On March 31, 2020, I presented SEDPI’s community assessment at the the United Nation Women’s conference entitled, “Economic Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Women: Current Insights, Prospects for Recovery and Resilience Building.”
SEDPI is a group of social enterprises that provides capacity building and social investments to development organizations and directly to microenterprises. Today, I will share to you the community assessment we conducted first when the community quarantine started on March 14; and an updated community assessment we recently concluded yesterday – two weeks after.
We serve 6,600 microenterprises in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur, two of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. Most of our members, about nine in ten, are women with an average age of 42. These women are typically into vending, farming, fishing, dress making, selling food and livestock bakyard raising.
In conducting quick community assessment to determine the economic impact of COVID-19 to our members, we asked them whether their business was unaffected, weakened or stopped. We also asked if they or or any of their family experienced symptoms of COVID-19. The tables show the results of our survey.
With families having to stay home, four out of ten microenterprises stopped operating their business because of COVID-19 on the second week of the lockdown. This is double the figure compared to the first week.
Another four out of every ten experienced decline in their business on the second week of lockdown. This is the same level as the first week. By the second week of lockdown, 80% of microenterprises or the informal sector were negatively affected from 60% during the first week.
Many livelihoods have been affected due to the following:
• Inability to buy supplies to keep their business going
• Traveling is difficult because some barangays prohibit entry of non-residents; and other can’t go to work since place of work is on locked down
• Few to no buyers of goods and services because schools and business operations are closed
• Few to no transport vehicles because of the lack of passengers
• Delay in salaries of spouse or other household earners
The good news in the community assessment was that none of the SEDPI members and their families reported symptoms of COVID-19. It is important to have quarantine measures to contain the spread of the virus. However, it is also important to take into account the well-being of most low-income groups and provide them enough economic support and social safety nets.
The sudden implementation of quarantine is difficult for microenterprises. Many of them earn only enough to meet their daily needs and are living a hand-to-mouth existence. A lot have not yet received assistance from the government and have no food due to loss of source of income
So what happens now?
It is important that emergency relief is distributed to families and make sure that there’s enough food on the table. Microfinance institutions can do this efficiently and almost instantly as shown during the relief operations of Typhoon Yolanda.
SEDPI started moratorium of loan collections since March 14. We’re also taking this opportunity to shift from conventional microfinance to social microfinance. We will transform all loans we extended as capital to our members and treat them as business partners rather than maintain a creditor-debtor relationship.
This strategy is very similar to Islamic finance and we’re trying to adapt more inclusive financing strategies to our members.
We would also like for government and development organizations to use microfinance inatitutions as conduits for unconditional cash transfers to avoid red tape, patronage politics and corruption. Microfinance institutions are rooted well in communities and have vast network to penetrate arease suitable for distribution of government assistance as well as for information dissemination.
What happens after the community quarantine?
Government and development organizations should provide pay for work programs to spur local economic development. It would also be good to lobby with SSS and Pag-IBIG to make their calamity loans zero percent since these are drawn from the personal contribution of members anyway.
It is also important to focus more on financial inclusion to make sure that bank accounts are opened for all low income fanilies so that they can easily access cash transfers and cash relief. This will and ensure that funds truly land in the pockets of the vulnerable.
In relation to this, even more basic is to streamline processes for low income groups to get government identification documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and licenses. This pandemic highlights that access to basic services starts with identity.
It is also high time to have universal disaster insurance since the Philippines ranks high in the World risk index. This will make us better prepared for disasters and pandemics in the future.
Channeling resources to help microenterprises and the informal sector will make our nation better poised to recover faster from the negative effects of COVID-19.
#WomenRiseAboveCovid @unwomenasia @EU_Commission
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