Blizzard, winter, ice age?

One minute you watch a weather system approaching, the next you are suddenly caught up in it.

The last two months haven’t been about the weather but lots of things have arrived in a confusing and disorientating way. I’ve not had a chance to blog but hope this and the next blog give some insight into the different things that have been on my radar through the early weeks of the Coronavirus.

There’s an article doing the rounds that compares the situation organisations face to being in a blizzard but suggests that what comes next isn’t sunshine but rather a winter and the onset of a new ice age. Leading beyond the blizzard captures many of the challenges mission organisations and others face.

Blizzard?

There have been lots of interesting decisions and choices in the last month.

Mission agencies are supposed to be able to manage risk. After all, sending people to work in other countries, particularly those with less infrastructure, carries inherent risks to health and safety. Is Coronavirus any different to the risks people face every day (malaria, dengue, armed robbery, road traffic accidents)?

Mission agencies are supposed to be able to manage crises and incidents. This is why we have plans; this is why good organisations practice them. You can’t foresee every event but you can have structures in place to react to them.

Actual real-time choices are not so clear cut. We have a duty to care for people’s wellbeing, but people don’t serve in a situation just for their own benefit (and what does it say if we encourage people to leave at the first sign of difficulty). We have to give people the freedom to make their own choices but we will face the consequences of those choices if they turn out to lead to illness or death. Sometimes the decisions are not ours to make but yet we are affected by them.

For me, the key to working through this is that knowing which way is up, is actually more about values than policy, especially when the number and speed of decisions are fast.

Yet alongside these choices and decisions, lie some deeper structural questions. Does it actually help to be a charity? Yes, I know there’s a huge financial advantage but UK Charity law pushes you to focus on risk mitigation; the defence in most situations will need to be that we have taken all reasonable actions. Yet reasonable is unlikely to include the defence that ‘we deliberately followed the lead of our international partners because we believe their voice should be louder than ours in decision making’. Charity law wants you to focus on what is in the best interest of your charity and its purposes, which is more of a constraint to agile response than it appears. Would our approach and response be different if we were simply a community of mission workers without the trappings, structures and responsibilities of being a charity?

In the next blog, we’ll consider winter and the coming ice age.

PS: I hope it is obvious but this is an insight into the things I’m thinking about and not the policy of the organisation I’m part of.

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