METTA’S STRATEGY UNDER COVID-19 (MAY 2020 – MARCH 2023)

SUMMARY

On 30 January 2020, the WHO Director-General declared the COVID-19 outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) and follow on 11 March 2020, WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak as pandemic. This global outbreak has impacted Myanmar from various dimensions and Myanmar government has responded with “Health Sector Contingency Plan” and COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan” and follow with formation of two committees at National level.

With this changing context, Metta has foreseen that responding to COVID-19 will dominate our personal and work lives, our programmes and our organisation for coming 3 years. Everything will need to be reconsidered, and much will need to be re-worked. Therefore, Metta is committed and came up with its operation strategy under COVID-19 in line with the government and other stakeholder contingency plans to work together, with civil society organisations, community based organisations, faith based leaders, local leaders and multi-stakeholders across Myanmar in prevention, mitigation and response to the impact caused by COVID-19.

Metta’s revision of its strategies, has taken into account all these realities, and reconfirmed its priority for the most vulnerable groups within the most neglected communities, in the context of COVID-19: women, children, adolescents, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, drug users, urban poor, migrant workers, indigenous populations, minorities, sexual and gender minorities and displaced people. Metta is particularly concerned for people living in IDP camps as well as recent conflict affected area, as these populations already suffer from many vulnerabilities: poor nutrition, especially of children; overcrowding and sub-standard accommodation; poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene; health systems around them are very weak and most households in the camps are dependent on external assistance to cover their basic needs.

The new strategy states that, for at least the short-term phase (up to September 2021), Metta will prioritise COVID-19 response, as the main cross-cutting agenda for all programmes. 

As Metta has come up with its new operational strategy under COVID-19 context, we will pay attention to social protection for vulnerable groups, humanitarian response, food sovereignty and livelihood aspect and Metta will work as much as possible through Civil Society Organisation under this news strategy. Metta will ensure rights to health and essential services for vulnerable groups and continue to provide a spectrum of social protection and essential services.

COVID-19 has direct implication on Metta as institution and this new strategy is needed to mitigate and response to this changing context. Metta also came up with its Contingency Plan for COVID-19 on 3rd March 2020 and updated again on 18th May 2020. The Plan updates existing Metta policies and procedures and describes the specific actions that will be undertaken in Metta’s management, communications, working priorities and in the safety and security of staff. Working under the new normal context will require immediate additional investments in digital technology including field-level applications, and related capacity-building for Metta staff and the partners and communities. Metta will re-organise its structures and staffing. Essential functions and traditional levels of access to communities have already changed significantly.

During the phases of this Strategy, Metta will aim for an annual programme budget of around USD 8 to 10 million.

STRATEGIC TIMEFRAME 

Metta has learned that in complex humanitarian emergencies, ‘sequencing’ is a myth and that we can’t think about social and political issues in terms of ‘triaging’ – dealing with the most visible issues first. The deepest, least visible cracks are often the most damaging over time. The social and political impacts from COVID-19 aren’t second order problems that can be dealt with once the urgent work on slowing the rate of infection and saving as many lives as possible is done: these impacts are being felt already. Our work for the medium-term and long-term phases of our strategy must also start now.

STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES

Metta will prioritize the COVID-19 response as the main cross cutting agenda for all programming. This includes the phases of response, mitigation and recovery.

The pandemic has created a public health emergency with immediate and long-term health and economic consequences for society particularly impacting on the most vulnerable groups. Strengthening social protection is essential to mitigate these negative impacts. Social protection must include a strong focus on social vulnerabilities and seek to address the additional risks faced by vulnerable groups who are socially and economically vulnerable at the same time. Metta will work with grassroots communities, civil society as well as directly with vulnerable groups to strengthen social protection systems, including the ability to respond to both the short-term and protracted crises. At the heart of Metta’s social protection support is our people centered approach, and the communities’ own efforts to self-protect, self-organise and self-mobilise.

Our commitment to empowering approaches will focus on the barriers that people face to protect their health and the health of others in the COVID-19 context. Metta will ensure rights to health and essential services for vulnerable groups and continue to provide a spectrum of social protection and essential services including access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), cash transfer programmes, basic healthcare services especially to drug users, response packages for quarantines, and basic facilities and materials for communities own response to COVID-19. These services will be led and managed by the communities themselves.

  • Metta’s framework on community engagement during COVID-19 will guide the public mobilizing, awareness raising, community contingency planning, community response that includes managing community quarantine facilities.
  • Child protection will be a key focus area. Empower adolescents/youth to protect their rights and promote their initiatives during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Support to the provision of health services. This could include Personal Protective Equipment for frontline responder, health workers, provision of essential non-prescription medicine (e.g. paracetamol); referral support to medical services; burial equipment.
  • Access to harm reduction support for drug related problems; sexual reproductive health services and community managed health care programmes.
  • Support for safer migration as well as for returnees.
  • Addressing the vulnerability to gender-based violence, trafficking and associated forms of exploitation and abuse. Social Cohesion work needs to be part of this support through acknowledging and addressing social stigma, discrimination and other social tensions within the community.
  • Access to WASH and other basic essential facilities.
  • Provision of Food & Income Security such as food or cash transfer distributions for especially vulnerable groups; seeds and tools distributions; cash for work, including for unemployed migrant workers/factory workers.
  • Specific support and attention to women and for women’s empowerment: e.g. to ensure that women have access to accurate information; access to reproductive health care; receive support in their household caregiver role; have access to domestic violence referral services.
  • Support the urban poor (who are mostly migrants from the rural areas) through an initial assessment of their needs, risks and vulnerabilities, determining priority community-led interventions (such as improving security of tenure and access to basic services) and advocacy for government support.

As indicated in the 2020 Myanmar Humanitarian Needs Overview, Myanmar ranks 17th out of 191 countries in the Index for Risk Management and fourth highest in terms of exposure to natural hazards. This fragile situation affects in a most serious degree those population groups impacted by humanitarian crisis including displaced people, stateless people and other vulnerable people, namely in Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states. Many of these populations would likely face difficulties accessing basic services including health services. On top of this the conflict affected populations are most likely to become the most vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, to be able to provide essential services to affected populations, integrating COVID-19 responses into ongoing and future humanitarian programmes will be a major objective of Metta over the next three years. Our humanitarian mandate is to respond to any type of humanitarian emergency in any part of Myanmar while prioritising our ongoing project areas, proximity to our existing office bases, and presence of our partners.

Metta has become both a channel and a focal point for humanitarian response in Myanmar, being adept at dealing with natural and human induced conflicts for almost two decades. Metta will continue to lead in the humanitarian sector in Myanmar, taking active roles in the local, national and regional coordination. We will also be a champion of essential humanitarian values and eco-humanitarianism. Related to the anticipated return and resettlement of IDPs and refugee to their home communities in Myanmar, Metta will likewise take an active leadership role.

Metta’s Humanitarian Framework will guide our humanitarian work during the strategic period.

  • To protect the life and dignity of those affected by disasters by providing timely humanitarian assistance and ensuring their protection, especially the most vulnerable.
  • To ensure that displaced persons return to their homes or resettle with dignity and provide access to basic services and fulfilment of their rights; either by supporting IDPs directly, and/or advocating as appropriate in order to protect their rights.
  • To reduce human suffering by preventing conflict and building resilience within communities.
  • To ensure that the rights of affected people, especially the most vulnerable individuals, are protected and fulfilled, including protection from all forms of gender violence;
  • Humanitarian support is accessible to all, covering all the components of the humanitarian cycle for each sector. All partners will observe Metta’s humanitarian values and principles, and avoid any negative impact of humanitarian interventions; Metta adopts and strictly follows the humanitarian approach which is Rights based; Eco-humanitarianism; People-centered, community based participation; Do no harm; Conflict sensitivity; Gender equity understanding; Relief, response, recovery and rehabilitation, development and resilience building; Partnership approach; and Protection and empowerment of vulnerable groups.

