TIMA Charitable Foundation: Thoughts on the recent past and immediate future amidst a pandemic

The day to day struggles of any organization often make it difficult for managers to make time to think and plan at a strategic level. Managers struggle to deal with daily issues, fire-fighting with organizational problems and reacting to an external environment continually in flux. This often leaves executives, whether in private organizations or NGOs, bereft of energy as they find themselves in a constantly reactive rather than proactive frame of mind – both to threats and opportunities.

Ironically, sudden shocks to the system like the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all take a step back and consider how we needed to reset priorities for our immediate present and a murky future. Our first task in these circumstances is to collect as much data as possible. To reach out to our networks and partners. To get out of our own silos, compare notes and thoughts with colleagues and create a new framework from which to work from. In TIMA’s case, we reached out to a majority of other Foundations to ask what their thoughts were, how they would react, would they change their funding policies, would they contribute to the call by the state to contribute to the National Health System and so on? This generated discussion and content and by reaching out to our partner networks, we were able to share a myriad of thoughts and get a sense of the way in which our ecosystem was reacting and heading. By reading as much of the science that was available, we also began to understand the immediate and possible future threats. This generated data and information which allowed us to identify what societal threats we, as a Foundation, were most able to address. COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to TIMA’s target beneficiaries, the elderly. Many non-profit care-homes we quickly found out, were not able to afford the sudden financial outlay of Personal Protective Equipment. Many isolated and vulnerable elderly, were unable to go out and receive their medication and food during the lockdown and the National Health system was seriously lacking in protective gear. The fog of uncertainty lifted and our path became clear. The TIMA Board, sensitive to the sudden social crisis, quickly approved a new “COVID-19 Emergency Fund”. From there on in, it was a matter of evaluating and processing projects, with trusted partners at speed. Changing the pace at which an organization runs its processes is not to be underestimated. This flexibility and ability to adapt quickly and answer the call to a crisis, is not inherent in every organisation and requires active listening, and trust in one’s people to move things forward, whilst ensuring the integrity of the organisation post-crisis.

In TIMA’s case all of the above led to four main projects:

  1. A grant to Givmed to support care-homes with protective gear and disinfectants
  2. The purchase and supply of 153,848 surgical face-masks to hospitals
  3. A grant to Odyssea for the production and supply of 50,000 face-shields to hospitals
  4. A grant to Doctors of the World for the medical and psychological support of isolated and vulnerable elderly individuals in Athens

Social distancing and safety rules especially in regards to vulnerable elderly, also meant that many of our current projects had to adapt. Talking with our NGO partners we quickly understood that changes would be required and the Foundation, once again, took a swift decision to adapt to our new reality. Requests started to stream in to allow for budget lines and timelines to be adapted and there was a mass migration towards online services; face-to-face meetings and transport activities were switched to telephone and data costs. Services that we had previously seen being trialed, were suddenly thrust into fast forward.

Telemental health for example, was reported to be as effective as in-person therapy as early as 2013 but there was resistance to expanding such services for a variety of reasons. Now, the pros clearly outweigh the cons and we’ve seen an incredible leap with a variety of services offering mental health support, online friendship, medical support and more for the elderly. What surprised most, was how quickly the elderly were able to adapt.

Overall, we were incredibly impressed by how quickly our partner NGO’s, as well as the beneficiaries themselves, were able to adapt in order to continue to provide and receive support. Coming from an entrepreneurial background where the agile business is constantly discussed, it was refreshing to see how purpose-driven organisations are quick to let go of what doesn’t work in favour of taking measured risks and seeking new norms. Many non-profit organisations are clearly set up with a mindset to provide immediate support to those most vulnerable and will quickly adapt when external factors no longer make their ‘business model’ useful. Startups can take a leaf out of the NGOs books in ‘agile’ performance (NGO’s in turn, can learn from startups in terms of strategy creation).

The future is unclear. What is clear is that the next few winter months will be especially difficult for all, and especially so for the elderly. In consideration of the new societal challenges TIMA has adapted its strategy for the year, with a high percentage of funding going back to basics: food security, mental health, care-home support etc. However, with one eye on such “basic” goods, we must also look for new best practice. With every crisis, new needs arise and this is the time for NGO’s to innovate. To create a ‘new’ normal. We don’t want to see society going back to what it was. Let’s innovate to make it better. Let’s find ways to use technology to create yet further efficiencies whilst continuing to provide a humane outreach. It is possible, we’ve seen it. It is incumbent on civil society to be the precursor of a new culture. Whether this is in the field of ageing, health, the environment or other.

It is at this point that I should mention the role of the State here. In an ideal world, many NGO’s often say that they would happily cease to exist if the State took over their work. And yet, we know that this is unlikely to happen. The State is a mammoth, not easily moved with a huge variety of competing constraints. Where the State, NGO’s and Foundations can work together rather than on opposite sides however, a great deal can be accomplished.

Left on their own for example, certain public hospitals fundraised for emergency equipment at the start of the outbreak, without having emergency units to house the equipment. As the State stepped in, it coordinated what equipment was needed nationally and where it should go. In turn, NGO’s stepped in to cover needs not handled by the State and Foundations supported the financing. The triptych here should be taken as a model for future national, civil society growth.

*The article was written by TIMA for the 4th Civil Society Updates – October 2020