Opinion: How governments can reach people in extreme poverty and build resilient livelihoods during COVID-19

Let’s begin with the good news: The international community has taken unprecedented measures to respond to the humanitarian crises triggered by COVID-19.

woman in Graduation program in Philippines works at her food stand

By Lindsay Coates

 

This piece was originally published here in NextBillion. It has been reposted below.

Since March 2020, 212 countries and territories have enacted over 1,100 social protection measures to mitigate harm from the pandemic for the most vulnerable people. Most governments recognize the urgency of an effective response and have taken proportionate fiscal measures, now estimated to total almost $12 trillion worldwide.

However, even these massive efforts may come up short. With the number of people suffering acute hunger set to double to 265 million people by year’s end, and confirmed COVID-19 cases now exceeding 40 million, the scale of current responses is still not enough. And though the political will and finances to fund social safety nets exist at a global level, individual low- and middle-income countries face resource constraints. What’s more, most of these recent social protection programs are reactive and short-term, and current international development assistance is insufficient. Many programs do not reach those most in need of support, nor do they address the long-term needs of people in extreme poverty.

What we need now is not a disconnected series of COVID-19 response measures, but instead comprehensive, universal social protection systems. Governments must invest in a robust emergency response, but approaches must be adaptable and inclusive – and they must prepare the most vulnerable populations for future economic, health or environmental shocks. Below, we’ll discuss how the Graduation approach to poverty alleviation can play a role in helping these communities and their broader economies recover from the pandemic.

 

Improving targeting of people in extreme poverty through the Graduation approach

People in the most extreme states of poverty are both the most in need of social services and among the hardest groups to reach. Many low-income populations in the Global South are employed in the informal economy – including around 86% of workers in Africa and 68% in Asia. During COVID-19, governments have struggled to provide assistance to poor households without permanent addresses or national IDs.

Low-quality data on national poverty in many low-income countries makes identifying and targeting extremely poor people with government programs even more challenging. International Growth Centre research on social assistance programs in 123 countries found that even before the chaos of the pandemic struck, only 15% of the total population of low-income countries was protected by at least one social assistance program. And these programs do not target the poorest people: Only 21% of the poorest quintile within low-income countries are covered by social assistance at all.

For the first time since 1998, global poverty rates are rising. With almost 700 million people in extreme poverty worldwide and up to 150 million more predicted to fall back into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, it is urgent that governments adapt their social protection systems to target the most economically vulnerable populations. The Graduation approach, pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh in 2002, is a viable pathway to improve these systems. Graduation is a sequenced set of interventions that addresses the needs of people in extreme poverty holistically by supporting participants with a productive asset transfer, skills training, consumption support, coaching and linkages to government services. By specifically targeting people in extreme poverty with a multi-step process tailored to local data, needs and capacity, Graduation helps bring previously unreachable populations into government safety nets.

The explicit focus of Graduation on the poorest segment of a country’s population and its emphasis on localized, adaptive targeting makes it possible for governments to reach more people in dire need. This targeting process can involve the combined use of national registries (depending on data quality), proxy means testing and participatory community wealth ranking, with targeted verification surveys to minimize errors.

By leveraging data governments already have and combining it with self-identification, community participation and survey verification, the Graduation approach makes it possible to find those in extreme poverty. It is then possible to connect these extremely poor households to government services, improving the targeting of existing social protection programs. By collecting data on vulnerable populations through Graduation programming, governments can strengthen their emergency responses as well. For instance, in Bihar, India, the state government’s Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Graduation program, supported by J-PAL South Asia, provided data on extremely poor households which has allowed the government to reach 39,000 people with phone surveys and cash transfers during the pandemic.

For an inclusive recovery from COVID-19, governments will need to identify and reach the most vulnerable – or we risk leaving millions more behind. Integrating the Graduation approach into existing social protection systems facilitates this effort, and uses delivery of emergency aid to build toward longer-term solutions. But this is only half the battle. To truly build back better, governments must also help people in extreme poverty prepare themselves for severe shocks before they happen.

