinar will help in managing staff misconduct, with a particular focus on sexual exploitation and abuse of project participants by staff. Additionally, it explores safeguarding strategies that managers can implement in their organisations to reduce the risk of exploitation and abuse and improve their organisation’s capacity to receive and respond to allegations of staff misconduct.

This 90-minute webinar will also be an opportunity for sharing best practices from participants and how they have taken into account the current crisis, including best practices for inclusion, information sharing, recruitments and trainings on prevention and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is a humanitarian and development organization, registered in Pakistan, head-quartered in Karachi and implementing initiatives throughout Asia. CWSA is a member of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) Alliance, a member of Sphere and their regional partner in Asia and also manages the ADRRN Quality & Accountability Hub in Asia.

Act Church of Sweden is a faith-based organisation that works for positive, long-term and sustainable change. Collaborating and cooperating with other organisations is at the core of Church of Sweden’s international mission. By working with local organisations, Act Church of Sweden contributes to long-term sustainable development in the contexts in which their partner organisations operate.

If you wish to participate, kindly register here: Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

Applicants will be informed latest by the 22nd of May about their confirmation status. Up to 200 participants will be accommodated on a first come first serve basis. In addition, we would appreciate anyone willing to share some best practices on the webinar topic and we will select 5 – 7 participants to share them during the webinar. Additional best practices will be compiled into guidance for wider circulation.


Ester Dross – Independent Consultant

Ms. Dross is an independent consultant with over 25 years of experience, specializing in accountability, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, gender and child protection.

Ms. Dross had extensive exposure to humanitarian certification systems and accountability to affected populations while working with HAP International as their Complaints Handling and Investigation Advisor, later as their Certification Manager. She has been closely involved in the Building Safer Organizations Project since 2005, dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries, particularly focusing on gender and child protection. Over the last 6 years and since working as an independent consultant, Ester has been leading a pilot project for FAO on accountability and gender mainstreaming in emergencies and working with numerous NGOs including ACT Alliance members, supporting and training their staff on gender issues, child protection, accountability, complaints handling and investigations. She is an experienced investigator herself and has conducted investigations in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How do we see the future of the aid sector in uncertain times? In a crisis like this, what sort of leadership shall we apply? Even when lockdowns are eased out or ended, how can humanitarian leaders be prepared and what challenges should they be expecting?

These questions were posed to an expert panel at the Community World Service Asia and ACT Church of Sweden’s webinar held on May 7th highlighting the crucial role of and best practices adapted by humanitarian leaders at an organizational and community level to manage the impact of a crisis such as the COVID-19. Tanya Wood, Executive Director of the CHS Alliance, was joined by panelists Deepmala Mahla, Regional Director for Asia of CARE, and Ayesha Salma, Group Head of Quality Assurance, Research and Design for Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF). The webinar was moderated by Uma Narayanan  Independent Consultant and specialist on human resources and organizational development.

Leaders face a new kind of challenge

Crisis has a way to show, change direction and recalibrate what leadership is actually about. With the COVID-19 pandemic being the biggest public health issue of our day, having a far-reaching impact on economies and human lives, leaders are faced with a new kind of challenge.

While there are significant efforts to respond to COVID-19 pandemic through various needs, humanitarian and development organizations continue to explore their own ability to survive, to sustain, to bounce back and move forward. Most of you can relate to this. The role of leadership is crucial in current settings

said Uma Narayanan, while moderating and outlining the agenda of the webinar.

Ayesha Salma highlighted that leadership emerges in adversity and professionals must take this crisis as a real opportunity to exhibit that. She touched upon three main points that leadership in PPAF is focusing on, namely, business continuity, economic revival and innovative measures.

Citing Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund’s example, Ayesha shared that the leadership’s first initiative was to ensure their staff were equipped with the right information to protect themselves.

We have adopted a daily mechanism to convey updated, positive messages to staff and encourage them to take this as an opportunity to exercise their leadership skills. Moreover, the agility and adaptability to switch systems was important which was built on the basis of our IT platforms and our regular HR disciplines that helped our organization survive this crisis. The staff is responsible for sharing weekly work updates to supervisors, which are then shared with HR. We have seen a critical strategic gain from doing so because it has allowed employees in this lockout to refocus their resources on more high value research. So many positive things have come out of this new way of working for us.

Deepmala pointed out the need for the humanitarian sector to look at its essence of work.

We’re used to working in groups; interacting with people, traveling to the neighborhoods, visiting households. We can’t work physically within the existing environment. For that cause we have to change our way of functioning radically. That needs new ideas, a new way of providing leadership at the organizational level.

Participants raised concerns about the ability to lead organizations in countries where the majority live below the poverty line and there is little support for aid organizations to respond.  Deepmala responded to that saying,

That is a real challenge and communities need actual support. In this critical moment, leaders have to work at three levels – community, system and policy. Another key part of our roles working as humanitarian workers is to advocate and influence governments to act, donors to fund.

Continue to ‘Put People at the Centre’

One of the primary problems encountered in leadership positions is to achieve a balance between the humanitarian imperative and the caring obligation.

