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Corona, the Butterfly that Flapped its Wings

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

“It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?” Extract from Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction story, A Sound of Thunder.

According to chaos theory, the events that result in global changes are not big events such as wars, natural disasters, despots, dictators, and mass migration. It is rather the tiny things. A butterfly can flap its wings in one part of the world and cause a typhoon elsewhere. This phenomenon, known as the butterfly effect, is an effective lens in viewing and understanding the impact of events on economies, markets, and society.

The novel Corona virus, a tiny virus viewed only through an electron microscope, became known as the great pandemic, which laid bare pre-existing social conditions and ambiguities of development and funding in its various forms, shaped and exacerbated by neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism, and current democratic policies and systems.


The ambiguities revealed by the Corona virus displayed the discrepancies between what was said and realities on the ground, and unmasked the intentions of key role players. Social development courted the decadent discourse of philanthropy, corporate or individual, with layered lines bordering on “reputation laundering”, defined by Saint Louis University’s Professor David Rapach as “when a donor uses a ‘gift’ as part of a PR effort to deflect attention from unethical behavior”. The lines that permeated glossy reports stating, “We enable, we empower, we upskill, we uplift”, to mention but a few, with all or most contradicted by the stark statistics showing very little impact of the branded and leveraged dialogue.


The chasm between the rich and poor surfaced repeatedly; social distancing has always existed, with the poor and marginalised, often seen or referred to as the other, whose voices and realties rarely make it to the proverbial boardroom of decision-makers. Instead, the other remains hidden in curated PowerPoint decks and bullet points, with intermittent references of beneficiaries or recipients.

There has been deliberate sanitization of responses when questions have arisen, carefully dealt with by silencing the voices through the integration and funding of civil society organisations. These organisations’ sometimes predatory nature allowed them to perpetuate the exposed conditions justifying their ‘bed partner’ status as an economic necessity in the advancement of all that is ‘good’, without judgement and questioning of the authenticity of the giving commitment.


Corona, that tiny microscopic virus, showed everyone, poor and rich alike, the interconnectedness of the world and the inter-dependencies of all sectors of society. We needed the poor to be safe so that we could be safe. In the wake of COVID-19, many organisations stepped up their giving; hence, the negative repercussions for funders and donors: Why did it take a crisis for you to act? There was widespread suspicion on motive, because disaster sells.

Opinions and views on what was contributed differed. A mixed bag of sentiments emerged as funders/donors dipped into their pockets, ranging between appreciation of the efforts, querying why they were not doing more, and questioning society’s dependence in the first place. As long as large-scale dependency remains, the same conversation will happen at the next crisis. The need for shifting the seats of power, which in themselves have become strongholds, a tenuous arrangement between the donor and society, is imperative. A deeper scrutiny of the motive or intention of the ‘giver’ was seen, along with questioning if philanthropy / CSR / CSI were artefacts.

Artefacts built so that the powerful could brush over a multitude of transgressions and gain legitimacy for their activities and existence in the eyes of the public, whoever that public may be.


Current forms of philanthropy and CSI are challenged with alternative types of investments emerging. It starts with a fundamental truth that the development sector needs the poor. Without their ‘’yes’ or buy in the agendas, profit or otherwise, of the development sector cannot be advanced.

This thinking calls for a natural development; going to the community for wisdom and advice. This sector has used the constant rhetoric of co-creating and stakeholder engagement; if the sector believes in change then maybe it has to direct investments, by deploying authority, fully into the hands of the people. It is a bold move and takes courage especially with the risk adverse mindsets of funders and donors.

COVID-19 saw communities appealing directly to organisations with bold and creative proposals landing on practitioners desks. Maybe the power rooms need to shift; people empowered by transferring skills and practices of governance and accountability. As with any organisation, there is no guarantee that the corrupt will not exist, but a start needs to be made somewhere, something new needs to be tried. Mistakes will be made along the way but at least real inclusion would be demonstrated, this being the missing link.


Now the precipice awaits, with a choice to remain cocooned in past mistakes and regrets, or look up and fly, knowing that “the butterfly does not look back upon its caterpillar self, either fondly or wistfully; it simply flies on” (Guillermo Del Toro). This fundamental truth from Dodinsky is worth reflecting on: “The butterfly said to the sun, ‘They can’t stop talking about my transformation. I can only do it once in my lifetime. If only they knew, they can do it at any time and in countless ways’”.

Written by Carol Paton Contact: Email: Published: 01 September 2020


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