 

Building resilient livelihoods during COVID-19: A case study from the Philippines

This pandemic has made the need to help the most vulnerable build resilient, sustainable, long-term livelihoods painfully clear. Market closures and lockdowns have brought much of the economic activity low-income households rely on for survival to a jarring halt. Shutdowns have led to lost income on a shocking scale, with nearly half of the 3.3 billion workers worldwide at risk of losing their livelihoods. In the third quarter of 2020 alone, the International Labour Organization projects a 12.1% loss in global working hours – the equivalent of 345 million full-time jobs.

This loss of livelihoods – combined with social safety nets which often exclude the poorest people – has sent millions to the brink of starvation. The UN World Food Programme has warned that nearly 265 million people are at risk of facing severe food shortages and starvation by the end of the year, almost twice the number of people suffering from food insecurity before the pandemic, because of income and remittance losses. Economic inclusion for extremely poor people which builds shock-resistant livelihoods and resilience is more than a matter of finances – it is a matter of survival.

The Graduation approach includes several unique mechanisms which prepare participants to better weather crises on all scales, from personal disasters to global catastrophes. We can see how Graduation has increased resilience through the case study of how the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment’s Graduation program, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and with technical assistance from BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, has adapted and supported participants during COVID-19.

Crucially, Graduation strengthens extremely poor households’ economic resilience by providing training on asset diversification. Rather than relying on low-wage informal labor, participants are guided through the process of setting up multiple streams of income from diverse agricultural and commercial activities. When one income source fails, they have others to fall back on. As of July 2020, 76% of participants in the Philippines were able to continue earning an income even during lockdown through multiple means, including agricultural labor, selling fruits and vegetables, and producing and selling charcoal.

In addition to helping participants develop varied income streams, Graduation helps them create a buffer against shocks by increasing savings. Graduation coaches link them to local financial service providers and offer financial literacy training, encouraging saving and long-term planning. During COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines, 75% of participants used their savings to support their households, while only 20% took out loans. (For comparison purposes, at the start of the program, only 29% of participants reported having savings.)

Self-sufficiency in income and savings ensures that people in extreme poverty can provide for themselves to some extent, even during a crisis like COVID-19. Graduation also increases the effectiveness of existing social assistance programs by connecting previously excluded households to government services. In the Philippines, 96% of Graduation pilot participants received cash assistance from the national government. Graduation coaches are serving as an important linkage between participants and their local governments. If participants receive aid in the form of financial support from the government, the coaches record and track this information in order to build on the saving practices taught throughout the program. On average, cash assistance programs in lower-middle income countries reach less than 70% of the poorest quintile of the population, making this level of coverage particularly encouraging.

 

The path to a resilient recovery

The government-led Graduation program in the Philippines demonstrates the impact of correctly identifying people in severe need, connecting them to social protection systems, and helping them build shock-resistant livelihoods. The approach does more than improve access to emergency aid and provide for basic health and nutritional needs. It empowers participants to escape the poverty trap and become agents of change in their households and communities.

To mitigate economic disasters of this magnitude and prevent them from harming millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, governments must strengthen existing social protection systems. Even the most generous programs are missing the people who need help the most. As a result, hundreds of millions of people globally are being left behind, and those that receive support often only get it after disaster has struck. Policymakers and the development community need to design better-targeted poverty eradication programs with a long-term focus that enable marginalized groups to become more resilient and self-sufficient. The Graduation approach provides a path to do that.

 

Lindsay Coates is Managing Director at BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative.

Webinar: Food and income security amid COVID-19 — what is the data telling us?

A set of rapid assessments on food and income security across ten countries reveals striking patterns

BRAC has conducted four rapid assessments on food and income security across ten countries in Africa and Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic. This webinar dives into the findings and shares how we can apply the learnings to enable the most vulnerable to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. The webinar features key BRAC leadership and staff; including Sajedul Hasan, Director of Humanitarian Programs; Ruth Okowa, Africa Regional Director; Kazi Eliza Islam, Associate Director of Monitoring and Program Quality; and Dr. Munshi Sulaiman, Africa Regional Research Lead.

Opinion: A cataclysm of hunger, disease, and illiteracy

A pandemic of suffering follows on the heels of COVID-19 in poor countries, and children suffer most.

By Nicholas Kristof

 

Below is en excerpt of a piece originally published in The New York Times. Click here to view the full piece.