As a humanitarian organization, the first priority needs to be the protection of the people in any decision and action, living up to our humanitarian mandate. Your greatest responsibility, at the same time, is to take care of your staff, to support and protect them and to ensure their well-being. Consequently, leadership should be flexible and capable of putting in innovative approaches to promote and bringing out the positivity from the new way of work,

highlights Deepmala.

Remembering the core humanitarian mandate was identified as an important part of leadership in this situation. Panelists agreed that there must be commitment towards achieving long-term economic recovery and protection of communities.

Deepmala discussed the importance of focusing on the impact of the crisis at the community level as well. Though everyone is trying to help communities, there still might be ignorance at community-level about COVID-19 and its preventive measures. The impracticality of the global health advice is physical distancing and staying at home. When advising to stay at home, one is assuming that the individuals have a home with livable conditions and food to last a few days. One must remember that this is an assumption and not the reality in many cases around the world.

In addition, many communities have self-isolated themselves, not allowing any outsider to join which has made it impossible for humanitarian workers to access those groups.

We are also aware of the major livelihoods crisis communities are facing at this point; millions are made practically homeless, without having the necessary food and meals. This is the community we are accountable to serve. For this reason, we have to firstly identify leadership at community level. Any intervention can succeed if only the community is involved and with the community itself leading.

With a number of CHS members participating in the webinar, the light was shed on the basic foundation of CHS being accountable to whom we serve, and to keep that as a basis for organizational operations and response in this pandemic. CHS aims to create and improve the transparency of organizations and to ensure its rooted in the organizational community, strategies, procedures, and activities. Tanya shared that the CHS has been made available in the plainest language to make it understandable as possible. There is a need for organizations to promote the CHS in and with communities as it tells communities on what to expect and on what they can hold the aid community accountable for. Maintaining an open and accessible forum for workers to express their thoughts, feedback and ideas, such as providing a virtual suggestion box online was highly recommended.

Communication and Compassion

Another key aspect that emerged from the discussion from speakers and participants alike was communications. Lack of and improper communications is one of the biggest challenge in the current crisis.

Communications is at the heart of CHS. CHS is working on a report which shows how as a sector we are meeting our commitments to the CHS and unfortunately it shows that the one thing we as humanitarians are challenged with is communications. This relates to communicating with the people and with each other. We have planned to launch a research piece on how organizations are adapting on Complaint and Feedback Mechanism. We have to make sure that we are adapting and that this mechanism is visible, well-staffed, well-managed and well-referred as they can possibly be, 

highlighted Tanya.

For many years the humanitarian sector has all been about being fast, life-saving and reaching more and more people. This means we have invested heavily in efficiency-centered programs and processes. The question is, have we neglected some of the fundamental principles of humanity, how we work and not to lose compassion?

Talking about CHS’s initiatives on staff care and compassion, Tanya shared,

At CHS, we’ve been working on an effort that we need to push three areas of change; we need to be more compassionate internally, we need to be more compassionate with our staff, and we need to create environments that reflect how we care towards our staff and their mental health and well-being. The moto we are using is ‘You have to be well to serve others well’. Part of that is a launch of a series of conversions to see what it looks like in different parts of the globe, to see how we promote and be compassionate in our organizations.

Tanya Woods shared the CHS Commitment and COVID-19 with participants who were seeking recommendations on new trends on funding, inclusion, and engaging with communities.

More than 178 humanitarian and development practitioners from 29 countries representing the continents of Australia, Africa, Asia and Europe took part in this ninety-minute webinar.

When highlighting the future of the aid sector post the pandemic, Tanya Woods said,

One of the opportunities that is forced amongst us from this crisis is to fill the hole in role of national and local NGOs and where INGOs have to play a more supportive role rather than a directive one. It will be interesting to see how this plays out within the sector.

Ayesha added,

Because of the lack of capital at a global level, creating your own revenue streams would be the most important in the immediate future. Now is the moment to innovate!


Sharing the opinions and suggestions with people around us will encourage them to follow you and innovate. Never underestimate the importance of reflecting your sincerity. This is the best opportunity to develop solutions in respect to structures that are revolutionary and successful in solving the current situation. As per our needs, we can still build what’s fit for purpose.

Ayesha Salma

This is an important time for organizations to outline a “duty of care” framework for staff and communities, and find how duty of care covers different groups in different circumstances. It will not be the same in all circumstances. In normal situations, duty of care is fulfilled by many arrangements in the org, but there is greater responsibility in these situations. So we identify gaps in policies, process, systems and interventions.

Aliya H.

Organizations who want to continue implementing their activities on grounds must consider and keep in loop the grass roots organization who are really at front lines.

Fayyaz Noor

Two years ago we saw a different type of phenomena that impacted our sector that was the #MeToo movement. We have seen the trend, particularly through INGOs, a public rebuttal where there is a disparity in how organizations act and how they do not comply with the principles they teach. It is a reminder to us that as humanitarians we are always judged and rightfully so on how we respond to that crisis and COVID is going to do that again. I would like to applaud Community World Service Asia for supporting such outstanding webinars, uniting people, thinking about what is relevant, talking about topics such as leadership, caring and kindness, which are really necessary.

Tanya Wood