When we refer to “child well-being outcomes” in our work, what we really mean is that we want children not to be hungry; we want them to be in school and to have the freedom and energy to play and laugh; we want them not to work, not to get married, and not to experience violence of any kind. Sadly, all of these terrible things are increasing as a result of growing poverty the world over, triggered by the COVID19 pandemic.
This virus has caused the deaths of 0.018% of the world’s population, and while each one of those 1,345,070 deaths is a tragedy, the number of children whose lives will be irrevocably damaged are many multiples of that number. The World Bank has recently calculated that during 2020 an additional 131 million people will fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 per day, and that another 257 million people will fall below $3.20 per day. South Asia stands out as suffering far greater than any other region. 
Even before these stark figures were published, World Vision’s own research amongst 23,900 beneficiaries in six countries in Asia showed that one third of children were eating only one or two meals a day. Parents and carers simply did not have enough money for more food. The greatest worry for 83% of those surveyed was their livelihood and income to maintain the well-being of their families. When this survey was conducted in June, respondents were already reporting that they were sending their children out to work (8%) and to beg (4%) or were giving their children up to orphanages (4%) or to early marriage (1%). These are not particularly large percentages, but the numbers represent actual children: 239 children married off, likely to someone much older because their parents could not afford to feed, clothe, or school them. The World Bank’s more recent projections for increased poverty suggest those numbers are rising relentlessly.
As part of World Vision, VisionFund is committed to a shared strategy that is fundamentally a promise to vulnerable children. Our Promise is now entering its second phase and “Going Further” to reach children living in evermore fragile contexts. For VisionFund, this means creating financial services and products that can support people to recover the livelihoods that have been interrupted or destroyed by COVID-19.
In Uganda, for example, VisionFund extends small loans to established savings groups in the West Nile region, with most members being refugees from South Sudan and living below $1.90 a day. A member of the savings group can take a small loan ($28 on average) to buy fishing equipment or stock to sell in the market, or support other income-generating activities. COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing restrictions interrupted all such commerce, but VisionFund continued to support savings groups by rescheduling loans and providing moral support through its field workers who themselves come from the refugee and host communities.
The latest analysis shows that these savings groups have bounced back: compared to the financial records prior to receiving a loan, the most recent distribution of savings to group members has increased dramatically, between 44% and 140%. These members generally look after large numbers of children – many of the them orphans. The “Palorinya” savings group, for example, has 19 members who between them support 147 dependents, 98 of them children and 49 dependent adults. Not only does the loan assist the individual borrowers to maintain a livelihood to support these large households, but also all members of the savings group, even those that do not borrow, benefit from the increase in savings in the savings box.
Our Promise is based on four distinct aspirations for children: Girls and boys enjoy good health; are educated for life; are cared for, protected, and participating; and experience the love of God and their neighbour. These four aspirations give rise to eight target child well-being objectives from which World Vision Field Offices choose to be the focus of their individual strategies, and then build their technical programmes around those three or four objectives.
As one of the Livelihoods core project models, microfinance provided by VisionFund is recognised by World Vision to contribute to all eight child well-being outcomes:
Through its microfinance programming, VisionFund targets vulnerable households to provide access to products and services that support the development of sustainable livelihoods, building the resilience of the household and the community. Households can grow their productive assets, and can develop, diversify, and expand businesses. Parents and carers are better able to feed their children, keep them in school, pay for medical costs, improve sanitation, and protect the children from exploitation. Therefore, VisionFund contributes not only to the Livelihoods sector, but also to Health and Nutrition, Education, WASH, and Child Protection.
Integral to the livelihoods approach is behaviour change and social empowerment. Affirming people’s sense of self-worth, faith identity and aspirations, and challenging dependency and poverty mind-sets.
In politically and environmentally fragile contexts where people are exposed to significant disaster and climate risk, Livelihoods interventions focus on building social, economic and environmental resilience, and adaptive capacity. Livelihoods interventions also, as necessary, on providing temporary food and cash safety nets to ensure that vulnerable households can mitigate disaster risk effectively and avoid slipping back into poverty. VisionFund plays a critical role in such fragile contexts through the provision of recovery lending and/or refugee lending programmes. 
Written before the COVID-19 had become a global phenomenon, this affirmation of VisionFund’s contribution to child well-being objectives also applies in the livelihoods disaster that has been triggered by the pandemic.
Although VisionFund does not work directly with children and therefore cannot ourselves study first-hand the impact of microfinance, we know from what our clients tell us, from what formal research has proved, from World Vision’s own commitment to supporting clients’ livelihoods that our work is critical to the well-being of children. During this livelihoods crisis, VisionFund is working tirelessly for children because our hearts are broken “by the things that break the heart of God”.
Written by Johanna Ryan, Global Director of Impact, VisionFund International
 Guidance Notes for Microfinance Contribution to CWB Objectives January 2020
 Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision