“Open Cities Lab (OCL) had a year of remarkable growth in all areas, which is a strange sentence to write with the backdrop of the global pandemic.
We experienced being pushed to the limit by the instability and unpredictability of the year. Both personally and professionally, the team and our partners experienced significant difficulties and challenges. Despite that, we were well placed to intervene directly in supporting our communities in the pandemic across our impact pillars.
In terms of building government capacity, we were able to work intensively with eThekwini and Cape Town in many areas of COVID-19 planning and implementation. We directly supported informal settlement communities through our work in Check-IT with VPUU, and assisted IBP in digitisation and data analysis in the Asivikelane project in terms of empowering citizens. We also kicked off a critical trust and accountability initiative in the Africa Data Hub, which is OCL’s first continental-focussed project.
In addition to this, our normal work continued and the organisation resumed its role in the Future Cities South Africa project. The work with them allows for deep and extensive interventions in key areas in the eThekwini and Cape Town municipalities. This meant that OCL continued to experience substantial growth in terms of our impact and initiatives due to our budget growing over four times to around R19 million. As well as our focus and region of impact growing to be continental, our team and partners needed to grow substantially to meet the demand. Through this growth, our focus has been on strategy and ensuring our team is cared for, that our processes are able to handle this growth and translate into impact, and that we grow leaders and capabilities across our ecosystem. This is in keeping with our principle of building the kingdoms around us and letting them, in turn, build ours.
This year certainly took its toll on our team with serious personal and professional challenges across the board. Disrupted ways of working, general tensions in partners from the stress of the state of affairs, and so many video calls exerted immense pressure on everyone in many ways. A major focus for us has been team care, ensuring we have mechanisms for team members to access counselling, support for emotional, physical and mental health and wellness, and trying to encourage breaks and adapting our ways of working to reduce the load on everyone. We are blessed with an amazing team and are extremely grateful for the support we have received from all of our funders and supporters over the course of the year.
In summary, it was a year of juxtaposition, of growth and refinement and focus on people, process and strategy. All of this in the midst of the most challenging environment we have had to face to date. The extent to which the organisation handled this year gives me a sense of excitement at the year to come as we continue in this mission.”