Leadership in Crisis: Jamie Cooper highlights lessons from African leaders’ responses to COVID-19

As part of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program’s ‘Leadership in Crisis’ series, Big Win Philanthropy founding Chair and President Jamie Cooper recently shared insights about how African leaders are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its public health and economic impact.

She shared how African governments are deploying political capital and resources, disseminating crucial public health messaging by establishing high-level communications protocols, and engaging in effective scenario planning.

Jamie highlighted the effectiveness of many African countries’ early measures. She also noted the efforts to coordinate the continent’s response through the African Union (AU), praising the leadership shown by South African President and AU Chairman, Cyril Ramaphosa and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe:

“They’ve really been leading the effort with a continent-wide coordinated response. What the envoys have been able to negotiate in terms of debt relief, helping other countries with the financial burden, and bringing together the private sector to work through the logistics of moving PPE on the continent – it makes sure everyone’s needs can be fulfilled.”

In addition to the operational challenges posed by the crisis, COVID-19 is also raising the stakes for government communications. Jamie reflected on some of the “exceptionally thoughtful” leadership being shown in the effort to communicate critical public health messages:

“There have been some very strong communications out of several countries with very clear messages about how decisions are being made and what leaders would like people to do. Whether it’s radio or SMS, different groups need to be reached in different ways – what we’re asking health workers to do is very different than rural farmers.”

Reflecting on the unique challenge the continent faces – with 70% of the African population under 30 – Jamie spoke about the need to upgrade national plans for tackling the coronavirus crisis, with a particular focus on scenario planning:

“The importance of scenario planning is in the process – having clarity about the north star, i.e. what are you trying to achieve in this instance. What leaders have to pride themselves on is being nimble, continuing to use the best data and evidence as they can access it, and bringing the public and communities along with them.”

Watch the full interview with Jamie Cooper below and learn more about Big Win’s actions on COVID-19 here.

Big Win has partnered with Harvard since the inception of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program, playing a central role in curriculum development and program management, and providing funding to support implementation. Learn more about the program here.