Dr Stuart Minchin, SPC Director-General: With the crisis, we’re learning new ways of working


COVID-19 Tag.jpgThe COVID-19 crisis is having a major impact on how organizations in the region work. Are there any lessons or experiences from the past that can be used to help navigate these challenges?

The Pacific region is no stranger to disasters and challenges, from cyclones to the recent measles epidemic in Samoa, and we, as a region, have learnt to cope with that through cooperating closely and working together. We have very good regional mechanisms in place to help countries deal with these issues, and more importantly to recover from these issues when they occur.

How does SPC, as a regional organization, helps strengthen these collaboration mechanisms?

SPC is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) in the region to support countries with the challenges that we’re currently facing.  SPC is a coordination and a convening mechanism that allows countries to work together across political boundaries. As we know, with a health crisis like this one, with this invisible enemy we’re facing, we’re only as strong as our weakest link, so we have to work together as a region to make sure we can tackle this crisis together.

What does the daily routine of SPC’s Director-General look like in these times of crisis?

My daily routine has changed dramatically over the past couple of weeks. We’re working much more virtually now. We have to deal with member countries facing crises, with the issue of staff bring stranded in countries, so managing these processes is taking a lot of time and energy at the moment. However, at the same time, we also have to start thinking long-term. As SPC, how are we going to help our member countries recover, and be more resilient to this kind of crises in the future?

Which arrangements were you able to make to ensure that we continue delivering critical services to our member countries?

We’ve had to adjust to the COVID-19 restrictions. We have asked 650 staff members to work from home. We therefore have to learn different ways of working. We still have a work programme to get on with. We’ve had to think very innovatively about how to bring forward pieces of work that where scheduled for later in the programme in order to do them now, while we are confined. Then, once restrictions ease, we will allow again in-person work, and the work that requires travel. We’re certainly not idle in the moment though: we’re obviously very busy adjusting our work programmes to meet the challenges associated with these different ways of working.

Do you have any specific example?

A good example of how we are dealing with these changes is in the Strategy, Performance and Learning area, where strategic planning activities take place. We were originally planning to have large meetings with staff and members in order to input to our strategic planning process. That’s no longer possible, so we had to change that into a webinar process: we’re holding a webinar and then we have an interactive discussion with staff. We manage to still get some outcomes, but it’s changing the way we’re interacting. We’re getting very good feedback about that. The Education Quality Assessment Programme (EQAP) used the same methods, and we’ve received feedback from members saying that the virtual interaction is much better than what they expected, and much more effective, so we’re learning new ways of operating as we go along. We have tested many ways of interacting that don’t require physical travel, and it will improve our ability to service the region in the future.

How will SPC help its member countries recover after the crisis ends?

It is important to recognize that this crisis is not going to be over quickly. The health emergency may pass, but there will likely be an economic impact on local economies in the region over quite an extensive period of time. It is therefore really important that we help the countries and territories plan for that. It is not going to reduce the importance of anything SPC does. In fact, the importance of the work that we do is going to be heightened because the countries will have to deal with challenges in terms of food security, access to water and sanitation, education, livelihoods and the continuing impacts of climate change. There are going to be risks around social and human rights issues as well, so we really need to be focused on how we help countries face these potential crises.

Any message you would like to send to help protect people in the region?

Washing hands and practicing social distancing are practical things that we can all do to help slow this crisis. It is having an impact already. Pacific countries have done a wonderful job in acting quickly and decisively to protect us but making a difference on how we act and interact every day is in our hands.



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