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Collaborative Online Learning During COVID: New Strategies During New Times

Posted 16 November 2022 in EMpower News, Grantee Partner News   |   Share

The recent loosening up of Hong Kong’s COVID-19 travel restrictions has been met with much relief. And as we look forward to the future, we also take stock of all that we and our partners throughout East and Southeast Asia have done since the beginning of 2021 in response to the pandemic.

We recently shared a look back at our capacity strengthening efforts in the region, and now we share a deep dive into the online series that we led with and for our partners during and in response to the pandemic. At EMpower, we are deeply committed to serving our grantee partners beyond grants. We wish to strengthen our collective impact by supporting them in offering cutting-edge programmes for young people living at the margins.

EMpower’s grantee partners and the young people they serve were amongst those who have been most affected by COVID-19. Our partners had to make significant and often very disruptive shifts in the way they worked, which was only one of the ramifications they had to deal with.

In 2021, the EMpower Hong Kong Programme Team ran a regional survey on the impact of COVID-19 with grantee partners in East and Southeast Asia. We then held a series of intimate focus group discussions with them. This allowed us to listen deeper to how we could best support them and to prioritise their four most pressing needs: 

  • Alternatives to face-to-face learning
  • Mental health support
  • Fundraising
  • Job training targeted toward potential new post-pandemic careers, in light of the new economic reality

Deeply grounded in principles of trust-based philanthropy, our East and Southeast Asia Programme Team rolled out separate online learning series on the first three topics through the first half of 2022. And importantly, our grantee partners were in the driver’s seat for all of these. They were involved in co-writing and editing the call for proposals, co-interviewing shortlisted consultants, and co-creating the sessions with the selected consultants. Having our partners’ leadership, participation, and perspectives was critical to the success of these learning sessions.

At the end of a rich and enriching year of capacity strengthening work, we wish to share some highlights.

Our online series on non-face-to-face learning allowed our grantee partners to discover and apply a huge diversity of virtual facilitation techniques and approaches that can be used beyond online learning settings. They became passionate explorers in digital education and experts through cooperative learning. We were thrilled to see representatives from eight grantee partners in the 28 intense bi-weekly sessions that ran over four months.

“Commendation to all the facilitators […]. They made the webinar interesting and livelier. I liked the activities that they did during the sessions. I also liked how engaging they were, despite barriers to communication. They made sure that everyone was on the same page.” 

The online series on mental well-being allowed the participants to not only improve the ways they address mental health among the youth they serve, but to also reflect on their own well-being and self-care. Moreover, the sessions helped enhanced their emotional intelligence. Representatives from 11 grantee partners participated in the seven sessions that ran over three months.

“I am grateful for this group. Thanks for the opportunity to learn. […] I will use that in our Youth Advocate Programme.” “I learned how to be a more adaptive youth worker as well as how to approach young people in a more sensitive way.”

Online group work during the webinar series.

Our online series on fundraising brought together representatives from even more grantee partners: 14 participated in the eight sessions, and ten partners engaged in deep one-on-one consultations. The range of topics included fundraising strategies, public campaigns, review of concept notes, high-net-worth donor engagement, and prospecting of new donors.

“The fundraising sessions helped put a framework […] to our current process.” “The course and the documents have been really helpful. We have learned a lot from them.”

All three series have greatly supported our partners in better coping with the impact of COVID-19. In June 2022, we evaluated this series through a survey. Most of our grantee partners shared that they were very satisfied with the series and found them useful. Many expressed a high appreciation for the opportunities created to collaborate with their peers in the region and to learn from each other. We read, and also witnessed first-hand, that our activities have already resulted in practical and immediate changes within some organisations.

Building on this momentum, EMpower in Hong Kong just launched a Phase 2 of our COVID-19-related activities for 2022-2023, which will directly build on these online series and our partners’ enthusiasm to continue this collaboration. We are creating eight tailor-made one-on-one sessions for individual grantee partners.

We’re excited to continue on this deep learning and capacity strengthening journey, building stronger organisations that can offer more impactful programmes for marginalised young people across East and Southeast Asia.

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