3 Ways for Putting Adaptive Management in Practice in the Time of COVID-19

BY: Muamer Niksic , Zenebe B. Uraguchi - 05. May 2020

Story highlights:

  • While the immediate aim of saving lives and minimizing the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is necessary (responding), the long-term goal of sustainably addressing impacts shouldn’t be put on hold (innovating). In the short term, that means identifying the people and businesses most affected and offering support to bridge the crisis.
  • Through crisis management and contingency planning, we’ve adjusted budgets and reformulated some activities to respond to the immediate needs. Also, in the long term, tapping into opportunities and supporting public and private partners for a more agile response is critical.
  • For us in Kosovo, this is walking the talk of adaptive management. The road to sustainable results is likely to be volatile and uneven (learning). As a result, we’re focusing on a resilient and adaptive strategy. Our focus has been to navigate the uncharted territory with our partners who are reinventing themselves to respond to the demands and use the crisis as a source of innovation.


Kosovo: a country already characterized by fragility, political instability, and exclusion. With the spread of the pandemic in the country, we also found ourselves in the middle of a constitutional crisis – forcing the government, which has only been in power for 52 days following elections last October, to fall and continue as a caretaker minority government for the time being.

A double whammy! So, how is the country faring in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like many countries, the pandemic has brought business to a halt. Many have lost their source of income, pushing them into unemployment. IMF’s recent forecast shows that the current pandemic is impacting GPD of Kosovo to fall to -5% in 2020 and pick up to 7.5% in 2021, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery.

This worsens the staggering youth unemployment in the country. The burden falls heavily on young people and minorities like the Serb, Ashkali, Roma and Egyptians. Thus, the crisis calls for careful consideration of how initiatives that inclusively and sustainably address youth unemployment can play a more collaborative role to minimize the impact and contribute to better solutions beyond the pandemic.  

One of these initiatives in Kosovo is the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE), a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by Helvetas and MDA.

Adaptive management: walking the talk

EYE applies a systemic approach, also known as market systems development (MSD) approach. The COVID-19 pandemic is new to many, both experts and non-experts of health. Yet, the economic, social, and political impacts are huge and unmistakable. That is why constant learning for better understanding and finding solutions becomes critical. Of course, we need to start with the immediate and urgent need – to respond to saving lives and minimizing the impacts on people’s livelihoods. The route, however, cannot be set in stone.

But isn’t that what we have always done? What is new?

Our work involves engaging the private and public sectors to create a more inclusive labor market for young people. We do this by supporting the matching of skills to market demands and ensuring that young people are successfully entering the labor market. In the face of uncertainty, we take risks, experiment, and learn quickly. It’s this flexibility, adaptable management, and commitment to learning that has yielded sustainable results for the EYE’s interventions.

Still, even for us, this crisis is unprecedented, and no one could’ve foreseen it—it upended the labor market and economy we knew virtually overnight. The ripple effects will persist even after the crisis subsides, and some new behaviors are set to stick around. For example, the growing trend towards e-commerce and remote working will become a lot more prevalent. Some other trends are still unpredictable, and EYE needs to find its way in this uncertain, fast-moving environment.

The pandemic hit severely most industries in Kosovo, forcing many to rethink their careers while others will be left without jobs. Responding to the pandemic calls for going beyond our ‘conventional’ way of thinking. Crisis response from a systemic approach angle is about being responsive, agile, and swiftly put in place processes and structures that allow us to adapt.

In Kosovo, we’ve re-budgeted, divested, and are trying to navigate and understand the new economy and the growth opportunities it brings. We’re constantly searching for areas to reinvest so that our actions are linked to long-term benefits. Specifically, we are exploring the development of services that will allow young people to generate income from activities such as self-employment or the development of skills around entrepreneurship.

Agility and more actions…

One of the first things we did was establish an in-house innovation and crisis-response working group. We wanted to create a comprehensive picture of the implications of the crisis on the Kosovo labor market and the work of key economic players. So, we entered into a dialogue with partners and key players to rethink our interventions and adapt our value-creating efforts to the emerging needs of jobseekers.

Our Monitoring and Results Measurement team began conducting research and sending out questionnaires to key players relevant to our line of work. The results are still being compiled, but already, they’re pinpointing what employers are struggling most with and are helping us get a better picture of the consequences of the pandemic.