There is a need for radical change in the food systems. Looking at the big picture, the underlying cause of this pandemic is linked to industrialised food production and its associated depletion of natural resources, poisoning of the food chain, and crossing of eco-system boundaries. Some of the ways forward are what Metta has been advocating for a long time: localised food systems, national food sufficiency, programme and policy support to smallholder food producers and indigenous communities as the backbone of national food sufficiency.

For Metta, economic growth must not come at the cost of social inclusiveness and must directly address poverty and inequality. Metta’s long-standing focus on these fundamental issues has enabled us to build expertise in specific areas which are now and will be important in future. One of the Metta strengths is agro-ecological farming through a Farmer Field School approach and Metta will increase its focus on this area and pay even more attention to smallholder farmers. All the work in the rural areas remains important in responding to the COVID-19 crisis including sustainable agriculture, the rights to land and natural resource governance, addressing food insecurity in the community. Metta’s role of advocacy for smallholder farmer at the sub-national, national and regional levels will also be critical to ensure that government policy during and after this COVID-19 crisis directly considers effects on farmers, their lands and natural resource as well as on their social organisation and democratic processes.

  • Build and promote the food security and food sovereignty of communities through the programme approach of agro-ecological farming, kitchen gardening, urban gardening, agro-forestry, bio-diversity, conservation of traditional and neglected or underutilized species, local seed promotion and natural resource management to be able to cope with COVID-19 crisis. Support communities to develop and promote their own policies (agricultural, labour, fishing, food, land use, forestry etc.) which are ecologically, socially, economically, and culturally appropriate to their circumstances as well as to be able to protect their rights under COVID-19 crisis. Promote people-led development and local knowledge. Initiate and support the local seed and traditional food culture movement and uphold customary practices (land reform, redistribution, restitution, access.) both for long-term development and in the short-term as COVID-19 coping mechanisms.
  • Enhance the roles of women and youth in the sustainable development of communities, agro ecological farming, social enterprise and entrepreneurship.
  • Invest in research and development as well as link up with research institutions which are paying attention to the rights of the marginalized farmer in their practice and policy work.

Civil society has a critical role to play in the response to this pandemic. This is all the more so because drastically reduced international travel and supply lines make large scale international mobilisation impossible. Many international actors are also dealing with their own operational disruptions and domestic COVID-19 crises.

Myanmar’s civil Society is well aware that this will be not only a public health, but also an economic and social crisis. We predict a rise in ethnic, gender based and domestic violence. We foresee social unrest among daily wage earners and people working in the informal sector who will face loss of jobs, income and food security. All local and national capacities need to be mobilised to mitigate these impacts.

The greatest challenge is whether Myanmar society will respond to this threat by largely turning inwards, or will mainly look outwards. The choice we as CSOs collectively make will be mirrored at all levels: from the village to regional and international relations. The role of civil society is key. If Myanmar manages to maintain an outward-looking perspective it will be because of the leadership of civil society. This choice, this year, will shape the next two decades.

While the choice will be powerfully influenced by social, cultural and religious forces, these forces and their symbols can be mobilized for either isolation or for social solidarity. Defending civil society, democratic rights, and our fundamental freedoms can be challenging, let alone having to do it while under “lockdown” practicing social distancing in the midst of a global health crisis spreading rapidly across the world. In times like these, solidarity and social compassion play the most important role.

The primary objective of Metta’s social and civic support in the short-term phase of this strategy will be “to slow the rate of COVID-19 infection”. The short-term purpose of slowing infections is not to avoid overloading the health systems, but to maintain at least a sustenance economy and community-support systems in the communities where we work. The medium-term purpose is to reduce infection, sickness and death in anticipation of a national vaccination programme. Thirdly, the COVID-19 response provides Metta with the window to progress its longer-term vision of becoming a national Resource-Hub for Myanmar’s civil society.

The main measures we know so far that can support reduced or slowed infection are: proper hand-washing; social distancing, wearing of masks, no crowding or gathering, and extra special protection for the elderly and the sick. None of these can be implemented on a wide-scale by the government, the health system, the police or the military: they must be implemented by communities themselves.

Therefore, awareness-raising amongst the public and within local communities underlies all these “containment measures” and is the starting-point for our support to civil society and CSOs.

