A Challenge to HAPI and its Humanistic Principles in These Trying Times
Written by Alain Presillas
Cebu City, Philippines
April 29, 2020
The COVID19 crisis touched many aspects of HAPI as an organization — from its standing in HUMANIST ideals to its financial capacity to run a financial drive to fund outreaches, the possible legal walls that our volunteers need to face because of fear of violating quarantine procedures and processes to operate with such limited logistics, and the reputation of the organization in carrying such tasks. What too often gets overlooked is the human factor.
After all, the whole world is facing this crisis. The reality is that the people deal with this crisis on their own. And in an organization such as HAPI, the people’s own efforts hold the key to successful outcomes.
And as this new Corona virus 2019 crisis keeps on treading, we must treat our DONORS, both internal and external, with the utmost respect in reporting and keeping them informed of what we do, which we are doing steadfastly. It will likely make all the difference in whether an organization, such as HAPI, irreparably harmed in these trying times, or would emerge as transformed for the better, and to affect change as well as extend help where it is needed most.
There are different keys to changing the paradigm of dealing with such a crisis. Instead of viewing people as our weakest link, we see them as our strength. Our fearless volunteers — in the culture of HUMANISM that we foster — are our greatest potential strengths. There is no greater strategic imperative. When it comes to a crisis, it is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when and how we can respond as an organization.
In most crisis situations, our natural human instincts can sometimes be counterproductive, as maybe limited by our biology. One example, a person’s first defensive mechanism when under stress, is often to defend, or protect themselves or their loved ones. This can lead to an inauthentic or inappropriate response. When disasters hit us, an all-hands-on-deck-everyone-to-the-rescue reaction is understandable. But such good intentions will most likely lead to a chaotic response given there are no established protocols. That’s why a need to have a single and unified response to the future crises, is a must. From the collation of funds to accounting, and to a proper and fair distribution of such assistance to that immediately needs it most needs to be strengthened.
For HAPI leaders — we should be accustomed to the luxury of clear facts and options prior to making viable decisions. We should veer away from making fast judgment based on limited, incomplete, and most probably erroneous choices which could have enormous impact on outcomes. Wrong information dissemination can be extremely counterproductive to an organization. Leaders should be made aware that they will be held accountable for those decisions even with 20-20 hindsight.
In a crisis, what should be my role as the Executive Director of HAPI?
There are crucial decisions that must be made, sometimes hastily and often at the most inconvenient or inflexible time. It could be deciding on whether to include a material disclosure such as the required proposal statement, when and how to release such funds, or whether the Executive Director should make a public statement. Decisions also have to be made even when and what to release in social media or for internal communications. All of these actions will have to be scrutinized, and none of these can be undone.
Sometimes in the heat of a crisis, it would be easy to forget that our donors and volunteers and lead conveners are not abstract forces, but human beings — with their own already stressed and nuanced feelings, their fears, preferences, and biases — just like in any crisis response of an organization.
Neglecting to interact carefully with each of our volunteers, chapter conveners, project coordinators, and local members on their “home turf” and on their own perspectives and needs can lead to a loss of trust. My experience taught me that oftentimes when we neglect people’s needs, it can even lead to a secondary reputational crisis of an organization.
Asking ourselves: In a crisis, such as this COVID-19 global pandemic, what facts will my donors most care about or need to know? Who should communicate these facts? How and when? The solution? To find balance. To be prepared. To test our fact-finding abilities. To provide donors and the organization a cohesive communications strategy for any potential crisis well in advance.
When an issue arises, let us be open. Let us be expectedly transparent, and be clear of our views and stand on issues at hand. Know what you know. Know what you don’t know. Always communicate with each other, within your local chapter group, within the leadership group, and through the prism of the donor’s worldview. As an organization, we should be strong and true to our mission and vision.
Crisis such as this is a time when it can be hardest to stay true to our values. Some organizations address this challenge directly and turn it into a positive. They post activities on their local page and use it to evaluate every outreach decisions they make as an organization. We have witnessed firsthand how this practice has played a decisive role in successful crisis outcomes in other established organizations. We consider ourselves still in infancy when it comes to these things, but we are learning slowly but progressively.
In any management book, it will confirm that two of the most important factors of an effective crisis mobilization response would be (1) teamwork and (2) people sticking to the organization’s Mission and Vision values. Of those organizations who self-identified as “in a better place” post-crisis, huge majorities confirm that they acted with integrity and as a team.
Our Mission and Vision are values based on the importance of HUMANISM. And here is another reason why these value-based decisions matter. When an organization is perceived by its own people as being inauthentic in its response, the trust lost from its dedicated volunteers can have long-term consequences. On the other hand, making value-based decisions can help bring our organization and its framework together, and eventually would come through this COVID-19 crisis stronger and more unified than ever before.
To you, my ka-HAPI family, thank you for your service. And to our donors, my heartfelt thanks in these challenging times.