THEME: ONLINE ORGANISING-Wisborn Malaya

July 2020: Wisborn Malaya, Secretary General of Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) and IFWEA Executive Committee member, Zimbabwe

 Where are you working at the moment?

I was working full time from home since March, but now am currently in the ZCIEA office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8 am to 3 pm. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I am back working from home. I am based in Harare.

Has your work been strongly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?

It has had a very strong impact in various ways. We’ve had to change our work plans. As an organisation, we have working structures across the country in Zimbabwe, and we had many activities and physical meetings planned. Now, all activities planned for the year have been affected. We have adjusted with virtual meetings, but since it was not a big part of how we worked before, it’s difficult. We are used to working from one office, and now the new way is we have to coordinate via virtual meetings. Even for the staff, it’s been a change. The pace slowed down – now we are trying to catch up to make sure we can adapt.

What do you use to manage these changes?

Depending on the nature of communication, we use telephones, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, and a Google Meet platform. WhatsApp is efficient for information-sharing to big groups. For smaller groups and one-on-one we tend to use Zoom.

What are the challenges?

In Zimbabwe, data costs have soared. So that is a problem. Also, different people are on different levels when it comes to technology. Some in the leadership space can easily manage the communication platforms, they’ve been exposed before. But for those who are new to this – you have to have to teach and be patient. We have identified young people in our various structures who can assist other people who may be facing challenges. Also, there are some people who are not on WA, they don’t have the budget for a smartphone. So then our WhatsApp communication has to be translated into SMS form and then sent.

Does this change the way you operate and plan, and how? What are you doing differently?

It has made a change – we are encouraging more of our members to learn online. We already have 11 women who participated in the Online Global Women’s Leadership Course, co-ordinated by IFWEA Executive Committee member and IASEW leader Namrata Bali. And now another group of ten are going to start a course on Learning How to Create an Online Course with Saliem Patel and Renaldi Prinsloo from IFWEA.  When they graduate, they will get internal tasks to set up local courses. We are going to look more and more at online learning.

Can you give us some examples of the positive aspects of your work at the moment? Are there good things that have happened?

To be frank, there are more negatives than positives. But it has resulted in motivating people to become more connected to the fourth industrial revolution, and people are excited, they want to do more online.

The environment has also encouraged members to contribute to social media, and they are sharing information on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

I think we have managed to contain the pressure of the lockdown, in order to survive. And there has been a great spirit of sharing – for example, there was a report that some members were hungry and didn’t have food, so others reached out and supported them.

What advice and support do you have for others?

The best advice I can give is that this whole process requires patience. It’s also useful to identify key people and equip those people to help manage the various online platforms.

If you have groups of people in different communities, then create WhatsApp groups for each community. You can have 40 members in one community, and ten such groups, which means you can access 400 people via one message.

Zoom uses a lot of data, and it takes time to set up and co-ordinate. The cost can become heavy for people. You can try and limit Zoom for main leadership meetings, or more critical one-on-one meetings. But even WhatsApp can be used – we had our last management meeting on WhatsApp, and it worked perfectly.

I also think it is key to consider airtime support for data. You cannot expect people to participate without providing support.

Remember to be patient. People will eventually come right.

Ultimately, we must maintain a platform for solidarity- we need to help share experiences and encourage each other so that we continue to be there for each other. There are many things happening differently in different areas. If we share, we help each other through this crisis.