Leading an NPO through COVID-19: Lessons from Social Lens Consulting


May 27, 2021

2 min read

When 2020 began, we all looked with anticipation to what the year would bring as we defined the goals and plans for our organisations. However, when the pandemic was unleashed, these plans and goals dissipated immediately. We were unprepared for the sudden changes, which left us confused and uncertain. It called for us to rejig our approach, pushing us to do what was needed now while planning for the few months amidst constant uncertainty looming ahead.

As a team, we had to find a cohesive way to work and adjust quickly. A lot of young professionals on the team worked relentlessly, pushing themselves even while confined in their homes away from their family. With their careers ahead of them, many were unsure whether they would continue to hold their jobs through the pandemic.

As we worked with our clients and NPO partners, one thing was certain – the pandemic brought about the same fears and questions for a lot of us, and while the world was trying to find the solutions, one of the foremost things we began to do was foster conversations. Staying connected and checking on people became the norm for the team and partners we worked with. While it did not offer immediate solutions, staying connected went a long way in strengthening the understanding and support between us. We went beyond weekly goals and meetings to talk about how people were coping and how we could stay motivated to fulfill our goals.

We evaluated our organisations and the work we do to identify our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It forced us to accept hard truths and overcome the defensiveness inherent in us to acknowledge that we could do better. What has been heart-warming is the generosity of spirit that my team displayed. Supporting each other, taking on increased responsibility and sharing my unsaid fears would be how I sum up this year. Interestingly, the pandemic has brought us closer as a team.

We also invested more time into things that were often overlooked in our own systems and processes, and created time-out sessions to share what we had learnt. All our new hires were virtual recruits and we needed to come up with a new method of inducting and training them.

When I made my foray in the Social Impact sector 10 years ago, I knew it was unchartered territory for me, and all I had was my passion to create value. The pandemic forced me to look within and evaluate if I still had the energy and will to fuel that passion. And I have been fortunate to find people – friends, colleagues, and a Board – that has supported me in my journey. Their gentle maturity and wisdom has allowed me to look at things from a different perspective. The biggest lesson I learnt was that when leaders push themselves to lead from behind, it can bring unexpected results and a new order and culture in the organisation.

About Author
Vijaya Balaji
Vijaya Balaji CEO & Managing Partner Social Lens

Vijaya is amongst the pioneers in advising the social sector to scale and collaborate across stakeholders. Vijaya Balaji joined toolbox INDIA's in 2011 and in her role as CEO she has expanded toolbox INDIA's outreach to 275+ NPOs, 325 + projects and over 650 volunteers across India. She is an evaluator for the global Echoing Green Fellowship. She has incubated Social Lens, a Social Purpose Organization that aims to develop OD solutions for the Social Development Sector.

Prior to her role in the social sector, Vijaya has practiced as a finance professional at Kodak and an educational practitioner at an International school.

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