We think of Covid-19 as killing primarily the elderly around the world, but in poor countries it is more cataclysmic than that.

It is killing children through malnutrition. It is leading more people to die from tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. It is forcing girls out of school and into child marriages. It is causing women to die in childbirth. It is setting back efforts to eradicate polio, fight malaria and reduce female genital mutilation. It is leading to lapses in vitamin A distribution that will cause more children to suffer blindness and die.

The U.N. Population Fund warns that Covid-19 may lead to an additional 13 million child marriages around the world and to some 47 million women being unable to get access to modern contraception.

The greatest impact of Covid-19 may be not on those whom the virus directly infects, but on those shattered by the collapse of economies and health and education systems in developing countries. Many schools and clinics are closed, medicines for AIDS and other ailments are sometimes unavailable, and campaigns against malaria and genital mutilation are often suspended.

“The indirect impact of Covid-19 in the Global South will be even greater than the direct impact,” Dr. Muhammad Musa, executive director of BRAC International, an outstanding Bangladesh-based nonprofit, told me. “The direct impact, as tragic as it is, affects those infected and their families. The indirect impact has economic and social consequences for vastly more people — with jobs lost, families hungry, domestic violence up, more children leaving school, and costs over generations.”

Opinion: Three lessons from the Global South on combating the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more people around the world are struggling during lockdowns and economic shutdowns.

By Dr. Muhammad Musa

 

This piece was originally published here in The New Humanitarian. It has been reposted below.

The coronavirus could nearly double the number of people facing acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme. Recent data collected by BRAC reveals that many families across the Global South can only sustain their food needs for seven days or less; many are trying to cope by eating less.

Top-down measures to curb the spread of the virus – dramatic steps like lockdowns and bans on large gatherings – pose an immediate threat to families in the poorest communities.

Even in developed countries, local opposition to top-down decrees is undermining the impact of public health initiatives. Resistance to these mandates will only grow if they are not tempered with solutions and leadership from the hardest-hit communities.

The key to turning this resistance around, and dealing with a pandemic long term, lies in the Global South. What’s needed is a renewed commitment to community engagement, rather than top-down mandates. The Global South has great experience on which to draw. Here are three examples that have proven effective.

First, local leaders – elected, civic, or religious, in various combinations depending on the community – must be consulted when creating public health strategies. Their concerns must be heard and addressed. In the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, for instance, many Rohingya religious leaders are working with BRAC to use their platforms to share life-saving information and dispel myths about COVID-19.

This is an age-old principle of community development, but in the rush to stop the spread of the virus too many officials around the world forgot about it and simply issued decrees. In India, for instance, when the government called on 1.3 billion people to stay home for three weeks, millions were left stranded, without work, and potentially hungry.

Second, existing community networks must be engaged. Community health workers are a great example: These are trusted, trained workers who live in the communities they serve. They can be especially persuasive in informing residents and convincing them to adopt needed measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing.

Half of BRAC’s 100,000 frontline staff and volunteers across 11 countries are community health workers. During the pandemic, we’ve found they’ve been vital in working with local leaders to raise awareness about COVID-19 and to enact preventive measures.

Non-governmental organisations and other civil society groups have a crucial role to play. They are a vital link between centralised policy conversations and grassroots networks.

Third, hard-won experience with health crises is a powerful asset. In West African countries with a history of Ebola, for instance, adopting social distancing and other public health measures has been far easier. People who went through that emergency – both decision-makers and the public – understood more quickly what was at stake and what was needed. People knew where to turn for trusted information and how to respond.

COVID-19 isn’t the first public health crisis we’ve seen, and it won’t be the last. Large populations depend on daily wages to put food on the table. Economic activity and public health measures must co-exist.

We need to involve local leaders in crucial public health decisions to develop interventions that work. Solutions that rise up are better than those that drop down.

 

Dr. Muhammad Musa is a physician, public health expert, and Executive Director of BRAC International, a Bangladesh-based NGO.

Opinion: From Cox’s Bazar — how to address refugee needs amid COVID-19

BRAC’s Hasina Akhter shares insights from her work responding to COVID-19 in the largest refugee settlement in the world.

