News & Insights

Cardno International Development's Responsibility, Response and Lessons in the time of COVID-19

As the impacts of COVID-19 manifest globally, countries are awakening to a highly inter-twined set of health, economic, social and political crises. Countries need to quickly and effectively marshal available resources in a multi-dimensional response that spans the humanitarian, recovery and development phases of the crisis. We recognise the critical role of development assistance in this response, and have rapidly re-deployed resources and adjusted programming across our global portfolio; maximising the tangible impact of our contributions to the COVID response, without compromising our duty of care to staff.

Ensuring the Health, Safety and Security of our People

The health, safety and security of our people is paramount. We began alerting our staff with the initial warnings of COVID-19 in January 2020, and established an Incident Management Team in February. We started adjusting our work early on — through travel restrictions, rescheduling activities and changing how activities occurred – while consulting with our counterparts and clients on their readiness and response. This meant that from the very start, our response had two central drivers – staff safety and preparedness, as well as program integrity and continuity.  In March, as borders were first beginning to close, we successfully relocated more than 400 advisers and their dependents to safety in under 72 hours, while initiating safety protocols for staff remaining in location. This mass international movement of people was led by our Global Operations team, with the support of more than 1700 corporate and project staff. 

In addition to relocations, our teams swiftly adjusted field-based operations across 90 countries. Cardno already had established workplace flexibility policies and essential work tools to enable remote working. Even with these in place, the scale of this shift showed some strained points in the established systems, which needed to be addressed, particularly in balancing risk and action at the project-level. Our response saw us maintain our in-country project staff who were vital to ensuring active operations across corporate offices in 10 countries. Cardno took swift actions to support people to be able to work under the new constraints: facilitating work from home arrangements; identifying staff most at risk of more severe health and wellbeing impacts; adjusting responsibilities for essential staff located in-country; and, additional resourcing in countries with limited services and infrastructure (such as transport and internet access).     

We provide regular information to staff on the pandemic and prevention measures, travel restrictions, and how to seek medical assistance and mental health support. In addition to internal updates, our management teams have reviewed local emergency response plans, and first aid, infection control and medical referral and response processes. We have appointed and trained Case Managers, who support our teams by identifying and reaching out to potentially vulnerable or exposed staff and their families.   

Program Continuity

In addition to the challenge of maintaining effective implementation while operating remotely, many of our project teams are reviewing the impact the crisis will have on long-term programming and are adapting to this new norm; examining the management and technical actions required to demonstrate continuity and relevance.

Our project teams are focusing on client relationships and transparency; for example, the Cardno-managed and DFID-funded Research for Community Access Partnership (ReCAP) is presenting weekly ‘COVID-19 Snap Shots’ that detail business continuity planning in the ever-changing environment.

To highlight successful innovations and lessons learned across Cardno’s portfolio, all our programs have been provided with: guidance, instructions and principles on key areas and ways of working; useful resources including tips from colleagues; and knowledge dissemination and collaboration approaches. Tools such as the DAKI framework (drop, add, keep, improve), a decision-making heuristic model to identify and modify program responses and activities, have assisted teams to adjust their programs. We have maintained our ‘do no harm’ approach and adherence to social safeguards within this shifting environment.

Adapting Programs

As we are locally embedded, many of our programs were well placed for a coordinated response to COVID-19, through pivots in activities, and re-deployment and scaling of resources. We used rapid Political Economic Analyses to assess emerging social and political vulnerabilities, threats and opportunities; and calculate how to adapt to meet those needs.

For example, the USAID Cooperation for Growth (CFG) Project – which supports small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Serbia to improve business regulatory frameworks and access to finance – is now providing online panels to businesses and sharing information on how to access and utilise government economic packages. The project is also engaging with the Ministry of Finance and USAID to create new credit guarantees addressing businesses’ financial concerns and to keep SMEs operational. Cardno is working with the Serbian e-commerce association, providing advice to assist businesses to pivot to online sales.

The DFAT-funded Prospera program is looking at the economic impact of COVID-19 and evolving its fiscal policy and governance support to ensure the Government of Indonesia can respond during the crisis and post-recovery. The program’s 140+ technical advisors are assisting Indonesia’s leadership to stabilise the country’s economy and financial systems, through economic analysis and projected impact macro-fiscal frameworks, with aligned policy recommendations in health spending and reform priorities; domestic revenue impact and recovery; social safety nets; financial and banking sector development and inclusion; and delivery of employment programs.

A woman showing two other women how to access website information on a tablet device.

In Timor-Leste, our USAID Avansa Agrikultura Project is contributing to food supply chains and economic stability for smallholder farmers. The daily transport of produce around the country was put to the test as soon as the government announced a state of emergency, creating food security implications for many. The project quickly supported the Prime Minister’s Office to authorise essential suppliers to legally travel and distribute produce. The project also connected buyers and suppliers via WhatsApp groups to report the produce available in real time – improving awareness of what crops to buy and sell when. The model has accelerated mobile payments and experimenting with home delivery methods – which are firsts for Timor-Leste.

