Empower communities to fight the challenges of COVID-19

By Bonaventure Fandohan, Area of Focus Manager for Community Economic and Development

COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the working class of the world, especially in developing countries. In addition to the threat to public health, the pandemic harms the long-term livelihoods and wellbeing of millions. While the ultimate outcome is still uncertain, the pandemic will result in setbacks across the vast majority of emerging market and developing economies.  

The latest International Labor Organization (ILO) data on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the labor market reveals the devastating effect on workers in informal economies, on hundreds of millions of enterprises worldwide due to partial or total lockdowns, and on the hospitality industry. 

In the article, Turning back the Poverty Clock, Brookings Institute estimates the number of poor will rise from 420 million to 580 million. “As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General. “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing. They have no savings or access to credit. These are the real faces of the world of work. If we don’t help them now, these enterprises will simply perish”.

The global family of Rotary is well positioned to support and empower struggling neighbors, near and far. Assessing communities during COVID-19 will require innovative, careful planning but Rotary members can still identify the most vulnerable businesses in their communities before designing projects to help mitigate impact. The use of secondary data reported by local governments and community organizations is great but primary data straight from the source will give a more current view of the community.

Tips for undertaking a community assessment for community economic development projects during a pandemic

  • Go digital where possible: members should prepare to work remotely to avoid face-to-face contact as much as possible. The use of phones, Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, etc. is highly recommended for planning meetings with the project team.
  • Leverage digital surveying software. Identify alternate ways to collect data, such as distributing a digital survey virtually by WhatsApp, text messages or email instead of going door-to-door for residents and business owners to complete paper surveys. Digital surveys are commonly distributed using Google Forms, Qualtrics, or similar platforms.
  • Instead of an in-person gathering, host virtual town hall meetings with business leaders using online platforms like Zoom or Skype.
  • If in-person data collection is possible, be mindful of protecting people who are collecting the data, the participants and the surrounding communities by emphasizing safe practices that reduce risk including social distancing, wearing face masks, and promoting good hygiene.
  • Pack sanitary supplies while conducting an in-person community assessment. It is advisable to stock up on soap, hand sanitizers, facemasks, and screen-cleaning materials, especially in countries where these are still widely available. Sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol. If you will be asking the community to complete forms and write down information, bring sufficient supplies to avoid sharing pens, etc.
  • Respect local safety protocols and social distancing regulations. Adjust transportation and interview procedures as necessary.

Access to economic assets, or resources, are a key factor in the resilience of individuals, households and communities. A massive reduction of those assets will make recovery from the pandemic more challenging. Since the goal is to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19 on individuals, households and communities, it is critical for Rotary members to reduce vulnerability and to build resilience. For that reason, clubs are encouraged to focus on projects stabilizing people’s livelihoods through an emergency response (short-term solutions) with a plan to support early recovery (long-term solutions):

Short-term solutions should provide multipurpose assistance including but not limited to in-kind aid to the most vulnerable in the communities so they can meet their basic needs, prevent assets depletion and protect livelihoods activities. This could be through:

  • Food vouchers,
  • Access to medicine,
  • Transportation assistance to access health services
  • Provisions of protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitizers, etc.

Long-term solutions in a pandemic-era community economic development project should target an early recovery plan with the goal of coping with the realities facing that community.  Example include:

  • Training people for new jobs 
  • Supporting access to new and more valuable markets
  • Access to financing and micro-loans
  • Helping farmers diversify their crops
  • Supporting women to organize for new opportunities
  • Getting farmers into cooperatives, etc.

COVID-19 has changed people’s livelihoods around the world and the best approach to preserving communities’ economic assets is to reduce vulnerability and build resiliency through solutions developed jointly by clubs, residents, and local business owners.


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