A mother with her child in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

By Hasina Akhter

 

This piece was originally published here in Devex. It has been reposted below.

Addressing the needs of the largest refugee settlement in the world is daunting enough. Now, the challenge is compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. The combination is a crisis within a crisis.

The largest refugee settlement in the world is in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where around 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are sheltering. As of June 30, 50 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the Rohingya settlements, but the full extent of infection is not known. The pandemic is widespread in Bangladesh — with more than 260,000 cases confirmed — and the tightly packed conditions of the camps make their residents especially vulnerable.

To address this extraordinary set of circumstances, BRAC — the largest nongovernment responder to the humanitarian crisis in Cox’s Bazar — has developed a three-pronged approach that reflects its experience creating programs in the global south by listening to those most in need. The approach may prove instructive to aid workers facing other challenging settings around the world.

 

Prioritizing primary health care

First, one of the lessons we learned from the West African Ebola crisis was the importance of maintaining essential primary health services.

More than 11,000 people died from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, but the closure of health facilities resulted in thousands more preventable deaths. Pregnant women who lacked medical care, for instance, were found lying unconscious outside of closed maternity centers. The COVID-19 pandemic similarly threatens the availability of primary health services and, with them, more lives.

Amid the pandemic, 11 health facilities we run in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, including two primary health care centers and nine health posts, are open. Each has a maternity unit providing essential health care to pregnant and lactating women, while also making contraceptives available to help reduce the risk of pregnancy and limit the number of babies being delivered during the health crisis.

To maximize safety at maternity units, each patient must call in advance to book an appointment, at which time a midwife asks questions to determine if the patient has symptoms of COVID-19. When screened patients arrive, they must immediately wash their hands, their shoes and sandals are sprayed with disinfectant, and they are met by midwives in personal protective equipment. The clinics are also sprayed with bleaching powder on a regular basis.

By maintaining and scaling primary health services, responders facing the pandemic in the most challenging situations can reduce excess preventable deaths.

 

Innovating to adapt preventive measures

Second, aid groups should prioritize adapting preventive measures for challenging contexts, such as facilitating hand-washing without running water in environments where water is scarce.

Masks are also a critical preventive tool. Amid global shortages of personal protective equipment, one innovative solution has found a way to provide masks for refugee families.

Through a program funded by UN Women and led by BRAC, women in the camps of Cox’s Bazar are learning to make reusable cloth masks, enabling 127 refugee women to earn income to support their families while sewing masks for camp residents. Mask-making began in April and operates in women’s centers in two camps, with hygiene measures maintained to keep the women safe from the virus. Together, refugee women have made more than 30,000 masks.

By adopting creative and cost-effective preventive solutions that enable hand-washing and mask-wearing in even the most under-resourced contexts, we can save countless lives.

 

Spreading essential knowledge through community-based outreach

Finally, the need to educate the public is essential and ongoing. This has two key components: conveying vital information about COVID-19 and dispelling myths that can become dangerous.

In Cox’s Bazar, we must draw on the expertise of the refugee camps’ community health workers, who are part of the largest nongovernmental pool of community health workers in the world. These health workers, who live and work in the communities they serve, are trained to make regular visits to households, provide basic health information and screenings, and link the households to institutional care.

Since the onset of COVID-19, community health workers have played a critical role in sharing information about how the virus spreads, educating refugee families on its symptoms, and instructing them on what to do if they get sick. Community health workers know the ins and outs of the refugee settlements and how people communicate within them, enabling them to dispel rumors and myths about the spread of the virus.

Responding to COVID-19 in an already dire humanitarian crisis is an unprecedented challenge. Refugee needs are extraordinary without a pandemic, and COVID-19 only adds to the complexity. But by using lessons learned from experience providing health services, engaging refugees in taking preventive measures, and drawing on the network of community health workers, we can help create the conditions needed to defeat the pandemic.

 

Hasina Akhter is area director for BRAC in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She currently oversees the organization’s multisector response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. She previously served with BRAC as country director for Uganda, where she led BRAC’s holistic suite of development and humanitarian interventions in the country, including a response to the Ebola outbreak and a portfolio of activities to support South Sudanese refugees.

A quarter of Bangladesh is flooded. Millions have lost everything.

The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.

By Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik

 

Below is en excerpt of a piece originally published in The New York Times. Click here to view the full piece.

Torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh, washing away the few things that count as assets for some of the world’s poorest people — their goats and chickens, houses of mud and tin, sacks of rice stored for the lean season.

It is the latest calamity to strike the delta nation of 165 million people. Only two months ago, a cyclone pummeled the country’s southwest. Along the coast, a rising sea has swallowed entire villages. And while it’s too soon to ascertain what role climate change has played in these latest floods, Bangladesh is already witnessing a pattern of more severe and more frequent river flooding than in the past along the mighty Brahmaputra River, scientists say, and that is projected to worsen in the years ahead as climate change intensifies the rains.

“The suffering will go up,” said Sajedul Hasan, the humanitarian director of BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh that is distributing food, cash and liquid soap to displaced people.

BRAC addresses devastation from Cyclone Amphan amid COVID-19 in Bangladesh

Response and recovery efforts supported by $300,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

BRAC responds to Cyclone Amphan

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — In the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, the super cyclonic storm that devastated coastal communities in Bangladesh in late May, BRAC has been carrying out response and recovery efforts, made more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 200,000 homes reportedly destroyed or damaged, families sought refuge in neighboring homes and shelters, increasing the chance of contracting COVID-19 in the absence of social distancing.

BRAC has quickly started to provide multi-purpose conditional cash support (repairing of houses and latrines, and installation of tippy taps) to 4,600 cyclone-affected households to enable families to return to their own homes in 10 sub-districts in the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat. The cash assistance of approximately $60 per household is being provided by mobile money transfers in two installments. Training is also being provided to residents to install hand washing stations through demonstration efforts, maintaining social distance, so they can wash their hands safely and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Without access to clean water, it is difficult to maintain basic hygiene practices to prevent contraction of COVID-19 and diarrhea. Awareness messages on basic hygiene practices and COVID-19 infection prevention and control are being disseminated by BRAC staff, who are trained on COVID-19 prevention practices.

BRAC’s emergency response is supported by a $300,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant funded relief and recovery efforts to people suffering the impact of Amphan in Bangladesh.

BRAC’s disaster response efforts in Bangladesh have benefited from funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation several times in the last 13 years, starting with Cyclone Sidr in 2007. Most recently, the foundation provided a grant of $300,000 last year for flood relief.

“BRAC has always looked to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a key partner in our effort to provide life-saving services to the most vulnerable people, especially during humanitarian crises,” said Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC. “This support was no exception. It allowed us to mobilize resources quickly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to provide much-needed cash support to the families most affected by Cyclone Amphan so they can get back on their feet.”

 

Notes to the editor

About BRAC

BRAC is a global leader in developing and implementing cost-effective, evidence-based programs to assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings. These include initiatives in education, healthcare, microfinance, women and girls’ empowerment, agriculture, human and legal rights, and more. BRAC’s vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. In 2020, BRAC was named the number one NGO in the world by NGO Advisor for the fifth consecutive year. Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC currently operates in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, touching the lives of over 100 million people.

About BRAC USA

Based in New York, BRAC USA is the North American affiliate of BRAC. BRAC USA provides comprehensive support to BRAC around the world by raising awareness about its work to empower people living in poverty and mobilizing resources to support its programs. BRAC USA also works closely with its international counterparts to design and implement cost-effective and evidence-based poverty innovations worldwide. BRAC USA is an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

 

Media contact

BRAC USA

Sarah Allen
[email protected]

Opinion: How financial inclusion can build economic resilience in the wake of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 crisis takes a massive economic toll, financial inclusion will be critical to helping the poor recover. Microfinance institutions should work in tandem with businesses to build community resilience and boost economic growth.

Raising awareness on COVID-19 in Bangladesh

By Lewis Temple

 

This piece was originally published here in Business Fights Poverty. It has been reposted below.

COVID-19 has impacted nearly everyone around the globe, but its impacts are particularly acute for people in poverty. As governments restrict gatherings, health authorities recommend social distancing, and markets panic, the outbreak poses a disproportionate threat in the Global South.

