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Ethics and International Development in the Age of COVID-19

Ethics and International Development in the Age of COVID-19

Invitation to the webinar : /calendar/ethics-and-international-development-age-covid-19

On July 9, CAIDP held a discussion on ethics and international development in the age of COVID19.  Three speakers specializing in evaluation, security and risk management shared what the COVID crisis has meant for their organization, their staff and the people they serve. 

The session was moderated by Jennifer Denomy, MEDA’s Technical Director for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion and speakers were Scott Ruddick, Director of Global Security with MEDA, Lawrence Tucker-Gardiner, Cowater’s Vice President of Risk Management, and Dana Peebles founder and Director of Kartini International.



Moderator and speakers:

Jennifer Denomy is MEDA’s Technical Director for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion.  In this role, she develops and leads MEDA's strategy to promote increased economic inclusion for excluded populations, particularly youth, women and rural populations.  She provides technical leadership on sustainable economic growth, social and economic inclusion, private sector facilitation, organizational capacity building, market and gender assessments. Recently, she managed GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women), a value chain project in northern Ghana which improved food security and economic empowerment for over 23,000 women.  Countries of work experience include Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Uganda, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Mongolia and Afghanistan.

Lawrence Tucker-Gardiner, Cowater’s Vice President of Risk Management, has over 20 years’ experience in the international governance, development, and humanitarian sectors, with the Australian Government, United Nations and International NGOs. With over 10 years’ experience in the Middle East, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and Central Asia, Lawrence has pioneered conflict sensitivity through analysis and integrated risk management approaches in project design. Most notably Lawrence was the founder and Director of Safety and Security Committee for Lebanon (SSCL), an integrated risk management platform serving over 100 stakeholders involved in the Syria response with analysis, coordination, capacity building and security training. Most recently Lawrence has been the global security risk management lead for several international development consultancies, bringing international best practice and intelligent design approaches to the traditional fields of safety and security. For Lawrence COVID-19 has created both the challenge and opportunity of building institutional acceptance of risk management approaches to an emerging risk.

Scott Ruddick is Director of Global Security with MEDA.  He is a Board-certified security professional with fifteen years of experience. Scott has extensive international experience, with considerable operational exposure throughout Africa, Asia, Central America and the Middle East.   Since January, Scott has been leading MEDA’s response to the COVID crisis.  Scott is also the founder of the COVID Pandemic Canadian NGO Security Roundtable, which brings together the heads of security for aid and development NGOS across Canada to facilitate the sharing of information and resources relating to the COVID outbreak.

Dana Peebles has 39 years’ experience in international development.  She has an MA in International Development - Labour and Gender Studies from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague and is based in Hamilton, Canada. She is the founder and Director of Kartini International, an award-winning social enterprise that specializes in gender equality and human rights services, evaluation and youth programming. Her gender work has focused on institutional gender mainstreaming and social change management as well as women’s economic empowerment and inclusive design. Ms. Peebles has also served as evaluation Team Leader for 11 complex, multi-country evaluations and as the sole evaluator or team member for an additional 16 evaluations. She has also conducted multiple workshops on Results Based Management and has worked in close to 50 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean She speaks fluent English and Spanish, and has a working knowledge of French and bahasa Indonesia. She also has substantial experience working with multilateral agencies (primarily UN), CSOs, IFIs, and bilateral cooperation agencies in both developmental and post-conflict contexts. She is the Recipient of 2000 CIDA International Cooperation Award for Gender Equality Achievement and the 2008 International Alliance of Women inaugural Making a Difference 100 Award.


Most of the audience questions were answered during the session; some additional responses are included below. 

  1. Question:  Currently, international and Home Office staff are very limited in their ability to travel. What are the ethical issues we must consider when hiring local consultants to support our ongoing work?  

Answer from Scott Ruddick at MEDA:  we have crafted protective protocols based on best practices as to how to safeguard from COVID.   We stay as current on safe work and healthy practices, such as social distancing, hand washing and masking.  We draw from recognized, authoritative sources. And we put it in the form of actionable protocols that provide guidance. We share this information with local consultants – as well as our staff – and the expectation is that people would use this to safeguard their own work on our behalf. 

  1. Question:  In your experience is there a difference of access to COVID responsive technologies between women and men?  

Answer from Dana Peebles at Kartini:  If technologies also includes medical treatment/technologies, the answer is yes. For genetic and physiological reasons men are more likely to experience serious illness from COVID-19 than women. This is typical of all of the corona viruses (it was a similar experience with SARS, for example).  For sociological and cultural reasons, women are less likely to have access to treatment. Lower valuing of the work women do and less time to earn an income due to societal values that ascribe more family responsibilities to women than to men, means women in many contexts earn less than men.  This, in turns, limits their access to treatment. 

There is also a gender divide in terms of access to internet-based communications technologies and platforms.  Again this is partly linked to women’s lower incomes – they are less able to afford the equipment, software and training needed to equitably access internet-based communications platforms. Differing access is also due to lower education levels for women in many (but not all) parts of the world. And thirdly, women have less time to learn new technologies or spend time communicating in this way since their family responsibilities combined with their income earning responsibilities mean women on average work between 2 to 5 hours a day more than men (depending upon where in the world they live and if they are urban or rurally based).

This gender divide is greater with age (and location). More girls between 17 and 21 in the EU, for example, have more advanced ICT skills than boys of a similar age. After that age, the skill levels begin to decrease for both sexes the older they are, with women generally trailing behind men, except in countries like South Korea. 

More women than men in both industrialized countries and the Global South have also had to set aside their paid work in order to provide child and elder care at home during COVID. This also limits their access to COVID responsive technologies. 

  1. Question:  When it comes to data collection, is there any shift on what can be considered “good enough”?  I see a tension between the push for methodological rigour and risks imposed by COVID-19.  An ethics perspective on this might be useful.

The bottom line is that we cannot put program beneficiaries or staff and other stakeholders at risk in order to collect data. In most instances, it is possible to set up remote interviews with key informants from stakeholder groups so there is no loss in data rigour at that level. The real challenge is reaching program beneficiaries. This is generally done in focus groups of 8 to 10 people at a time, but in the COVID context often these groups will not be possible. However, it is sometimes possible to hold mobile phone interviews with a representative sample of beneficiaries provided that: 1) you can guarantee a secure phone line which is not subject to hacking;  2) in the case of beneficiaries who are poor, the program covers the cost of the call for the person being interviewed; and 3) the client/donor agrees to cover the additional time you have to spend to conduct a series of qualitative interviews. The latter can be potentially be a tradeoff between what it would cost to travel to an area to conduct these focus groups and the time it takes to interview the beneficiaries one at a time instead. It will take longer to set up and conduct, but it is doable. 

In some cases, if you were mid-way through a data collection and assessment process when COVID hit, you will need to discuss with your client/donor what compromises they will accept and look for alternative ways to triangulate the data. For future assessment, evaluation and data collection work, it is possible to build in the alternative methods outlined above. 


For those interested in reading further, here are some recommended resources from our speakers:


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