Social mechanisms that help people adapt in positive ways to times of hardship are relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic. Different to self-protective approaches that are competitive and aimed at individual success, in Africa it is not uncommon for individuals, families and communities to flock, the purpose of which is to share resources.
Flocking is a resilience response and is triggered by groups facing similar difficulties. It entails deliberating which resources are available collectively to buffer against a particular hardship. A next step is to mobilise collectively for social support: distributing resources in ways that enable positive outcomes despite extreme difficulties (be it health, economic, education, environmental).
Flocking includes accountability mechanisms to ensure reciprocity and prevent dependence on resources from others. Flocking responses are low threshold — it is not costly given the high instances of resource constraint. Collective resilience gains traction from using low hanging fruit of whatever is available to enable wellbeing.
Examples of collective resilience responses from daily life in Africa include economic social support where people belong to a collective, such as a stokvel, to share in joint finances, bartering and lending of goods and services to support severely stretched household level incomes and assisting those with limited literacy to complete social grant documents to benefit from this stream of income.
Health support examples include home-based care visits to oversee care and treatment regimens, offering transport to take acquaintances to clinics or hospitals and maintaining vegetable gardens at schools to supplement the nutrition of children and their families.
Education support includes teachers providing children with uniforms or stationary from a school pool (or their pockets), and unemployed youth assisting siblings or others with homework.
Emotional support includes neighbours assisting with chores and homework when caregivers may be too ill to do this themselves, or gathering for spiritual support to sing and pray.
Global responses to Covid-19 disturbances mirror these resilience responses in Africa. The collective hardship has similarly led to collective wellbeing strategies. Worldwide there are examples of people flocking together to share resources and promote wellbeing. To buffer against health needs schools are using 3-D printers to produce much-needed masks, groups of scientists are sharing usually competitively secret data to speed-up vaccine solutions. To address economic vulnerability countries are implementing plans for tax relief, unemployment benefit support and funding to support small businesses. Citizens and corporates alike are donating collectively to solidarity funds to counter extreme economic need. Responses to education needs are being addressed by global publishers and IT companies providing free learning and teaching materials and platforms. Emotional support comes in the form of people connecting online and using social media to comfort and motivate others.
Naturally fight, flight, faint and swarm also constitute Covid-19 distress responses. People swarm hysterically to bulk-buy groceries. Some take flight in denial and rebel against social isolation and collective hygiene practices. Frustration is evident in angry fight responses by police and citizens.
But what is evident in Covid-19 responses around the world, in homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, countries and continents, is that social support matters to mitigate the effects of collective hardship.
Professor Liesel Ebersöhn, director of the Centre for the Study of Resilience at the University of Pretoria and secretary general of the World Education Research Association, is a leading scholar globally in resilience-promotion in poverty settings