At the same time, many microfinance institutions (MFIs) face threats to staff safety and operational viability, threatening access to financial inclusion. Microfinance is a crucial tool for poor households to smooth consumption, invest in small businesses, build resilience, and cope with shocks—shocks that today threaten to plunge half a billion people into poverty and jeopardize decades of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from governments, civil society, and the business community. Drawing on BRAC’s experience lending in crises, here are three ways that MFIs and businesses can partner to invest in local economies and communities as they face COVID-19.

 

1. Reinforcing financial resilience

Lockdown measures and social distancing regulations have drastically impacted people living in poverty. A recent rapid assessment by BRAC in nine countries across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa revealed the majority of respondents are experiencing food insecurity and sharp drops in income, and a similar survey in Bangladesh suggested household incomes have declined by 69% in urban areas and 80% in rural areas. Access to credit is critical to enable families to keep small businesses afloat and cover necessary expenses such as nutritious food, medical care, and school fees.

While social distancing regulations pose challenges for continued lending, MFIs can take several immediate steps to support families affected by the crisis, such as offering revised repayment schedules and waiving interest for borrowers struggling to repay loans. In the aftermath of West Africa’s Ebola outbreak in 2014, BRAC created flexible repayment schedules for borrowers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In a retrospective case study, BRAC found this helped borrowers bounce back after the crisis and resume businesses, ultimately enabling them to pay back their installments and take out new loans. By working hand-in-hand with businesses, MFIs could create more flexibility for clients in crisis and amplify the impact of these measures on local economies.

 

2. Engaging frontline staff

While many MFIs have closed branches and suspended loan collections and disbursements in order to safeguard clients and staff, frontline staff can still play a role as the pandemic continues. As the COVID-19 crisis escalated this spring, BRAC paused microfinance operations across seven countries for various durations in consideration staff and client safety and in line with local directives. But it has continued to pay salaries for its 34,000 frontline staff despite branch closures.

In a post-Ebola assessment, BRAC found that paying staff through closures reassured field-level staff that their jobs would still be intact after the epidemic, and as a result, they maintained regular communication with clients, helping to maintain relationships and enabling staff to more quickly re-deploy. This helped BRAC smoothly resume operations as the crisis wound down and rapidly serve clients in critical need of credit to aid in their financial recoveries. Following a similar approach for the COVID-19 pandemic, MFIs can work with businesses to invest in frontline staff and help accelerate the recovery process for the communities where they work once the crisis subsides.

 

3. Building public health awareness across communities

MFIs and their frontline staff can also play a vital role during the pandemic that is beyond their usual scope: Spreading life-saving information. Public health awareness is undoubtedly key to minimizing the health and economic toll of the pandemic, and community-based MFIs are well positioned to raise awareness among client communities that may not have access to the internet or reliable information.  By partnering with MFIs to roll out public health initiatives, businesses can mitigate the impact of the pandemic in their supply chain in a cost-effective way.

Leveraging BRAC’s last-mile network and guided by local public health recommendations, we have enlisted and trained our frontline microfinance staff to spread messages on preventing COVID-19 through hand hygiene and social distancing and distribute supplies like soap and sanitizers in client communities. A similar approach proved crucial in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak. Because BRAC’s frontline staff continued to engage with clients and connected them to lifesaving information and services, borrowers were able to bounce back more quickly after the crisis.

 

Partnering to invest in the future

It is still unclear exactly how the pandemic will unfold in the Global South and how long its effects will last. But in its aftermath, MFIs will play an important role in financing individual families and reviving local economies. As we have seen after past crises, there will be increased demand for loans to inject in businesses, buy productive assets, and boost consumption in the hardest hit communities.

Stakeholders around the globe have made tremendous progress towards the SDGs, but now that progress is at risk, and those in poverty will be hit the hardest. But through partnership, we can amplify our impact now. As MFIs navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19, injecting cash into client hands, fostering relationships with clients, and promoting public health are critical investments in local economies and communities. MFIs should work in tandem with businesses and other partners to make these investments. Together, we can amplify our impact to boost economic growth and community resilience.

 

Lewis Temple is Chief Executive Officer for BRAC UK.

Learning in a pandemic: 4 tips for parents and caregivers with young children at home

As more than a billion students around the world put their schooling on pause, families are doing more than ever to bring learning home.

