Caring for our clients during COVID-19
By Johanna Ryan, Global Director of Impact, VisionFund International
The effects of COVID-19 on human health and the projections of numbers affected are frightening. Yet with the numbers and location of contagion changing daily and hourly, the extent of the impact can be analysed only through mathematical modelling. For VisionFund, our preparations are based on the impact of COVID-19 specifically on the communities we support. For rural communities and families living in poverty, the effects on health will be personal tragedies; however, the expected effects on local economies will be even more alarming.
Many people will become too ill to work, and many more will be prevented from pursuing their livelihoods. This means incomes will plummet. Because our clients are living in poverty, they are already vulnerable. They will become more vulnerable to sustained shocks, and their children most of all. Children will suffer, not just from COVID-19, but from economic deprivation with crippling social effects.
For VisionFund this is a call to action: to concentrate all our expertise, skills, and resources to preserve livelihoods during this crisis, and ensure the security of livelihoods and the wellbeing of children now, in the foreseeable future, and for the long-term. As part of World Vision’s livelihoods programming, we are ready to respond in partnership.
Already the impact of this pandemic is affecting the farmers, micro-entrepreneurs, and small and growing business owners that VisionFund supports. With states of emergency declared in Ecuador, Peru, Serbia, and Kosovo; with partial and complete lock-downs throughout our Asia network; and with travel restrictions in Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and more to come, VisionFund’s clients are already struggling to maintain their livelihoods and their income. Farmers cannot sell their produce when food supply chains are broken; market traders have no regular markets; hairdressers, café-owners, and motorcycle taxi-drivers have few customers.
Photo: VisionFund Myanmar staff stand ready to greet clients
These families have little or no buffer. If they have no support, what savings they have will quickly disappear, and families will be forced to sell their assets – chickens, mattresses, farm equipment – to pay for vital necessities such as food and healthcare. Families already in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day, may quickly become destitute. Even families living on double or triple that measure will fall into extreme poverty if their livelihoods are not preserved.
With its existing financial resources, VisionFund is helping our 1.1 million clients and the 3.5 million children we care for across 28 countries through a variety of services and products appropriate to the client and the environment:
- All penalties for late payments have been stopped.
- For business owners who can keep their livelihoods going, albeit with reduced turnover, VisionFund can provide working capital loans on terms that allow the business to generate a profit for the family.
- For families who simply cannot repay an existing loan, VisionFund can reschedule the loan, according to the needs of each client on a case-by-case basis.
- For clients in crisis, VisionFund can provide an emergency loan.
- By providing credit and advice to formal savings groups, VisionFund enables communities to maintain cohesion and continue to build social capital.
- In countries where repayment moratoria are imposed, VisionFund staff will maintain relationships with clients to provide support and advice, and to show the commitment of VisionFund to the client and the community, ready and able to help when the local crisis eases.
- Where clients are affected by the virus and are unable to work, VisionFund can write off the loan; and, in the devastating case of death, may be able to cover funeral costs from the credit life policy.
Photo: VisionFund Myanmar installed handwashing areas in many communities.
Most importantly, VisionFund seeks in all cases to reduce and avoid contributing to the stress that families will feel in midst of this crisis:
- VisionFund field staff are in regular contact with clients, increasingly by telephone, to provide encouragement, support, and advice for maintaining their livelihoods. Each VisionFund branch around the world is keeping track of the trends emerging so that at local, national, and global level we can be agile in adapting our response to the needs of families and communities.
- With access to the expertise and resources of World Vision’s humanitarian relief programmes, VisionFund can refer clients in crisis for further assistance.
VisionFund is well versed in disaster response. After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, and when the rains started to fall after recent years’ droughts in East Africa, VisionFund responded with recovery loans to help businesses rebuild to pre-disaster level, and to enable farmers to buy seeds, animals, and other supplies. In the Philippines, 96% of clients reported that the recovery loans helped to restore their livelihoods. Because VisionFund had sufficient loan capital – provided by grants and donors – the MFI and their clients together were able to survive the crisis.
VisionFund is part of all the communities where we work. We have a vital role during this crisis to use our expertise and resources to help local families provide and care for their children, and to support World Vision as we come together under God.