Learning from COVID-19 grassroots leaders: What we found (part 1 of 2)

by | Jul 27, 2021 | COVID-19, Leaders, News, Research

"Reaching out" by andrew and hobbes is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

At the start of the pandemic, we talked to 11 fascinating individuals about COVID-19 grassroots responses. Here’s what we learned.

You can see an overview of the research on the study’s project page. Read the full report to get all the details of how we conducted the study, who the participants were, evidence for our findings, along with our takeaways and recommendations.

Our goal was to understand  how we might expand our services to support Spontaneous Leaders — people who emerge as leaders in situations of ambiguous leadership — during a crisis.

This blog is a brief summary of our findings. Our takeaways will be described in another blog.

Our first finding – an affirmation of CCL’s mission!

Our first finding confirms that SLs emerged in response to COVID-19 and are likely to do so in other crises. It also affirms that starting a grassroots response is emotionally and logistically difficult, and that SLs would benefit from the kind of training and empowerment support services that align with CCL’s mission – spreading the skills and mindset necessary for collective action and improvised leadership.

The study revealed a critical need to tailor service delivery to the needs and attentional resources of individual SLs – the SLs interviewed exhibited substantial variety in backgrounds, skill sets, and bandwidth for taking in new information.

The study also underscored the difficulty of identifying and reaching SLs in the midst of a crisis. This suggests that spreading awareness of the role and importance of SLs to crisis response, prior to a crisis, is essential to successful delivery of prospective CCL services.

The rest of the findings – What support do SLs need?

The rest of the findings describe the support that SLs need.

  1. The SL journey is difficult and fraught with obstacles. Guidance along the journey would be highly valuable to maintaining motivation and momentum. Interestingly, and maybe unsurprising to some of our readers, the SL experience bears striking resemblance to that described by Design and Entrepreneurial Thinking.
  2. An SL’s  effectiveness is strongly correlated with their situational awareness – their understanding of the larger situation they’re working within. This includes understanding what resources might be available, knowing what those they are helping need,  what social, logistical and economic forces are at play. Unfortunately, SLs’ ability to understand the situation is often hampered because they are overwhelmed and operating in unfamiliar waters.
  3. In COVID-19, most SL efforts were focused on “brokering the last mile” — getting available resources to the individuals that need them. Grassroots efforts are often instrumental in filling local gaps, providing detailed knowledge of local conditions and community members.
  4. Networks and relationships are critical to an SL’s success. Social connections are invaluable in overcoming issues of awareness and trust. SLs especially rely on connections forged before the disaster happens, but also need to be able to develop new ones quickly during a crisis.
  5. SLs must have the trust of the community they serve and the resource providers they need. Without legitimacy and credibility, SLs struggle to maintain the connections needed to succeed.
  6. Eventually, most SLs need some form of professional advice or help, most commonly, legal counsel, accounting and tax support, fundraising and marketing expertise, insurance coverage, and even mental wellness support. Unfortunately, SLs may not recognize their need for professional help or have the wherewithal to obtain it, complicating their journey and possibly placing them at personal risk.

In conclusion

CCL is on the right track! These findings give us heart that SLs are out there and they need our help. Furthermore, the findings provide insight into what kinds of support would be of value to the SLs.


Read about possible support services in this blog
Read the full report