At the time of the writing of this text—in May 2020—it is entirely unclear and unpredictable how the COVID-19 pandemic will alter our world. The ramifications in the immediate term of a health crisis that has brought to a halt the entire world economy, uprooted community organizing principles, and undone social cohesion are at best too fresh to assess and at worst unimaginably difficult to even put into workable models.
Here’s what we do know: this pandemic has not been the great equalizer, because it is devastating communities around the world in very different ways. Of course, developing countries and their communities are seeing a compounding of their challenges the likes of which have not been witnessed in a century; people in countries with stronger economies are faring unevenly. Communities, where safety net programs are robust, have sprung into immediate action to support their members; in places where safety net programs and broad-based inclusion in systems—financial and otherwise—remain all but unrealized ideals, those most vulnerable before the crisis will remain even more so.
We are seeing the pandemic reveal social and political leadership deficits on the one hand, while on the other we are witnessing the rise of people power in the form of community generosity, organized action, and social innovation—all without borders. In line with this, we must insist on posing and answering uncomfortable questions: how do we design programs that are resilient as programs but more importantly ensure the resilience of those we serve? How do funders become equal partners and address power inequities in current development models? And, where and how loud is the voice of those we serve, because if their voices are not heard from the very beginning, then we have failed in our mission.
As we set out to build the AC2020 experience, we want to explore the need for radically different and disruptive forms of partnerships and development practice, because what we are up against is just as radically unknown.
COVID-19 will have devastating impacts on livelihoods and employment, and fragile, crises-affected environments will be hardest hit. Given the complexity of a truly global crisis, a systems approach to relief and recovery is the key to building back better. Market-based programming holds potential to support local markets to rebound more quickly; restore and rebuild livelihoods; foster sustainable and decent employment; and engage local market actors to drive resilience outcomes. However, the sustainability of market-based solutions in the economic aftermath of COVID-19 mandates collaboration, coordination and partnerships between humanitarian and development actors on a scale never seen before. Bridging the nexus is no longer an aspiration - it is an imperative. Can market-based programming serve as a building block for collaboration?
The global health crisis poses real risks to four decades of progress in financial inclusion. As markets falter and livelihoods are decimated, tens of millions of low-income clients will simply be unable to pay back their loans, microfinance institutions will fail, microfinance investment funds will falter, and unprecedented capital flight is expected from emerging markets. The cascading effects are already being felt. Where will the bleeding stop? Which clients and institutions will be saved? How, by whom, and who decides? This stream will explore response and recovery efforts at the level of the client, the institution and the financial ecosystem in emerging markets.
There are more than 15 million members in Savings Groups worldwide, supported by hundreds of development organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This stream will explore how best to support SGs and their members during this crisis, and how to effectively engage them in community-level response efforts. We know that Savings Groups are incredibly resourceful, adaptable and resilient – programs, much less so. How can we build more resilient systems for group formation, training and operational support?
We know that the needs of persons with disabilities, older people, women and girls, youth refugees, LGBTQI persons, and other socio-economically excluded people are severely compromised in crisis and post-crisis settings. COVID-19 introduces new barriers: a potentially fatal health threat, limitation of movement, restricted access to services, disruption to livelihoods, increased discrimination and extreme strain on social safety nets and protection systems. What does an inclusive response entail under such conditions? What should all humanitarian and development actors be doing to ensure the safety, well-being and rights of marginalized people in a pandemic? Is there potential for new principles or solutions that further inclusion and equality in a post-pandemic world?