As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to afflict millions of people while disrupting every aspect of civil society, the world has been unified in creating and innovating solutions to support response efforts; solutions that we are all waiting for—diagnostic and antibody testing, therapies, and vaccines.
But given the pandemic’s ability to bring local and national economies, much less the global economy, to a complete pause, it has also become clear that other solutions will be necessary to support an effective COVID-19 response- financial solutions that can help workers remain included in formal economies, that can deploy capital reliably, and can preserve value chains. Such solutions can ensure that communities in the world’s most vulnerable markets will be able to manage the long-term economic implications, as well as the immediate threats to their economies and public health.
With UNCDF’s history, capability and commitment to supporting financial health, and with the thought leadership and support of MetLife foundation , the question we had to contend with was how should we repurpose to play a role in confronting COVID-19. Through our i3 program in Malaysia and China, we learned that there were multiple answers to the question.
Enhancing job opportunities while prioritising health : GoGet Malaysia
The Malaysian government instituted a movement control order (MCO) on March 18th, prohibiting all forms of non-essential movement in the country and requiring people to keep indoors. As of this writing, the MCO will be in force until May 12th.
GoGet is an on-demand workforce technology supported by UNCDF that addresses gig worker’s needs. The mission and model of GoGet focuses on driving the financial health of low and moderate income “GoGetters,” a network of verified people performing part time jobs through the GoGet platform. With the onset of COVID-19, GoGet — and for that matter, UNCDF — had an opportunity to strengthen their financial health programming on the platform, particularly as an important component of financial health is protecting income flows.
The company responded by reaching out to businesses and universities to onboard new GoGetters through an online training program. At the same time, GoGet continued to assist existing GoGetters with earning opportunities that became especially relevant during the lockdown, including contactless deliveries. During this time, GoGet also prioritised the health and safety of GoGetters and the wider community by enforcing contactless deliveries and restricting door-to-door deliveries to high-rise buildings.
UNCDF is also supporting SaphX Technologies, which hosts a savings app called Pod on several platforms including GoGet. GoGet has noticed a surge in savings through Pod during the MCO period, with total weekly savings peaking at RM 4,700 a week (USD 1,088).
Supporting migrant laborers with digital platforms: Merchantrade
Malaysia is home to approximately 6 million migrant laborers who are especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19. This was why UNCDF looked to leverage its partnership with Merchantrade Asia, Malaysia’s leading money services business operator. As an emerging player in the digital payment space, Merchantrade offers a whole suite of financial products for the unbanked segment which includes prepaid cards and digital wallets as well as money transfer and insurance products. Through our partnership, we have been able to support Merchantrade in pushing their digital products, providing more migrant workers with a reliable means to remit money outside Malaysia to their families as well as an insurance cover to assuage income losses due to COVID-19.
UNCDF and Merchantrade Asia have also been able to leverage the partnership to provide a digital delivery platform that offers healthcare services to migrants in Malaysia. The response includes spreading awareness about the pandemic, providing migrants with healthcare services such as online medical consultations, e-pharmacy and a self-health assessment facility based on symptoms, and hospitalization on a need basis. These joint initiatives to protect migrant workers in the fight against coronavirus were kickstarted not just to promote digital finance and health applications, but to also educate them on how to manage their health and finances during times of crisis. The health engagement has been additionally supported by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Assisting Rural Farmers and Aiding Food Delivery: CD Finance
China was the first country to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to shuttered businesses and disrupted supply chains all over China. This put tremendous pressure on rural farmers who eked out a living through food delivery to major cities such as Beijing.
In China, UNCDF is partnering with CD Finance to offer digital credit to rural farmers, particularly women, on the basis of data-driven credit scoring models. CD Finance responded by briskly ramping up its online delivery platform and ground- level resources to supply major cities like Beijing with produce. As of April 22nd, CD Finance delivered 235,000 kilos of vegetables from the rural parts of China to urban Beijing, thereby moderating price effects and helping to quell panic-buying by the public. Disruptions to the vegetable supply chains were therefore minimized and CD Finance’s rural customers were able to economically sustain themselves during this time.
In addition, CD Finance adjusted its credit line by making modifications to its digital lending platform and relaxing its loan requirements. Farmers could now access loans up to 30,000 yuan (USD 4,200) through a streamlined digital lending platform with limited documentation. Existing borrowers benefitted from partial or full waivers in interest costs on a case-to-case basis and family members of deceased borrowers during the pandemic were completely exempted from interest and principal payments.
Financial Health in the Post COVID-19 Era
For all the challenges that COVID-19 created in Malaysia and China, it is the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) that are likely to experience the worst impacts. Before COVID-19, GDP growth in the LDCs, while outpacing global growth, was below the levels necessary to reverse extreme poverty by 2030. Now with COVID-19, the expected economic contraction will likely mean that the goal of delivering sustainable development to the LDCs will be that much harder.
While UNCDF is focusing on leveraging digital solutions to confront the COVID-19 virus, we are also focusing on the period after COVID-19. Our vision is to focus on digital solutions that can help improve the financial health of end consumers beyond just financial inclusion – solutions that will equip millions of people to use innovative digital services that will empower them in their daily lives and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
In either case, whether it is ensuring that sustainable development reaches the last mile or responding to this once-in-a-century public health crisis, UNCDF is ready to play its role, work with its partners, and support communities and businesses drive financial health for end consumers in the LDCs and beyond.
Read about other COVID-19 initiatives that UNCDF is currently supporting.