Tamarack Institute & COVID-19: The Short and Long View of the Pandemic

Par Liz Weaver , President and Co-CEO of Tamarack Institute
10 November 2021

In March 2019, the Tamarack Institute hosted an in-person conference which would become the final in-person gathering to be held by the organization for more than 21 months. At the time of the event, there were emerging concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we did not realize then, the depth of how our work and lives would be impacted.

The Short View:   

Tamarack Institute COVID-19Tamarack pivoted quickly in the first few months of the pandemic. Between March and May 2019, we began to document and understand how communities were adapting and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As workplaces began to move to remote operations and communities felt the uncertainty of the future, Tamarack purposefully connected communities together. COVID 19 and Community Building was a weekly e-newsletter sharing stories of community response and resilience. To help organizations navigate the move to a remote workplace, Tamarack made available our internal Guide to Working Remotely and partnered with the Canadian Centre for Youth Prosperity to co-develop a Virtual Work Guide for Youth.   

Throughout 2019, there continued to be many shifts and pivots occurring as organizations and communities adapted to the unfolding of the pandemic. Observing the shifts happening across communities in Canada, several resources were developed to build a collective understanding of the impacts of this life altering, shared experience. 

Tim Brodhead (former CEO, McConnell Foundation and board member, Tamarack Institute), in the early days of the pandemic wrote about Not Letting (Another) Crisis go to Waste He looked back to the 2008 financial crisis and the innovations which were generated including social innovation and impact investing. Written in 2019, Tim Brodhead’s challenge to the sector resonates today, 21 months later, as a seminal call to action.  

We will not be returning to “normalcy” nor should that be our objective. This coronavirus crisis is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for how we deal with the next, immeasurably greater crisis, climate change. We have learned that decisive government action is critical, that facts and expertise matter, that actions deemed premature or too costly rapidly become essential and feasible. We have learned about the cost of delay, confusion, and what happens when states or countries compete rather than cooperate. We now know that Canadians are capable of mobilizing to confront an existential threat. – Tim Brodhead  

The Medium View:  

As the early days of the pandemic moved into months, the focus shifted from shorter term responses to a longer-term view of building back to ‘normal’. There were many articles towards the end of 2019 and into 2020 which focused on ‘building back better’.  As Tim Brodhead noted, the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered a lot of inequities in our systems.  

Tamarack published the paper Collective Impact Post-Pandemic:  A Framework for Response, Recovery and Resilience exploring how communities and community leaders could develop strategies for what would be three phases of the pandemic – response, recovery and resilience.   

Community leadership has noticeably shifted during the pandemic. Leadership for Navigating Uncertainty identified three forms of leadership which have emerged or deepened including:  

  • responsive leadership – informal community coalitions that formed to respond to emergent and individual needs in a community  
  • collaborative leadership – formal collaborative or collective action efforts which were turned to for coordinated action  
  • disruptive-emergent leadership – stronger advocacy leaders who seek to disrupt existing systems and drive for change  

The COVID pandemic and its lingering presence has had a definitive impact evolving community leadership.  

The Long View:   

Twenty months into the COVID-19 pandemic creates an opportunity for further reflection. There are still many uncertainties to be faced by individuals and communities. We know that people are weary and that the prolonged unknowing has increased mental health issues for many individuals. There are repercussions being felt by community organizations across Canada as many are determining how to navigate the financial impacts of increased demands for services, moving to remote workplaces and then the slow return to in-person service delivery.  

The financial impact of the pandemic has spread unevenly across the community sector and these financial impacts will likely continue to reverberate over the next two to three years.  During the first year of the COVID pandemic, Foundations and governments pivoted quickly to provide enhanced funding supports. As demands continue and resources tighten, will this impact future funding? 

Employment and leadership patterns shifted dramatically in the early months of the pandemic, and this continues. Many organizations moved to a remote work environment and designed ways to deliver services virtually. Employees are now seeking virtual (or hybrid) work experiences and clients have also pivoted to an increasingly virtual experience.  While many of us are craving the opportunity to meet again in person, the demand for hybrid and virtual options will continue to grow.  

Over the past 21 months, most of us have been focused on doing everything we can to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.  But Tim Brodhead warns us not to let a crisis go to waste.  As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to pause, to consider what has just happened, what leadership shifts, and innovations emerged as a practical response and how we might go about leveraging these innovations.  

Tamarack Institute COVID-19Twenty-one months and counting is a long time to navigate a crisis. There is fatigue. And there is still uncertainty ahead. We fear the ripple effect impacts of the COVID pandemic. At the same time, the climate crisis is also overwhelming us. These intersecting challenges drive us toward simple solutions such as reopening our workplaces and returning to delivering services as usual.  

And yet, we must learn to navigate our way through the intersecting complexity of addressing pandemic impacts, climate crisis, addressing the inequities that have emerged, our personal exhaustion and the compounding mental health challenges that are more prevalent across our teams and our clients.  Tamarack recently published 10 – A Guide for Community-Based COVID-19 RecoveryThis resource reflects includes 10 stories of communities responding to the COVID pandemic, 10 good ideas for community leaders to consider and 10 useful resources.   

We can’t let this crisis go to waste. We need to reflect on our abilities to pivot, to shift and to respond. We need to leverage and embrace the change we are experiencing in real time and embed new practices in our work. This is our collective call to action.  

 Liz Weaver is the President and Co-CEO of Tamarack Institute and leader of the Tamarack Learning Centre. The Tamarack Learning Centre advances community change efforts by focusing on five strategic areas including collective impact, collaborative leadership, community engagement, community innovation and evaluating community impact. Liz is well-known for her thought leadership on collective impact and is the author of several popular and academic papers on the topic. She is a co-catalyst partner with the Collective Impact Forum. Liz is passionate about the power and potential of communities getting to impact on complex issues. 

This article is part of the special edition of November 2021 – Philanthropy’s role in a crisis. You can find more information here

rôle de la philanthropie en temps de crise