Community organisations doing more with less – again


Everyone is doing it tough right now. Whether you’re an essential worker, a parent at home with young children, a person running or working for an organisation that can’t operate, or a retired person acting for company, lockdown levels 3 and 4 are not fun for anyone.

That includes staff and volunteers of community organisations, some of whom are trying to work at home, some of whom are running essential and crisis services.

When I caught up with some of our formal Mema Whanaungatanga network last week, the feedback we got was that people are feeling more confident about what they need to do this lockdown, but are still struggling.

They’re struggling with the everyday juggle of work, family and self-care; with moving back into virtual working; with increasing workloads; with increasing demand for the support they provide but less capacity to deliver it.

Our network talked about the difficulty of managing expectations around what they were able to offer in level 4, and the difficult balance to be found in making sure they supported those who needed it but were also adhering to COVID-19 rules while respecting their staff and volunteers’ right to a safe working environment.

Leaders and managers in particular are dealing with the weight of responsibility, not just for communities in New Zealand but often for those they support even or connect with overseas too.

What I’ve observed is that community organisations were already facing challenges in a COVID-19 environment, the needs hadn’t dissipated – and now we’ve been struck by Delta it looks to get even harder.

But that doesn’t mean there is no way to help. Here are a few things we can all do to support community organisations and the people they’re working with:

  1. Stay connected – we may not be able to do that kanohi ki te kanohi at the moment, but online connection or even old-fashioned phone calls still provide valuable support
  2. Share your links – if you know of an organisation or person in need, and of someone or something that could help them, link them up
  3. Make sure diverse community voices are a part of the public conversation – COVID-19 and the much-needed lockdowns affect us all differently and not necessarily equally. Make sure the voices of rangatahi, Māori and Pacific peoples, migrants and former refugees, people with disabilities are included in the dialogue about how we’re managing this outbreak and how we recover from it.
  4. Test assumptions – most operate with the best of intentions in a crisis, but it’s worth stopping to think and ask about whether you’re being effective or not, are those most in need being served, or is what you’re delivering what they need right now? Community organisations often have good insights, ask them. Reach out to peak bodies to get a national view.
  5. What next? Think about what comes after this outbreak is contained. How can we build the skills and knowledge of those in community organisations; how can we build their resilience, strength and flexibility?

I got the impression that while staff and volunteers in community organisations were struggling with energy levels right now, they’re as committed as ever to the work they’re doing. Let’s support them to get it done.