Our DFAT-funded PARTISIPA team has been working in villages and municipalities throughout Timor Leste to deliver water tanks for public handwashing facilities along main roads and other public places. At the government’s request, an additional 150 tanks have been installed. The public handwashing facilities are being rolled out alongside COVID-19 prevention messaging, delivered via loudhailers and pamphlets, emphasizing hand hygiene.

Inclusion and Safeguarding

COVID-19 has presented a unique intersection of safeguarding issues. While the crisis is affecting everyone globally, the impact is exceptional among vulnerable populations. From a health perspective, poor communities often live in crowded conditions, with limited ability to maintain social distancing, and have less access to basic health care. Globally, the majority of frontline social carers are women – their work is often unpaid and they risk greater exposure to vulnerability. If not properly managed, emerging social and political tensions may exacerbate neglect of vulnerable populations and trigger discrimination and violence. Through our projects, we are taking note of this impact and identifying deficiencies in social and economic policies, and opportunities to bring together government, private and civil society partners through advocacy and outreach strategies.

The Thematic Brief: Gender and COVID19 developed by the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Support Unit examines how the crisis is likely to exacerbate gender inequalities. The project’s analysis and recommendations detail the various impacts the pandemic will have on women, girls, men and boys, and how a failure to address these differences will significantly reduce the efficacy of COVID-19 responses.

Putting people first is part of our core values. We ensure our people and programs uphold, implement and promote a ‘do no harm’ approach to social safeguarding and protection. To mainstream social safeguards through our programs, we assess the risks and dynamism affecting vulnerable and at-risk populations. We promote knowledge sharing to help program staff manage new or emerging risks and adapt programs as needed. Cardno applies client-specific safeguarding rules and policies, but requires application globally so that highest standards are universal. In the United Kingdom, Cardno is a lead coordinator for the Safeguarding Leads Network, representing more than 30,000 private sector employees and signatories of the ‘Putting People First’ commitments for better safeguarding practice. The network is collaborating to support and inform safeguarding employment initiatives, including specific COVID-19 responses, for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).  

Advisory Services and Direct Technical Support

While we continue to adapt our existing programs, Cardno is also implementing new services to meet the changing priorities. COVID-19 has forced us all to adapt the way we work, and to identify how to best manage the emerging needs of our clients and stakeholders. Cardno’s in-house Impact Advisory and ChemRisk teams are now providing global and geo-targeted webinars to advise local and multinational companies on business supply chain resilience in response to COVID, including workplace risk management and response plans.

Pregnant African women holding mobile phone

Cardno and our partner Rasello – a Tanzanian-based ICT firm – adapted an mHealth digital solution for HIV and TB case management. The application raises awareness, promotes self-screening, and provides treatment literacy. In use on Cardno programs in Africa for five years, it has reached hundreds of thousands of users. Initially deployed in Tanzania, under our US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded Public-Private Partnerships in PEPFAR Countries (P4) Project, the mHealth app could now be scaled-up for use by governments across Africa and globally in their COVID-19 responses.

We are also analysing the more general impacts COVID-19 is having on developing countries, including economic and human development challenges. For example, in Indonesia, the DFAT-funded Towards a Strong and Prosperous Indonesian Society (MAHKOTA) project continues its inter-ministerial support as a coordinating body to promote evidence-based policy advice, decision-making and advocacy. In a pivot to respond to COVID-19, MAHKOTA is contributing to policy discussions on village-level readiness and response capacity; tracking returning migrant workers; and managing local budgets to mitigate impacts. Together with Indonesia’s Ministry of Finance, the project team has drafted a design for community-based cash transfers, and discussed non-cash direct assistance to vulnerable workers in the informal sector.

In the Pacific, our programs are pivoting work plans to respond to the pandemic. The DFAT-funded Vanuatu Health Program is providing technical advice to the Ministry of Health’s Emergency Operations Center committee to develop and implement a national preparedness plan. We also rapidly mobilised an epidemiologist to support the Ministry’s Surveillance Unit. The COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for a strong, broad-based health sector governance mechanism to align health development partners in Vanuatu. The program is advocating to establish such a mechanism – a Health Steering Committee – to have tangible positive impact on the country’s health sector during the current crisis and well beyond.

Responding to a Moving Target

The complex, highly uncertain trajectory of the COVID crisis requires organisations to continuously assess the emergent context and adjust their support accordingly – from the health and safety of our staff, to adapting our programs to meet new objectives. As a leading global development consulting agency, Cardno felt a collective sense of urgency and responsibility to not only respond but set the standard for other development actors to follow. We are sharing our learnings, contributing to a growing body of development knowledge and practices, as we support partner agencies, communities and beneficiaries to navigate this crisis, quickly recover and build resilience.