Written by Debbie Hendricks – Operations Executive
The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) team has not been spared the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with continued cycles noted in the increase of sick leave absences and rolling episodes of either being in quarantine or isolating from others
In terms of the financial impact, the pandemic has been devasting. In instances where facilities were closed, we have had to be innovative to have the staff occupied with alternative activities (Example. The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was converted to Covid 19 isolation facility whilst no events could be hosted at the facility.
Covid 19 has further highlighted the glaring inequalities faced by women. In our company more than half of our employees are women. Their challenges are thus the reality of at least half the workforce of the company.
Reality is that COVID may very well be with us for a long time. At this point time of October 2021, we are bracing ourselves for a possible 4th wave as South Africa’s Vaccine roll out programme is not as extensive as one would have hoped. Also, the possibility of new variants with faster infection rates. Fulltime complete return to work might not be possible or feasible.
In this regard, we have a once in a life-time chance to rethink our workplaces and the way we work. The traditional notions of work and how to get the most out of your employees simply no longer makes sense. Let’s not waste this unique opportunity. We need to be intentional about re-inventing the future of “work”- whether employees are working from home, remotely or a hybrid arrangement of the two.
Research shows that 75% of remote workers in professional fields say their expectations of working flexibility have increased and 4 out of 10 employees are at risk of leaving if you insist that they return to an in -office working environment. (http://www.gartner.com/en/insights/ future-of-work)
Impact on MBDA projects
One of the first hurdles that Covid 19 brought about, is the stoppages of work because of the government declaring a National State of Disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 and its subsequent regulations that promulgated hard lockdowns for months at a time This had a far-reaching effect in terms of project delays and the costs and losses incurred as a result. For example, in one of our projects in Uithenhage, the project was stopped and the construction site 4 times in one month because of Covid 19 infections amongst staff or workers.
A large component of the work we do also centers around community engagement, partnerships, and co-creation of development projects. This aspect has been negatively affected as gatherings were not permitted for large parts of the year. Although alternative digital engagements methods have been undertaken, this does not work in communities where digital literacy and the use of social media platforms are low. Also, when it comes to building relationships, building trust, resolving conflict etc. in- person meetings work best.
We are currently in year 3 of the 5-year strategy. Events have overtaken the plan and circumstances call for a review of our direction. COVID has taught us that supporting communities in terms of social and economic infrastructure would be more important than just implementing capital projects, with a specific focus on the unemployment of the youth, small business development, support to schools and combatting the societal scourge of GBV against women and children.