Our covid covenant

The Synaps response

The global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (or covid) is a call to action on various fronts. Beyond its direct casualties, the pandemic’s economic and psychological fallout feeds into longstanding vulnerabilities within our societies. Inequality, precarity, populism, and xenophobia were already on the rise, and are only worsening. The crisis also exposes the risks built into our globalized way of life, from incessant travel to dependence on imports, through to diets so industrialized and internationalized as to send animal-borne diseases flying around the globe.  Changing these dynamics demands deliberate shifts to our established routines. While this could mean many things, it will not be business as usual, just with masks and gloves on.

Synaps staff have put much thought into what this turning point means to us, on our own scale—both individually and as a team. As a socially-minded organization, this is a test we must pass. Moreover, all of us either come from or work in countries that are being hit hard by various aspects of this crisis. Thus our commitment to this document: It extends our understanding of social responsibility to the exceptional circumstances we live in, and points out areas where we must intensify the efforts we were already exerting. 

We make research practical

Our work must do more than analyze from a distance: It must inform the discussions and decisions of people with whom we live, and with whom we work. Much of our research—on health, agriculture, water, governance, youth—is directly relevant to the present crisis. But making our findings useful to the right audiences will require nimbler formats and new channels: audiovisual output, in-person briefings, and more consistent attempts to fill information gaps as we spot them (including on social media). We must also accelerate our shift to producing original Arabic content, in lieu of translations from English. And we will not indulge in reflections on the world’s grim state, but focus instead on achieving even small, tangible progress. 

That said, our research is also useful for how it builds connections—between ideas as much as individuals. Our eclectic portfolio positions us to analyze intersecting trends in the crises we study; making sense of them requires interdisciplinary work for which we are suited. Meanwhile, our fieldwork-based approach places us at the junction of diverse networks. We have long striven to use our privileged access to create links between grassroots initiatives, on one side, and benefactors or beneficiaries, on the other. We will be increasingly deliberate in doing so. 

We support others

We will only improve our chances of successfully managing these crises by playing a more collective game. Our support to individuals and groups around us can take different forms. With like-minded civic organizations, we will expand information sharing as well as pro bono support around skills we have honed ourselves. Even as circumstances encourage all of us to become more insular, we will promote, now more than ever, the good work of other organizations.

There are all sorts of people we, in turn, depend upon. These include Synaps partners and supporters, but also those we engage with through our research, service providers with whom we work, shop owners and producers from whom we routinely buy. No less worthy of attention are those whose essential work is too often overlooked: cleaners, concierges, and money exchangers, to name a few. In the period to come, we endeavor to strengthen this network, better understand what troubles those around us face, and determine how we may reciprocate their support.  

We support each other

This logic applies equally among colleagues. In a situation that puts our organization and all its members under stress, we are eager to share the burden and support one another. That entails cultivating the strongest possible culture of communication at a time when staff are dispersed across multiple countries.

But it rests, above all, on individual commitment and initiative. As physical distancing reduces or eliminates the everyday interactions through which we bond with our colleagues, we will all go the extra mile to check in with those we hear from the least. We will seek ways of sharing practical information on how to navigate our uncertain environment, especially with those who lack robust support networks. 

We will all remind ourselves of the gravity of this crisis and seek to grasp its consequences for our colleagues, and for Synaps as a whole. Our endurance and adaptability will improve the more each one of us maintains perspective on the challenges we face collectively. 

We spare resources

As an organization, we have long striven to minimize waste, whether in terms of time or resources. We also avoid contributing to the alarming environmental degradation that we observe around us. We now aim to take these commitments further. As the crisis settled in, we established a waste management system that moved us several steps closer to the unattainable but motivating ideal of “zero waste.” In parallel, we will use available resources such as electricity, fuel, water, and office supplies with a renewed sense of their value. 

We will transition toward a more sustainable and socially conscious approach to equipping our team and our office. We are shifting our consumption from large supermarkets to small-scale retailers, as the latter battle existential economic threats. By supporting them, we also increase our reliance on local produce with less packaging, and have more ability to negotiate reducing plastic waste. We recognize the value that such people bring to our neighborhoods, in social as much as material terms. 

This more demanding approach to expenditure and consumption also applies to the sector we work in. Research projects and aid programs can be extraordinarily wasteful in their own right. We will therefore ramp up our efforts to align our work with causes we believe in, while reinvesting our revenues in ways that serve our communities.  

We fight covid healthily

We will strive to avoid any negative contribution to a health crisis that is wreaking enough damage on society as it is. We commit to never giving in to panic, even—and especially—if any of our staff should fall ill. In that event, we will support the sick in every way we can, both logistically and emotionally. 

In our office and our fieldwork, we will adopt those specific precautionary measures that are broadly endorsed by medical professionals. We will limit usage of masks, gloves, face-shields, and gel bottles to those occasions that truly require them—bearing in mind that the waste generated by such single-use plastics feeds into a parallel public health crisis. Finally, we will treat this upheaval as any other problem on which we work: something which we research, build a solid understanding of, and trust our in-house expertise on. 

As we adjust to rapidly changing circumstances, we will remain as introspective and self-critical as ever. And as we adapt, we will not forget the social mission to which we commit ourselves in the best of circumstances: Our health as an organization is measured by the contributions that we make to the world around us.

Illustration credits: John Gibson Dunn Ark of the covenant, The temperance pledge / public domain.