Preliminary findings already show that the vast majority of businesses have been affected by the lockdown measures and are facing significant revenue loss. As many business owners express, they will come dangerously close to bankruptcy if the crisis persists. We need to take a systems approach to problem understanding to figure out how we can best work with and support our partners to enable our pursuit of a dynamic labor market system in the time of COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

At EYE, we knew that we could adapt interventions mid-implementation and mobilize resources and partnerships to make that change happen. But we also knew that in volatile times, the most important ingredient to adapting efficiently—in the true sense of a systemic approach—was to let local actors take ownership while we would play a support role.

Take Shkolla Digjitale—translated as ‘the digital school’. It’s a business that offers programming and information and communication technology courses to children and adolescents which is now franchising their programs internationally, with a particular focus on Germany. Shkolla Digjitale has already trained hundreds of youngsters in HTML, CSS, Javascript, and other digital skills. And with EYE’s support in rebranding, they’re increasingly positioning their brand services internationally.

But as the pandemic unfolds, Shkolla Digjitale has successfully identified a niche and found itself pursuing a new business model. The company swiftly began to offer Software as service (SaaS) to other players wanting to make the transition to meet the growing demands for a transition to remote working and learning. SaaS is a software distribution model in which a third-party provider hosts the application and enables data to be accessed from any device through the internet.

“The pandemic posed a significant threat to us at a time when we were looking forward to the expansion of the school in Europe,” says Hana Qerimi, Co-Founder and COO at Shkolla Digjitale. “But we managed to adapt quickly. First, we only had to cease lectures for a week until we made the full transition online, and second, we leveraged the rising demand for complete transitions to digital teaching models which lack even globally and started selling the service”. This means the full package of end-to-end business models, online systems with digitalized curriculums, client management systems, and the interactive teaching system.

Shkolla Digjitale is now signing global contracts which include the European, American, and Asian markets. “I think the greatest success lies in long-term strategic planning and technological preparation, which we managed to do quickly at the right time,” says Hana.

Whereas some adapt, others are reinventing

The majority of our partners are adopting new strategies that are largely defined by flexibility and responsiveness. But some have taken this responsiveness to another level and aren’t only adapting, but wholly reinventing themselves to respond to the demands of thousands of people in Kosovo affected by the crisis.

Take the Gracanica Innovation Center (GIC), for example. They usually work to impart ICT skills to the Serbian community in Kosovo, where there has traditionally been a lack of non-formal training centers for the Serbian community. A year ago, we partner with them to create a sustainable business model and supported them to purchase equipment, improve curricula, and accommodate a larger number of participants.

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, GIC created a huge demand by hospitals and medical staff for protective equipment. As GIC already owned 3D Printers, they began printing face shields to help local hospitals who were struggling amid the shortage.

“We began focusing on 3D printing because of the crisis we find ourselves in,” says Aleksandar Blagic, Manager at GIC. “In times like these, differences do not matter; it’s less important which community we belong to, we all have the same goal which is to do our best to support those in need who urgently need our help.”

According to Aleksandar, GIC has now printed over 250 visors which they are donating to medical staff and other institutions in need in different municipalities around Kosovo. “We plan to do this as much as it’s needed. In the future, this experience will help us in different ways: we will be able to offer different products and services needed in the market (including 3D printing), as well as create new courses around 3D printing for our participants,” explains Aleksandar.

Beyond this responsiveness, what’s making the GIS’s adaptation particularly successful has also been crowding-in and collaboration. GIC has been in close contact with Formon and Bonevet, two other players working in the field of 3D printing which EYE has supported in the past. Whereas Bonevet is working to supply face shields similar to GIC, Formon is prototyping 3D printed ventilators for COVID-19 patients with breathing difficulties. They’re all redirecting resources towards the development of COVID-19 gear and are working together in knowledge sharing to help each-other maximize impact.

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Muamer Niksic is the Monitoring and Results Measurement (MRM) Manager for the Enhancing Youth Employment project in Kosovo. He is also the MRM Advisor to Helvetas projects in Western Balkans and Moldova. He is responsible for building and maintaining effective MRM systems guided by the DCED Standard for Results Measurement as well as capacity building of project’s staff. His previous experience consists of work for various development projects in fields of education, social inclusion and economic development.
Programme Manager, East Europe, South Caucuses & Western Balkans; Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies