Starting the MAPS Project in Sri Lanka: Adjusting Operations to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As part of the international project on Multi-Actor Partnerships on Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance in the context of the InsuResilience Global Partnership (MAPS,) SLYCAN Trust is implementing activities in Sri Lanka on climate and disaster risk transfer insurance in Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and currently ongoing in several countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The project’s objectives include, national-level engagement, capacity development, and the establishment of multi-actor partnerships within Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance (CDRFI).

The project activities were initiated in February/March 2020, and were almost immediately faced by the global outbreak of COVID-19.  The pandemic was unexpected, and many organisations were under-prepared for such a risk. With the whole of Sri Lanka going under complete lockdown, limiting its population to their homes, and halting work for close to two months, it was necessary to conduct the project activities in an innovative way and digitally wherever possible.

Phase I – Virtual Engagement

Sri Lanka went into lockdown during the third week of March, just after SLYCAN Trust project activities were initiated. This posed a unique and unexpected challenge to keep operations running amidst an island-wide complete curfew that prevented any travel within or across districts. Among the first measures for SLYCAN Trust was bringing the team together virtually. While many had already worked remotely from home or from the field over the previous weeks, this unprecedented situation required additional efforts from all team members. To transition to completely digital work, it was vital to establish clear routes of communication, adjust work schedules, coordinate activities, and balance work from home with other tasks including childcare and food provision.

However, an even greater challenge was working with and convincing stakeholders of the importance of virtual engagement. Skype, Zoom, Clickmeeting, and messenger apps provided reliable modes of communication both within the team and toward key external actors. Even as the curfew was starting to be lifted step by step, SLYCAN Trust remained mindful of the risks of in-person interaction and utilized Zoom to conduct the three initial workshops and consultations under the project.

For this, SLYCAN Trust organised a number of presentations from key experts and organisations as well as breakout sessions in four groups with moderators and notetakers focusing on different sub-topics, all held on Zoom. This allowed for the engagement of a number of key stakeholders, the gathering of a comprehensive national stakeholder list, and the identification of gaps, needs, recommendations, and entry points for linking CDRFI and climate risk transfer to existing policies and processes.

For the third workshop, the situation in the country had relaxed to a degree that allowed small group gatherings in workplaces, but a larger event was still not feasible. To make the maximum use of this without exposing anyone to additional risks, SLYCAN Trust was able to cooperate with the key entities and national focal points for the government for climate change, disaster management, and sustainable development in the country to have them participate as groups from their offices, thereby linking virtual and in-person consultations. This included the Disaster Management Centre, the Climate Change Secretariat, and the Sustainable Development Council, who participated in the presentations and the group work to greatly enhance and enrich the discussion.

Despite the events being held virtually, we were able to engage with a total of 154 people across three virtual workshops including stakeholders from the government sector, CSOs, media, private sector and the academia.

Phase II – Smaller Group Discussions

As the number of new COVID-19 cases reduced and the Sri Lankan Government further relaxed regulations regarding group gatherings, SLYCAN Trust met smaller stakeholder groups in person, including agriculture experts at the University of Peradeniya, the Climate Change Secretariat, and other civil society organisations working on agriculture, climate finance, and climate risk management.

SLYCAN Trust was also able to take adequate precautions while conducting the first phase of on-the-ground research and ensuring that travel and accommodation for the team adhered to sanitisation requirements and social distancing rules. Up to date, we have been able to conduct 81 interviews in the district of Trincomalee and 64 interviews in the district of Anuradhapura.

The future remains uncertain, but the lessons learned during the curfew and the following small group activities and fieldwork will be useful going forward. While the virtual workshops could not deliver the same engagement and energy as an in-person one, they were still well attended till the end and provided a huge amount of information on gaps, needs, policies, processes, and potential collaborations, which was essential to further the work toward building multi-actor partnerships, understanding existing climate risk transfer and insurance mechanisms, and identifying opportunities and entry points for their improvement.

 

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit organisation registered in Sri Lanka. It focuses on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, animal welfare, and social justice. SLYCAN Trust specializes in multi-actor partnerships in the implementation of project activities including the government of Sri Lanka, civil society, academia, youth, media, and the private sector. At the global level, the organization has experience working in many countries and with UN actors, especially the UNFCCC Secretariat, through collaborative activities.