Jobs Have Been Hit Hard By the Pandemic, Yet Some Orgs Are Learning How to Rebound Even Stronger
By Joanne Lu
A year and a half on from the World Health Organization’s official declaration of a global pandemic, the world is still learning how to adjust to our new reality. On many fronts, the pandemic has made it clear that the world we lived in before is not one we want to return to – without a robust response to health emergencies, without sufficient safety nets for marginalized communities, and without justice and equity.
Few understand the need for change more than the world’s most vulnerable and the organizations working to help them. Although the pandemic has been devastating for many organizations, there are many that have also taken the opportunity to evolve, become more resilient and build the resilience of the communities they work with.
Still, it has been far from an easy task. The pandemic created in 2020 the deepest global recession since World War II, according to the International Monetary Fund. Unsurprisingly, the impact was greatest in the poorest areas of the world. By World Bank estimates, the pandemic led to 97 million more people being pushed into extreme poverty (measured as living on less than $1.90 a day) in 2020. It’s a devastating number, and it represents enormous shifts in livelihoods and pathways out of poverty for millions of families living in under-resourced areas.
The pandemic hit informal workers, who make up about 70 percent of the global workforce – particularly hard. These include household workers, street vendors, waste pickers and other daily wage earners. Lockdown measures not only put most of them out of work, but they were also mostly excluded from relief packages, like stimulus payments and unemployment insurance.
For organizations to adapt appropriately to the needs of the communities they serve, they must listen to their constituents and monitor the situation carefully. That’s why Global Partnerships (GP), an impact-first investment fund manager, has been diligent about staying in close communication with their social enterprise partners and the clients they serve. Through mobile-based surveying, end-clients have expressed reliance on savings as a coping strategy, but also a deterioration in their financial position and heightened food insecurity. This feedback reaffirmed GP’s commitment to supporting high-impact social enterprises that provide basic goods and services that foster economic resilience and enable people to earn a living and improve their lives.
In August, GP launched its ninth fund, the Global Partnerships Impact-First Growth Fund, LLC, which is designed to support high-impact social enterprises that are well-positioned to not only survive the pandemic but also grow and scale impact. As of its first close, the fund had $45.5 million committed, and it has the ability to scale to $100 million.
The decline in nutrition has prompted many other organizations to launch new relief initiatives. Spreeha Foundation and Spreeha Bangladesh, for example, works to help people break out of the cycle of poverty through health care, education, skills training and employment opportunities (note: Spreeha is not an investee of Global Partnerships). In the early days of their operations, Spreeha also provided one meal a day through their education program, but due to a dissipating need in the community, they ended that service. However, the pandemic reignited that need in an alarming way, prompting Spreeha to provide food and nutritional supplements.
Another GlobalWA member, Awamaki, which provides opportunities for artisan weavers in Peru through sustainable tourism, had to make a sudden shift to food relief as well. This was a big change for Awamaki, which has always been focused on providing opportunities and training. But their model was upended overnight. With the help of small and large donors, Awamaki has been able to provide their partner artisans with monthly food baskets during this trying time.
Like many organizations, technology has also been critical to Awamaki’s adaptation during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, they never designed goods for online sales. They didn’t have to, as their store in Ollantaytambo, near Cuzco, made about $80,000 a year from tourists. Without that store, they had to start selling online. They received a grant to specifically design products, particularly home goods, for online sales, and they also partnered with Amazon to host virtual shopping tours. Through a beta platform called Amazon Explore, shoppers can book virtual visits to their store.
Spreeha Foundation has also noticed local resilience. For example, even though Spreeha had to pause most of their vocational training programs because of lockdown measures, several women from their sewing training groups took the opportunity to launch their own sewing businesses during the pandemic. Others, particularly young people, have used the skills they gained through Spreeha’s training programs to move away from daily wage jobs to higher-skilled work, like cell-phone repair.
For organizations like these, the pandemic has been an opportunity to lean into the challenges and changes of these unprecedented times. The pandemic exposed many of the injustices that marginalized communities face. But it has also revealed what true resilience, sustainability and equity should look like. And perhaps, it’s given us a clearer roadmap for how to build back better.
The following Global Washington members are helping with job creation and economic development in low and middle income countries.
ACT for Congo supports humanitarian work without creating dependence. We work with organizations that are locally conceived, owned, and operated to help them build their capacity so that we become unnecessary for their success. Our role as outsiders is primarily to support locally-driven initiatives led by competent and wise leaders.
Over the past eight years we partnered with a Congolese start-up that built a vocational school now recognized as a Center of Excellence (HOLD-DRC). Our partnerships include Congo Nouveau, who provided civic education in 19 cities, and POLE Institute, who conducts vital socio-economic research in DR Congo. Our newest partnership is with AGIR-DRC who supports refugees in pathways out of internally displaced camps, provides clean water for children in schools, whose partners provide training and advocacy for domestic workers, and fuel urban gardeners and reforestation in Goma and eastern Congo.
Over 1400 women graduated from HOLD with state-issued certificates in vocations. More than 900 are employed or have their own business.
