Agile minds, quarantined bodies: Responding to socio-economic impacts of COVID-19

Informal workers are among those hit the hardest by the pandemic. UNDP Accelerator Labs are experimenting with many digital tools and platforms to unpack this challenge.

COVID-19 and the informal economy

Source: World Bank/UNICEF via Ugo Gentilini
  • The UNDP Accelerator Labs in Kenya and Uganda have mapped the integral role of mobile money not only in supporting social distancing efforts through minimizing the handling of currency but also in allowing unbanked people to access cash transfers and mutual aid schemes. Telecom companies are supporting mobile money in the crisis by waiving transaction fees and increasing transaction limits for SMEs. As we have seen in other Labs, the success of creative ways to plug excluded groups into the financial system shows that the crisis is catalyzing digital transformation.
  • Similarly, in Argentina, the team launched the #CashWithNoAccount campaign to promote tools for unbanked people to access ATMs and emergency income. They are also working on creating community currencies for marketplaces in popular neighborhoods, encouraging trade among local businesses and producers.
  • The Malaysia Accelerator Lab has analyzed the bottleneck of cash transfers and government stimulus packages and is developing solutions to ensure the money gets to the most vulnerable. They are running assessments on the effectiveness of existing social protection measures and are piloting e-commerce and cash assistance solutions to enable aid to reach more people, particularly in rural and remote areas.
Colaboratorio Ciudadano “Citizen Collaboratory”, a platform co-developed by the UNDP Accelerator Lab in Ecuador.
  • The Ecuador Accelerator Lab co-created Colaboratorio Ciudadano (“Citizen Collaboratory”), a web platform that matches people in need with others who can help through donating or swapping goods, volunteering, and crowdfunding. Rolled out in partnership with Fundación San Francisco Global, the initiative functions as an effective mapping of vulnerable communities in Ecuador. Data are collected through the registration of small businesses and producers, which also allows citizens to shop locally. As a result, we know more about where vulnerable populations are located, and the federal government is now partnering with the UNDP Ecuador Country Office to explore digital strategies to help SMEs to adapt to the crisis.
  • Similarly, the team in Palestine is experimenting with a web platform that will connect small-scale female producers with customers in partnership with restaurants, yummy.ps, and NGOs. They have also set up a crowdfunding campaign to support informal businesses through a partnership with local governments, chambers of commerce, and multilateral financial institutions— which have agreed to forgo interest income to subsidize wages and loans.

Real-ish time data

  • The Bosnia and Herzegovina Accelerator Lab launched Economic Pulse, a dashboard based on monthly survey data from over 1,000 companies, that informs the public about the current status of local economies. The dashboard summarizes the survey data and crosses them with governmental data to provide a close-to-real-time socio-economic assessment — greatly improving on traditional data collection and analysis methods, which can take several months.
  • In order to meet the need for organized data in the Philippines’ decentralized repository of COVID-19 information, the Philippines Accelerator Lab co-created the COVID-19 Pintig Lab (‘Heartbeat’ in Filipino), a centralized information hub with a data command center aiming to help the government build capacity for data management and analysis. The Lab team employed a new way of gathering data from the informal and most vulnerable: conducting surveys via a Facebook messenger chatbot as well as interviews over mobile phones. While traditional surveys (e.g. Google forms, SurveyMonkey) are often not accessible for excluded citizens, the Facebook messenger chatbot enables a wider reach and more personalized questionnaires.
  • The Colombia Accelerator Lab identified that governments, businesses, and citizens want and need better data and greater access to it. Obstacles including cost, time, extractive business models, and misuse currently hinder data collection. The Lab team’s solution, CA$H4DATA, is looking to solve this with a variation of cash-for-work schemes by rewarding people with money for their help with data collection. CA$H4DATA is distinguished from other solutions in terms of providing public value in an inclusive data collection system with transparent rewards. The lab is currently exploring the Colombian fintech ecosystem to scope partners and set strategy, boosting collaboration between UNDP and this growing sector.

Mapping possible futures, enabling action now

  • The Ethiopia Accelerator Lab is using foresight to map out the longer-term social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Perhaps counterintuitively, scanning the future has enabled the team to take immediate action in mitigating the effects of the crisis. They focused on industrial parks — major sources of income and jobs — and their relation to the rural agricultural economy, urban jobs and incomes, and protecting and restoring MSMEs. The lab’s analysis shows the industrial parks’ dependence on foreign markets holds major economic implications post-lockdown. In reaction, the Lab launched a hackathon for long-term digital solutions with the Ministry of Innovation and is encouraging industrial parks to step-up their policies on PPE. To minimize short-term impacts, the Lab team worked with a mobile provider to text workers with pertinent information on the pandemic, and with parks to implement protection measures such as limiting density on transportation systems.

No black swan

  • Argentina — María Verónica Moreno, Head of Solutions Mapping
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina — Amina Omicevic — Head of Solutions Mapping
  • Colombia — Cristian Gil Sanchez — Head of Solutions Mapping
  • Ecuador — Gabriela Ayala– Head of Experimentation
  • Ethiopia — Amanuel Tadesse, Head of Solutions Mapping
  • Kenya — Lillian Njoro — Head of Experimentation
  • Malaysia — Yin Wei Chong — Head of Solutions Mapping
  • Palestine — Ruba Aladham — Head of Exploration
  • Philippines — Francis Capistrano, Head of Experimentation
  • Uganda — Berna Mugema — Head of Experimentation

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Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries. http://acceleratorlabs.undp.org/

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UNDP Accelerator Labs

UNDP Accelerator Labs

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries. http://acceleratorlabs.undp.org/

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