Awareness-raising and support for community-initiated containment and mitigation at village and township level will be critical. The more that communities understand about the virus and its lifecycle, the more effective and equitable will be their maintenance and management of protective equipment and material, quarantine spaces, and their coordination and communication with external stakeholders.

Establishment of a national Resource-Hub for civil society on financial, technical and material resources. By the end of 2020, The Hub will be providing strategic support including financial, material and technical resources to local civil society actors, groups and networks to assist in the response, mitigation and recovery from this crisis. Beyond 2020, the Hub will be providing similar resources for local civic actors to develop and accompany the development visions of the communities of their constituents.

This strategic decision is partially influenced by our forecast of falling international funding and by the COVID-19 operating environment. However, it is primarily driven by our belief that Metta’s acquired expertise will have most impact for disadvantaged communities when Metta acts as a broker, a convener, a resource and as an umbrella for local civic action.

Leadership

Select a multidisciplinary COVID-19 focus-team from current Metta staff that will include Head Office Management Team. The team will closely observe and monitor the latest situation of infections and responses within and outside Myanmar. Team-members will dedicate up to 30% of their working time to this role and will provide a brief update report to SMT every two weeks. Their work will inform the whole Metta awareness-raising chain, from management and staff to partners to communities, and will be used to continually update the responses and interventions of Metta under each of the other Strategic Objectives. The team will be Metta’s main link to other COVID-19 related civil society networks.

Strengthening Metta capacities

Metta will pay special attention to strengthening the capacities of its teams to work effectively in the COVID-19 context. These capacities will vary across different positions and roles including: information technology and digital literacy, data security, finance and accounting systems, psychosocial support, counseling, coaching and related expertise to support the development of the local CSOs Metta works with.

Metta will initiate a special capacity building programme for all staff on COVID-19 related information and its application to their area of work. This will be based on a new, organisation-wide Skills Framework.

We will support the upcoming leadership training programme for civil society leaders. By providing resources for leadership, management and technical training materials, and supporting on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring for both Metta and partner CSOs staff.

Re-organisation

As Metta develops a CSO Hub (3.4 above), our direct implementation work will decrease. The organisational implication is a smaller and differently-skilled Metta Development Foundation.

In 2020, Metta will develop and implement an overall re-organisation plan based on the following initial parameters:

  • We will continue to be guided by a strong core organisational management team at head office, with proven systems for the administration of large institutional donor funded projects. At the same time, Metta will actively adapt these systems where they create (often unintended) obstacles for responsiveness, community partnership, localised response to needs, downward accountability, or costly and overly-bureaucratic diversion of development resources.
  • Metta will promote itself to donors as an alternative to off-shore fund-administrators through its added value of local citizenship, history, networks, access and cultural knowledge.
  • We will have eight area teams, whose work will increasingly focus on Hub-based support for local networks, groups and organisations. The teams will be based in five branch offices in Myitkyina, Lashio, Taunggyi, Yangon and Loikaw and three coordination offices in Pathein, Bamaw and Laiza.
  • By January 2021, Metta will have a total staff establishment of around 300.
  • Over 20 years, Metta has built up a large pool of experienced and committed staff. Where their commitment is to community development practice, management will encourage and support them to either join or form constituency-based organisations in their home-areas, or to stay with Metta and use their skills as accompaniers and enablers of local groups. Where their expertise is in support-services (finance, HR, administration, logistics etc.) management will also support and encourage them to join local organisations, or to stay with Metta if their interest is in using their expertise to support local actors to develop their own systems that support local objectives and needs.
  • Metta will limit self implementation as far as possible and will continue to implement some projects directly. This is absolutely necessary and value added as other CSOs do not yet have capacity take on programmes such as Harm Reduction, Food Sovereignty etc.

Metta Systems

We will review and simplify our own Standard Operating Practices (SOP) and our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEAL) practices to best fit the changing context. We will retain and strengthen all aspects that clearly enhance programme quality.

In the short-term phase of this strategy, we will revitalise our Human Resources (HR) function to prioritise the HR priorities of staff and partner welfare, motivation and career development. By January 2021, our internal HR team will provide pro-active leadership within the Foundation on each of these priorities.