Play lab leader and children in Tanzania

BY SARAH ALLEN, MIA PEREZ, AND ROSA TAYLOR

 

According to UNESCO, more than 90 percent of the world’s learners have been impacted by school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. As more than a billion children around the world are forced to put their schooling on pause, parents and caregivers are left in challenging situations, often balancing work with child care or home schooling to keep their children from falling behind.

Since 2016, BRAC Play Labs have offered quality, affordable play-based learning for children, ages three to five, in underserved communities. Play Labs deliver education through a community-based model and engage caregivers in their children’s learning beyond the classroom. Here are four tips from our Play Labs to help your family bring playful learning home.

 

 

1. Create spaces that facilitate learning

Learning environments are a crucial factor in learning. Play Labs are designed to encourage play and facilitate learning, incorporating child-friendly elements such as windows that are low to the ground and zones for different types of play, such as make-believe, music, art, and reading.

While this works for Play Labs, caregivers who are bringing learning home do not need to designate a separate room or special furniture for learning. Instead, consider creating learning spaces from regular home settings, such as a corner of a common room or an outdoor space. Try identifying areas that can be used for different purposes, such as a table for arts and crafts or a corner with floor space for play with toys. Creativity and imagination help create safe and engaging learning environments.

 

 

2. Use everyday items as low-cost learning materials

Play Labs are unique for their low-cost and sustainable learning materials. Parents and caregivers meet on a quarterly basis to decorate learning spaces and create contextually appropriate toys with locally sourced materials. For example, families in East Africa use banana leaves to create dolls, jump ropes, and balls, and in Bangladesh, families use clay to create produce for a make-believe market.

For young children transitioning to at-home learning, everyday items can be engaging play materials. Household staples like flour; dry rice, beans, or pasta; and shaving cream can be used for sensory play. Kitchen items such as pots and pans, utensils, and plastic containers can become musical instruments or building blocks and facilitate pretend play. Outdoor objects like rocks, leaves, or flowers can be used for art, science, or counting and sorting.

 

 

3. Harness play for learning and resilience

Emerging research indicates that play can promote resilience and establish a sense of normalcy for children in crisis settings. To support children, Play Labs favor playful and participatory activities over rote learning, and caregivers are encouraged to play with their children at home to support social, cognitive, and language development.

While many children have had their routines interrupted, play can help them build a new sense of normalcy. Rather than focusing on teacher or parent-led activities, caregivers can incorporate spontaneous, voluntary activities at home. Block out time for free play and follow your child’s lead. You can also incorporate playful learning into everyday activities. For example, use cooking or baking to explore numeracy skills, or practice colors and sorting while doing laundry.

 

 

4. Prioritize your mental wellbeing

A caregiver’s mental wellbeing can have a big impact on their child. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where we have adapted our Play Lab model to support children affected by the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, psychosocial support is integral. BRAC trains teachers to recognize signs of psychological distress in both children and caregivers. When necessary, the teachers refer family members for specialized support.

With major shifts in child care, employment, health, and daily life, many caregivers are facing exceptional stress. It’s important to learn to recognize and respond to stress and anxiety in our children, but also in ourselves. Mitigating your own stress using common approaches like meditation, exercise, and journaling can help you better support your child. If you need additional support, consider options like tele-counseling. This is a challenging, destabilizing time, but virtual resources are more accessible than ever.

As COVID-19 continues to impact the families we serve, BRAC is committed to protecting and engaging children and caregivers. We have paused in-person learning to ensure participant safety, and are working to adapt our education services and launch remote resources to support learning at home. Our priority is to ensure children and families keep healthy, stay connected, and continue learning throughout the pandemic.

Learn how you can support families affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Sarah Allen is Communications Officer, Mia Perez is a Program Associate for Education and Youth, and Rosa Taylor is a Program Officer for Education at BRAC USA.

Webinar: BRAC’s global response to COVID-19

Global leaders from across the BRAC family discuss COVID-19 response

Join global leaders from across the BRAC family as they discuss our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, informed by nearly 50 years of experience helping communities recover from emergencies. Moderated by Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, the webinar features Dr. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC International; Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh; and Hasina Akhter, Area Director for BRAC’s humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.