Awamaki teaches women’s artisan cooperatives in the rural Andes how to start and run their own businesses in sustainable tourism and fair trade crafts. Awamaki connects artisans to global markets and provides training in product development and business management. Their highly-skilled artisan partners create alpaca accessories, woven bags, and home goods, blending contemporary design with traditional techniques and motifs. Awamaki supports 180 artisans who are lifting their families towards prosperity.
Capria is a global venture capital firm with expertise investing in fintech, edtech, jobtech, logistics/mobility, agtech/food, and healthcare in the Global South. Capria invests in regional soonicorns — startups with enough revenues and growth rates to be unicorns soon — and also backs local and regional fund managers with capital and strategic support. Capria and its global network deliver profits with scaled impact aligned with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Capria has offices in Seattle, Bangalore, Nairobi, Santiago and Washington D.C.
Chandler Foundation helps to build strong nations, vibrant and fair marketplaces, and flourishing communities. We imagine a world in which nations are well governed, principled businesses drive economic growth, and all people have the opportunity to flourish. Through patient, long-term, system-changing investments in trusted partners, we can help build thriving economies that work for everyone.
Because in a world where talent and creativity are unleashed, the impossible is possible.
More than 800 million people around the world live on less than $1.90 a day. Concern Worldwide believes that number can and should be zero. That’s why our mission is ending extreme poverty, whatever it takes. Our approach to ending extreme poverty is rooted in the understanding that the cycle of poverty is fueled by a combination of inequality, vulnerability, and risk. Our livelihoods programs address some of the underlying problems experienced by people trying to earn a living while also dealing with the challenges and setbacks of extreme poverty.
In 2020, we reached 4.4 million people through our livelihood programs. These programs aim to provide participants with the tools needed to ensure they are able to earn a sustainable living, learn new skills, improve the productivity and nutritional value of their crops and set up small businesses to generate more income. However, even with a job, 8% of the world’s workforce still live in extreme poverty, which is why we take a “targeted, time-bound, holistic, and sustainable” approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. For example, our Graduation Program uses a multi-pronged approach to giving families the education, training and funding they need to achieve financial independence. In other words, the program helps participants to “graduate” out of extreme poverty – once and for all.
Respect for the legal and customary rights of communities to land and natural resources is a principal objective of Earthworm Foundation’s work in global supply chains. We partner with companies making strong commitments to these rights, and then provide tools and practical training needed to see them realized. A central focus is helping ensure that land development for commodity production only occurs with the requisite Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local people.
Supporting the economy and resilience of smallholder farmers is at the heart of our work. We began our efforts to strengthen farmer resilience in 2011, and today we work with farmers in 15 countries. We promote crop and income diversification so that farmer households have more secure livelihoods. With strategies tailored to their needs, approximately 3,000 farmers have diversified activities and their average household income increased by 20%.
We also focus on promoting safe work environments and labor rights. In 2017, Earthworm launched a labor rights and workers’ welfare program, training thousands of workers in over 60 companies. Our projects promote the welfare of children in oil palm plantation regions, ethical recruitment of migrant workers, the rights of casual and temporary workforces, and improved wages for agricultural workers.
Heifer International believes ending global hunger and poverty begins with agriculture. Operating in 21 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, Heifer provides farmers with technical assistance and opportunities to strengthen essential skills, including finance and business management. Farmers receive expert support to improve the quality and quantity of the goods they produce, as well as connections to markets to increase sales. As Heifer works to build sustainable food systems, it engages women and youth across value chains, ensuring they have the knowledge and tools needed to increase their incomes and support their families. Recently, Heifer published “The Future of Africa’s Agriculture: An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology,” a report based on a survey of 11 African countries, that identified challenges preventing youth from fully engaging in farming as a source of future jobs. In response these issues, Heifer launched the AYuTe Challenge which awards up to US$1.5 million annually to the most promising young entrepreneurs who are using technology to reimagine farming and food production across Africa. For the 2021 competition, the AYuTe Challenge selected Cold Hubs and Hello Tractor as winners, supporting them as they scale their businesses to help more farmers to overcome long-standing challenges.
Mercy Corps works in over 40 countries helping communities forge new paths to prosperity in the face of disaster, poverty, and the impacts of climate change. Mercy Corps’ approach to protecting and strengthening economic opportunity ensures crisis-affected households can maintain their businesses and wage incomes in the midst of crisis, while laying the foundation for greater market participation and inclusive economic growth in the future. Throughout the pandemic, Mercy Corps has worked closely with people living in vulnerable areas to meet their most urgent needs by providing cash while also implementing long-term solutions to ensure businesses can recover and continue to provide employment opportunities.
In Jordan, Mercy Corps channeled 13,000 JD ($19K) in emergency cash to three gig platforms to help them continue to provide essential services to gig-workers and also provided 90 workers with a cash transfer of 150 JD ($210) each to meet immediate basic needs and selected three start-ups for further technical and funding support as they demonstrated high potential to recover and grow beyond COVID-19 and continue to employ hundreds of gig workers.
