Philanthropy Impact Magazine: Jamie Cooper shares two major lessons from supporting African leaders on COVID-19 response

Big Win Philanthropy founding Chair and President Jamie Cooper recently spoke with Philanthropy Impact Magazine about how we are partnering with African leaders to support their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons we have learned so far.

In early March, just before being grounded by the pandemic, Jamie travelled to Monrovia, Liberia for the launch of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development and its flagship program, the Amujae Initiative, which was conceived and developed in partnership with Big Win.

(Amujaepronounced ӓ mōō jāēē, means ‘we are going up’ in Kru, a Liberian language.) The Amujae Initiative encourages and prepares African women of exceptional talent to pursue the highest levels of public leadership.

Beyond being awed by the competence and savvy of those in the first cohort of Amujae Leaders, Jamie was particularly struck by the efficiency with which Liberia mobilized to ensure against transmission of the virus. Overnight, Jamie noted, Veronica buckets filled with hand sanitizer, and people were stationed to take temperatures, enforce social distancing, and limit capacity to public buildings. The response had begun even before the first case was recorded in the country.

Witnessing Liberia’s immediate reaction to the pandemic reinforced Big Win’s central tenet: never assume to know better than the leaders we work with about what needs to be done in their context, and count on them to guide how we direct our efforts for greatest impact.

Since the advent of COVID-19, our ministerial partners have asked for our support on several fronts—ranging from communications to scenario planning to local production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In each of these instances, two key learnings have emerged.

The first is that making smart decisions on issues of import requires input and collaborative problem solving from multiple sectors. The answers to COVID-19 cannot come from the health ministry’s budget and expertise alone. Good policy requires interrogating the financial, economic and social impacts collaboratively across sectors.

Second, even a crisis as profound as COVID-19 must be addressed in the context of other development priorities. By reacting with blinders, we risk dangerously backsliding on an array of key development indicators to the point that we have inadvertently created further crises. But beyond just the risk, we miss opportunities to thoughtfully design interventions that could ultimately spur a stronger foundation for improved service delivery, economic growth and societal well-being.

As we continue to support our partners in looking to the future and reaping the demographic dividends that their burgeoning youth populations can provide we are confident that our collective efforts will be stronger for these new ways of working.

Read more in autumn’s edition of Philanthropy Impact Magazine and learn more about Big Win’s actions on COVID-19 here.