SNV helps communities respond to the crisis and build resilience

Corn Stall

A blog from our CEO Meike van Ginneken.

2020 will be the first year since 1998 that the global rate of poverty increases. After 22 years, millions of people living in poverty face the greatest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it triggers.

This makes SNV’s mission to help people living in poverty to lift their incomes and access basic services even more important. SNV is well-positioned to help communities respond to the COVID-19 crisis and become more resilient. Our long-term presence in over 25 low-income and lower-middle-income countries means we have acted quickly with customised approaches considering the circumstances.

In the past three months, as the pandemic moved through the countries we work in, first in Asia, then in Africa and Latin America, our teams remained operational in all countries we call home. We continue to provide practical know-how to make a lasting difference. We do this in novel ways. We adapt in small ways – by implementing our activities while social distancing – and in big ways – by adjusting our projects to support governments and companies in these challenging times.

I am deeply impressed by how creative our teams have been in continuing to work with communities, firms, local civil society and governments while keeping physical distancing in mind to protect our communities, staff, and partners.

We continue working – at a safe distance

Our teams are scaling up our digitized solutions, something we have invested in in the past few years. Working through electronic means has become vital during this pandemic.

For instance, in Ghana, our Boosting Green Employment and Enterprise Opportunities in Ghana (GrEEn) team is blending online and offline learning tools for skills development and entrepreneurship courses so youth can find jobs or start their own business. Our focus has shifted to technologies and inclusive, climate-smart business models in the sectors of agriculture, that will be in demand as the country exits from the crisis and starts to build back a better and sustainable future.

A good example of how we have invested in digitization in the past years is the STAMP (Sustainable Technology Adaptation for Mali’s Pastoralists) project in Mali. In its first phase, from 2015 to 2018, we improved the resilience of 55,000 pastoralists affected by extreme climate events through the use of geo-satellite data. The second phase of the project is even more relevant as government's corona restrictions affect pastoralist communities. We are now implementing similar public-private partnerships across the Sahel to develop additional information content services and extend the geographical service coverage. We are applying the know-how we developed in STAMP in many other projects.

We also continue to interact face-to-face. Protecting our communities, our partners, and our own staff often means reducing group sizes of trainings and consultations and always means keeping a safe distance. For instance, in Uganda, our team and local partners continue to promote proper hand hygiene and work with water user committees to protect water sources. This campaign also allows us to disseminate COVID-19 messages in cooperation with the Ministry of Water.

community meeting

The private firms we work with are also showing their creativity. In Uganda, we partner with TRAFORD, a limited company engaged in oil seed production, bulking and marketing through our CRAFT project to support 5,000 smallholder farmers increase their production through the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies. TRAFORD adjusted its training of trainers schedule and seed distribution in line with government restrictions on public gatherings. The company is already looking ahead to ensure that training for the farmers is undertaken once seed distribution is completed and has set up 38 demonstration gardens as training sites for the 1,250 out growers targeted.

We combine response with resilience

Our projects combine short-term mitigation measures without losing perspective of medium-term sustainability dimensions. Although it may seem counter-intuitive in periods of emergency, a long view could be decisive for African countries. Vulnerable people live in continuous crisis: short-term interventions should help them in pragmatic and sustainable ways. Our immediate engagement to manage the immediate shocks is vital for social and economic stability. It also is the basis to work on underlying approach aiming at recovery and resilience. We continue to address institutional, financial and capacity issues to change the underlying systems that trap people into poverty.

Our COVID-19 responses piggy-back on already developed approaches, outreach structures, communication and capacity building. WASH is the first line of defence against communicable diseases like COVID-19. It is not simply about having access to a handwashing facility with soap and practising proper hand hygiene at critical times. It is also about ensuring the continuity and quality of water and sanitation services. How could you wash your hands without water? A good example of our approach is our work with the Government of Lao PDR on its COVID-19 response for rural households in the Savannakhet province is part of SNV's Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All programme in Lao PDR. With support from the Australian Government’s Water for Women Fund. In the past weeks, we have stepped up on communication campaigns for handwashing within the framework of our integrated rural sanitation approach.

We keep evolving

As the crisis evolves, so do our approaches. We do not know what is in store for the countries we work in. We will adapt as the health, social, economic and security situation changes. We ensure the continued delivery of our existing project interventions. We work with our donors to assess implications of the pandemic and adjust our projects.  We do this with full agility with our extensive on-the-ground track record which makes it possible for us to adjust our approaches when circumstances change on the ground. We constantly renew because this pandemic has demonstrated once again that we have much work to do.