By Mattew December, Legal Intern, Cape Town
“What do you think the organisation can do for you and your personal development?” This was the stand-out question for me during my interview with ProBono.Org in Cape Town during December 2019. I thought for a second, and the answer I gave was that I had a clear indication that I wanted to be a part of this special organisation.
On 16 March 2020, it was the beginning of a new week and panic hit due to the novel coronavirus hitting South African shores at an unprecedented high. The uncertainty was visible on everyone’s faces and management engaged with staff about the fear of consulting with clients coming from all over the city and its outskirts. The support received was unbelievable as we were reassured that our health comes first and that measures would be put in place as soon as possible to protect us in the office.
After consultation with head office, management informed us that we would be working from home from 23 March and that our office would be closed indefinitely. The leadership shown by the management of the organisation was proactive and commendable as similar measures were then adopted as national policy when President Cyril Ramaphosa called a national lockdown in line with the Disaster Management Act. This illustrated the organisation’s commitment to the wellbeing of its staff.
Presently, the whole organisation has a WhatsApp support group and various support channels have been introduced at office and national level to assist every employee during these trying and uncertain times. The organisation has also shown foresight in rapidly introducing a model by which employees are able to work from home and still earn an income. It is no secret that there is presently no obligation for employers to pay salaries as staff are out of office, however ProBono.Org has continued to remunerate its employees on time since the lockdown period was declared.
It is undoubtedly a huge challenge to operate during these times, especially considering the nature of the organisation’s work and its limited resources. However, the model adopted by ProBono.Org has ensured that the organisation is able to continue with its mandate and facilitate access to justice for society’s marginalised. This is especially important as ProBono.Org has to convince donors and potential donors that the organisation is making an impact. This basically means that statistics are very important. Although the organisation offers assistance via email and WhatsApp, the majority of clients were people that visited the offices for consultations. This has of course been impossible during the lockdown, however, the organisation has introduced a hotline where people may seek assistance and the telephone and email lines continue to be operative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on almost every facet of society. The invaluable role that ProBono.Org has played in the lives and wellbeing of its employees could surely be an example to other organisations on how to boost staff morale and maintain an effective level of productivity during this time. Everyone has a role to play in countering the effects of the pandemic and lockdown and as an employer ProBono.Org has risen to the occasion and provided proactive, decisive and supportive leadership. The role the organisation has played in supporting its staff is invaluable and one can only be grateful in knowing that it has been a privilege being part of such an incredible team.