In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Start Fund COVID-19 was launched in April 2020, providing rapid funding to allow Start Network members to respond to neglected and underfunded needs, provide assistance to vulnerable groups, and mitigate further spread and impact of the disease. Between April and June 2020, Start Fund COVID-19 funded 35 projects across 22 countries, disbursing a total amount of almost £5 million.
Although the Start Fund is not designed to tackle large-scale crises, it was well placed to respond to the pandemic due to the experience across the Start Network membership in managing and supporting responses to critical virus-related humanitarian needs. In addition, the pandemic presented a gap in programming where projects were either underfunded or donors were unwilling to adjust existing programmes to address the gaps. Drawing on the feedback and knowledge from members, the new Start Fund COVID-19 mechanism was established to respond to the changing needs within the scope of COVID-19.
The objective of this report is to document and explore the programming that Start Fund COVID-19 supported, outline how members adapted to the new realities of COVID-19, and gather evidence from their experiences. It generates learning to inform future responses to COVID-19, and similar epidemics and pandemics. This report presents qualitative and quantitative analysis of various data sources, with triangulation of findings and identification of trends. Data sources include alert notes, project proposals and project reports, monitoring reports from members, as well as data gathered through online key informant interviews and focus-group discussions with Start Network members. The topline findings are highlighted below:
Start Fund COVID-19 projects specifically targeted the most marginalised communities and responses were aligned to WHO COVID-19 Response Plan.
Start Fund COVID-19 projects focused on Internally Displaced People (IDPs), refugees, migrants, and marginalised communities that live in overcrowded settings, lack access to services and reliable information, and face difficulties meeting their basic needs. These groups were not only more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 but were also more likely to be harder hit by the wider impact of the disease1. Projects aligned to the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response plan, supporting in particular the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) pillars.
As COVID-19 is a new infectious disease, awareness raising about its transmission, how to prevent it, and what to do when experiencing symptoms was essential. This was especially important for vulnerable communities where access to reliable information was limited, and rumours and misinformation spread rapidly. Start Fund COVID-19 projects helped to raise awareness in the community using various mechanisms including messages through megaphones; Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials; door-to-door sessions; and smaller group discussions (with safety measures such as personal protective equipment [PPE] and social distancing in place). Along with hygiene promotion, projects supported communities by distributing essential items for prevention of the disease. This included distributions of PPE and IPC kits, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, dignity kits for women and adolescents, baby kits, and food packages. Post-distribution satisfaction surveys showed high levels of satisfaction with the quality and quantity of the items distributed.
Start Fund COVID-19 covered gaps in national responses and helped members to respond to the crises. However, the secondary impact of the disease remains largely unaddressed.
Funding available for global and national responses to COVID-19 has been limited, making it difficult to comprehensively prevent and respond to outbreaks. In various contexts, Start Fund COVID-19 projects were able to support critical aspects of national responses for which significant funding gaps existed, particularly for the RCCE and IPC pillars. Many Start Network members also indicated that Start Fund COVID-19 allowed them to quickly respond with activities during a window of opportunity that was rapidly closing, in which most donors had been relatively slow in making new COVID-19-dedicated funding available or agreeing to adaptations in existing programming and budgets. Start Network members stated that the Start Fund COVID-19’s flexibility helped them adapt as the crisis developed, and in some cases, also helped bridge the period during which changes to existing programmes with donors were being discussed.
As the pandemic continues to unfold, the secondary impacts of the disease have also become apparent. Several projects were designed to specifically address food security concerns, but the majority of projects prioritised Health and WASH interventions for the first phase to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19. However, during their projects, members found that food security and livelihoods have also been significantly impacted, in particular by COVID-19-related restrictions on movement and public life, which many believe will need to be the focus of the next phase in programming. Additionally, members also raised concerns about children’s ability to access education as well as the psychological impact of COVID-19.
Start Fund COVID-19 projects have seen high levels of coordination and collaboration that enabled swift responses that reached vulnerable communities at a time when access became difficult.
In addition to aligning with national response plans, Start Fund COVID-19 projects have reported more consortium cooperation and an increase in partnerships with local non-governmental organisations, compared to regular global Start Fund projects. Members indicated that working in consortia was beneficial, as it led to greater coverage, stronger advocacy efforts, and laid down the foundations for future collaboration.
Members felt that collaboration with local partners was essential. COVID-19-related lockdowns and travel restrictions meant that a pre-existing presence in communities was even more important than usual and helped ensure timely responses. Local partners know communities and their context well; this understanding and their existing networks helped to identify households that were most in need of support and to deliver effective RCCE. Various projects reinforced ongoing COVID-19 responses of local partners and actors, rather than starting from scratch and duplicating efforts.
Start Network members highlighted that targeting in the context of COVID-19 had been more complicated. For example, due to restricted access to communities limiting participatory processes, and the increase of people in need of support. Members underlined the importance of well-designed selection criteria and processes, as well as strong communication with communities.
Lockdown and movement restrictions led members to adapt ways of implementation.
COVID-19 led to a wide range of measures affecting project implementation in many countries, including lockdowns, curfews, and significant restrictions to movement and gatherings. This has been accompanied by high levels of uncertainty and constant change, rendering planning and response more difficult. For example, in many places, procurement proved to be a challenge as processes took much longer than expected, prices increased or fluctuated significantly, and purchasing in bulk was no longer possible due to high demand.
Members had to creatively adapt their usual ways of working and were required to be more flexible. Large-scale activities, such as distributions and community meetings, were often split up into smaller ones; where possible, project activities were switched to remote modalities of implementation such as phone-based mental health sessions, online transfers of cash, and online stakeholder consultations; and monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning activities were carried out through the use of telephone surveys, community volunteers or social media for complaint and feedback (CFM) mechanisms. Moreover, any face-to-face interaction was undertaken in accordance with safety protocols, such as wearing PPE, maintaining sufficient distance, and ensuring handwashing facilities available during any activity. As a result, reports suggest that sharing information about accountability, and available feedback and complaint mechanisms, were often insufficient due to the limited face-to-face opportunities.