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Responding locally to a global crisis

By Alix Peterson Zwane, GIF CEO  |   Posted 17th April 2020

With the world entering an economic downturn of unprecedented magnitude, high on our agenda is protecting our partner organisations and the social value they have created.

The organisations and innovators in the GIF portfolio were on track to positively impact the lives of 89 million people by 2030 before this crisis. We must work to protect as much of that social value as we can, helping our partners weather the pandemic. What this looks like in practice will be highly case specific, involving different combinations of money, advocacy, quick thinking, and compassion. It’s critical for GIF that our portfolio of innovators come through 2020 to fight, and to serve, another day.

Lots of good conversations within GIF and with external colleagues and advisors have prompted us to consider what exactly the most effective COVID-19 innovation agenda is. While at the same time deliberating the best use of our expertise, resources, and team, when our government partners are under extra pressure.

Our underpinning philosophy: improving the lives of the world’s poorest people by accelerating innovations and measuring impact, and our investment criteria, remain the same, even during the crisis.

We must adjust our thinking to ensure we are using approaches that respond to the pandemic in ways that are appropriate for local context. It’s increasingly clear that the strategies being used to “flatten the curve” in the US or UK, let alone South Korea and Germany, will not be available to developing countries. There are too many vulnerable people who rely on daily cash wages for survival for the trade-off implied by “lockdown” and severe social distancing to be acceptable. There is little capacity for tracking and testing, and health systems are already overwhelmed. What is already clear, under a reasonable set of assumptions, is the terrible cost of deaths and illness this pandemic brings. While we just don’t know fully what the context-specific approach should be, we know that this means innovation has never been so important and necessary than now.

In response, with some limited exceptions, we will devote GIF resources to new deals for COVID-19-related grantmaking in 2020. We are seeking to accelerate innovation and learning about mitigating the health and economic costs of the pandemic in developing countries. GIF is well-placed to contribute, with our flexible model, our sector agnosticism, and our appetite for experimentation and smart risk. Rapidly learning lessons and sharing them will be central to ensuring that GIF’s contribution is of greatest value.

We are evaluating grants now with existing partners to announce shortly. In the meantime, as GIF and others deploy funding to address the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, we can do more by building learning into whatever we support. Given our flexibility and open-sourced solutions combined with rigorous impact testing, we can use our investments as rapid learning devices to provide rapid feedback to larger actors also in this fight.

So, as we consider investment proposals, we want to be supportive in helping investees to build and use their own internal feedback mechanisms and help them to share their learnings.

Finally, as the pandemic continues, we know like all crises, this will also pass. GIF is working to promote resilience by ensuring our partners and beneficiaries are able to stay strong by ensuring our tough criteria for financing stays open to new ideas, our agile team continues to adapt, and that we have shared what we have learned from these unprecedented times. In order to be a good partner ourselves, therefore, we will continue to report on our impact and work to expand our model to partner with new donors seeking development impact through our finance model. This means that, among other things, our work on refreshing Practical Impact will not stop and the application of a gender lens to our deals will stay strong.


Webinar Summary: Many are focused on the response of governments to the pandemic and its economic impact, and the scale of support needed from the IMF and development banks, both multilateral and bilateral. But the private sector must lead as well, not just in the recovery phase but also in crisis response. Its capacity for rapid adaptation and innovation, understanding of consumer behavior, flexibility, and productive capacity are essential for responding to multiple and ongoing shocks and uncertainties. How can the public and private sectors collaborate most effectively in restarting financial flows, delivering essential health and other services to the vulnerable, and restoring livelihoods?