In September 2018, the United States Department of State (DoS) Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) awarded The Kaizen Company (Kaizen) a contract to implement the Mitigating Local Disputes in Liberia Program Phase III (MLDL III). This award is the third iteration of the MLDL program and represents the second phase implemented by Kaizen since 2014.
On March 8, 2020, in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Liberia (GOL) declared a State of Emergency that imposed restrictions on in-county movements and cross-country travels, a ban on large public gatherings, and other measures designed to safeguard the public health. While the pandemic was unforeseen and presented immensely difficult practical and administrative challenges to MLDL III, Kaizen identified an opportunity to help reinforce local ownership and sustainability and to directly address the pandemic’s emergent challenges.
MLDL III’s high-level goal is to contribute to improved rule of law by working through Liberia’s County Security Mechanism (CSM) to develop the capacity of County Security Councils (CSCs), District Security Councils (DSCs), and Community Forums (CFs) in six of Liberia’s border counties to effectively identify, communicate, and sustainably resolve security concerns. MLDL III seeks to craft Sustainability and Viability Execution (SAVE) plans that will serve CSM structures as roadmaps toward sustainability in conjunction with an Early Warning, Early Response (EWER) system that tracks security concerns. The EWER will enable responses to regional issues while allowing for broad insight into the larger trends in effective conflict interventions.
Given the community-driven nature of the MLDL III project, the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic proved challenging to the continued implementation of the project, as many team members were used to in-person work connected to local communities, precisely the type of work that COVID-19 disrupts. However, Kaizen’s Chief of Team (COT) worked with the staff to design new workflows that maintained efficient, community-driven work while enabling working from home. At a high-level, this involved daily conference calls through Zoom and by phone, along with individually tailored weekly work logs. INL is also supporting local staff by subsidizing home-based internet connectivity and generator usage. MLDL III similarly supported partner structures to reduce monthly meeting attendance from the typical twenty-five to thirty team members down to key leadership of five to eight team members. Additionally, MLDL III quickly shifted to exclusively remote technical assistance to CSCs in the form of small-group remote training, mentoring, and technical discussions.
Thanks to these changes and the immense flexibility and determination exhibited by Field Office Staff, MLDL III did not break stride in goal implementation. Further, MLDL III was able to move beyond the implementation of pre-COVID goals and seek to directly address the COVID-19 pandemic within communities.
Strategically, MLDL III is well-positioned to address challenges associated with COVID-19. The program operates at the town and village level in remote communities, within which it is most difficult for the GOL to coordinate public health interventions. One of the initial objectives for MLDL III was to support and mentor SSAs to effectively operationalize the CSM. SSAs include immigration agents, national police, drug enforcement agents, fire service personnel, prison personnel, and the like—all of whom are directly responsible for ensuring peace and security in the country.
MLDL III was able to use this eight-year investment in training these local agents in coordinated response and the EWER system to rapidly respond to COVID-19. MLDL III utilized its network of SSAs and CSCs to deliver trainings, mentoring, coaching, and socialization; provide COVID-19 prevention items and create awareness measures such as posters produced by local artists and radio airtime; alongside thermometers, disinfectant, and liquid soap. These iterative strategies continue to be deployed as communities learn more about which are most effective in addressing this novel challenge.