At the time of the writing of this text, 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. Developing economies and their communities are seeing a compounding of 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.
COVID-19 is revealing social and political leadership deficits on the one hand, while on the other, people power is rising in the form of community generosity, organized action, and social innovation. In line with this, we must pose and answer uncomfortable questions, with more honesty and courage than ever before: How do we design programs that are resilient while ensuring the resilience of those we serve? How do funders become equal partners and address power inequities in current development models? 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 #SEEP2020 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. It is with this in mind that we encourage SEEP members to partner with grassroots and community-based organizations in their Learning Space Concepts and propose innovative ways of bringing their voices to the virtual convening.
COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on livelihoods and employment. Marginalized and highly vulnerable households 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 become more resilient. Equitable and sustainable market-based solutions in the economic aftermath of COVID-19 mandates collaboration, coordination and partnerships between humanitarian, development and peace actors on a scale never seen before. It also requires continuous investment in and support of local leadership at all levels. This technical stream posits that connecting the nexus for market-based programming is no longer an aspiration - it is an imperative.
The global health crisis poses real risks to four decades of progress in financial inclusion. As markets falter and livelihoods are decimated, it is likely that tens of millions of low-income clients will simply be unable to pay back their loans, microfinance institutions will fail, and microfinance investment funds will falter. Moreover, unprecedented capital flight is expected from emerging markets. Some of these 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 technical stream will explore early response and recovery efforts at the level of the client, the institution and the financial ecosystem in emerging markets, and provide some suggested avenues to deal with this new reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses crucial health and economic risks to Savings Groups and their members. It also poses profound risks to the diverse range of programs and institutions that work with Savings Groups. Is the COVID pandemic an existential crisis for a community-based microfinance model based on frequent contact between members? And if it is, what are the implications?
We are on the cusp of a major disruption; and the near future will undoubtedly be defined by increased experimentation. How stakeholders plan, execute, document, assess and share the results of this period of forced innovation may very well determine what the sector looks like a decade from now.
This stream will explore how best to support Savings Groups and their members during this crisis, and how to effectively engage them in community-level response efforts. We will also explore the emerging plans of sector stakeholders to build back better.
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. The COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbates existing barriers that exclude people but also 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. Furthermore, as many services expand digital delivery methods in response to limitations on in-person interaction, lack of access to connectivity (including both hardware and network access) can further accentuate the digital divide and exclude certain groups from the onset.
This technical stream will explore what considerations an inclusive response should entail under such conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic exposes vulnerabilities and inequality in existing social, political and economic systems – including the global development system – we ask ourselves: What does building back better mean through an inclusion lens?