Microsoft – Building Skills for the digital economy
We’re living in a changed world. As economies continue to reopen, more jobs will require digital skills. This is not just about technical jobs, but an increasing number of jobs across industries that will become ‘tech-enabled.’ Now, and in the future, all people will need to learn digital skills to pursue in-demand roles, but access to the resources to learn these skills is inequitable.
Microsoft is focused on supporting those who have been excluded from opportunity because of race, gender, geography, displacement, or other barriers that prevent them from attaining the skills needed to thrive in a changing economy.
Our programs, partnerships, and resources are designed to meet people where they are on their skilling journey. From a young person learning computer science in the classroom, to a job seeker earning technical certifications, to employers focused on building skilled, inclusive workforces, we are committed to helping people gain the foundational, role-based, and technical skills to gain jobs and livelihoods.
To achieve this, we invest in supporting communities in building equity, building nonprofit capacity and scale, and mobilizing collective action, funding, and impact by working with others to advance sustainable, scalable change.
Learn what steps we’re taking and how you can help support: aka.ms/skills
At Opportunity International, we are proud and honored to be a part of achieving this first Sustainable Development Goal, along with many of the other SDGs that are focused on improving the standard of living for families in poverty. Together with organizations and initiatives around the world, we spend each day helping amazing people break that barrier of living on $1.90/day. And, in the wake of the pandemic, we are more committed to this goal more than ever.
We invest in entrepreneurs, helping them create or sustain jobs for themselves and their neighbors. Also, we have created tailored tools for farmers, addressing many of the challenges faced by the rural, agrarian majority of those living in extreme poverty. We work to connect them to markets, give them access to inputs, and help them move from subsistence to commercial agriculture – radically transforming their farms and their futures. We realize our goal is the same as that of the U.N. as we are actively working to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.
Opportunity International’s core programs continue to enhance and expand upon our continuous work on behalf of women and girls in low- and middle-income countries. We reach out to financially excluded populations, especially less literate and rural women, to deliver knowledge and skills that help them use financial services as fuel for their journey out of poverty. Financial services are key for women to create their own livelihoods, who are often excluded from formal economic opportunities. When women can create their own economic opportunities, they become powerful agents of change and some of our greatest weapons in ending extreme poverty.
Remote Energy believes that access to reliable sources of sustainable energy is a fundamental requirement for the advancement of education, healthcare and quality of life. It is also a critical step in promoting sustained, inclusive, economic growth. As solar energy (PV) grows exponentially, so does the fast growing need for a trained solar workforce. Remote Energy has responded by developing and implementing regionally appropriate, customized technical capacity building programs and developing hands-on, practical learning opportunities for solar technicians and instructors in marginalized communities worldwide.
Remote Energy’s Native American Programs partner with tribal vocational and technical schools to provide scale able, accessible PV training opportunities for Native Americans in their own communities. Programs focus on the development of hands-on skills specifically designed to give aspiring instructors and technicians the marketable skills required for employment in the fast-growing PV industry and inspire communities to move towards energy independence and sustainable development.
Remote Energy is also committed to gender equality and support the belief that women’s talents and leadership are vital to maintain a diverse, sustainable, PV industry and critical in promoting economic grow. Remote Energy’s Women’s Program is designed to develop women decision-makers, end-users, technicians, and educators and offers customized, women’s-only courses and mentoring opportunities with professional female instructors. Click Here to learn more about our upcoming, online women-only PV class.
Upaya Social Ventures fights extreme poverty from the ground up by building scalable businesses, dignified jobs, and long-term prosperity in the world’s most vulnerable communities. We identify early-stage businesses in India with the greatest potential for job creation in the most vulnerable communities. Through our investments and accelerator program, we partner with early-stage entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create jobs that lift families out of extreme poverty. Our vision is for everyone to have the opportunity to earn a dignified living and pursue their dreams. We believe in a hand-up, not a hand-out, and that access to sustainable, dignified jobs can be the bridge from poverty to prosperity.
West African Vocational Schools is a Christian skills development organization that trains and equips youth in one of the least developed regions in the world. Each year, WAVS training centers prepare more than 200 youths for work so that they can earn a livable income and provide for their families for the rest of their lives.
World Concern prioritizes economic empowerment of families and economic development in communities we serve through diversified livelihoods, village savings groups, microfinance, vocational training for youth and adults, education, rice banks, and farmer groups.
A respected leader in Savings and Loans for Transformation (SALT) programs, World Concern improves the lives of thousands of women and men who are trained in money management and entrepreneurship through SALT groups. These groups enable members to save and borrow for business or family needs, which are repaid with interest and add to the group’s account balance.
Stable income means parents can give their children the proper nutrition they need to thrive, provide medicine when they are sick, and send them to school. Entire communities thrive when families are financially secure and able to give back.
As COVID-19 continues to ravage poor communities, World Concern has seen that members of savings groups show greater economic resilience and ability to cope with hardships than those who are not members. Instead of selling their assets to survive, SALT members have been using their savings to buy food and pay for medical expenses. Others have borrowed money to start innovative income generating activities.
To learn more, please visit https://worldconcern.org/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/