Skip to main content

How we are making sure we can continue to deliver for the poorest, in the world of COVID19

  • Mar 16, 2020

16th March 2020

Dear friends

We are sending this short message to all our clients and partners, to set out what we are doing to:

  • make sure we can continue to deliver for the poorest in the world of COVID19 safely, and with minimum disruption to service
  • highlight some things that may be especially relevant to this context from things we work on

We have written it a bit quickly, so please excuse any poor expression, typos etc.

Resilience of our operations – staffing

Our operations can continue substantially unaffected by COVID19 because our people are either serving in their own countries or long-term and sustainably based where they serve.

The majority of our team are African nationals from the countries we work in. That’s the best way to do development.  Most work in and for their own countries; some serve in other African countries: we believe we are the world’s largest exporter of South Sudanese consultants (the NBA is, we admit, big, but slightly different kind of consultancy… J): intra-African consultancy like this works well because these colleagues’ expertise and knowledge are especially credible and transferable to the places they go, and because they bring back new perspectives when they come ‘home’.

The Global North operational staff we do have are based long-term in the countries we serve. Some actors in this sector rely on fly-in fly-out and/or ‘bodyshop’ consultants: we don’t – we think that is better development practice; it is also a lot better for the environment.

Over ten years we have been systematically localising various functions:

  • with the addition of two excellent new developers in Lilongwe this week, we are proud that our tech function is now majority African nationals too
  • so, following recent scale-ups in Malawi and Sierra Leone, is our finance and admin function

Again, we think this is good and sustainable development practice: skills are located near the clients they serve, and skills and value remain in country. It is also very good value for money: a junior developer in Lilongwe costs less than a third of one in London.

Resilience of our operations – looking after our people

We invest in the health of our people.

We have comprehensive international travel health insurance in place for colleagues working outside their own countries; we have for several years had health insurance in place with UAP/Old Mutual for our South Sudanese colleagues and several dependents each, have now done similar for our Malawian colleagues, and will be doing the same as we scale up our Sierra Leonean and Somali teams. We have good and well-established relations with the clinics that we work with in each location.

Resilience of our operations – ten years of experience making remote working and programming work

Our core capability is to be able to bring together policy knowhow, appropriate technology and practical implementation in places where others can’t.

A key part of our operational approach has therefore been:

  • Using technology and communications to jump over distance in programming: making information flow, in volume, and systematically, same-day by app, or by ODK, or by SMS, where before it used to move, slowly if at all, on paper
  • Making funds flow quickly and smoothly, via bank accounts and mobile money, where before they moved, slowly if at all, in physical cash drops
  • Senior developers/coders working mostly remotely, to take advantage of faster internet connections, and to reduce costs
  • Systematically making remote support to implementations work, using:
    • Training materials and approaches that users can refer to when they need them – extensive manuals with screen-shots, comprehensive in-app/on-screen help, videos of training and top tips, helpful data validation/error checking, and first and second-line remote support by phone and, increasingly, through moderated whatsapp groups – where, very quickly, users are helping each other, and our team monitor
  • Our administration is the same – we don’t have a big HQs office to worry about

That approach enabled us to keep operating through the 2013 and 2016 crises in South Sudan, and a range of other events over the last decade.

Resilience of our offerings – and what they may be able to do for you in a COVID19 world: cash programming

No regrets cash support, as quickly as possible, can make a major difference to the resilience of those living in extreme poverty.

COVID19 is a pandemic. Few countries can hope to be untouched by it.  For some of the countries we serve, it follows other major shocks – the effects of conflict that have left millions hungry and lacking basic services in some places, the effects of climate change in others, the effects of past epidemics in still others.

Extreme poverty makes people vulnerable to shocks that others might readily withstand – whether that be through catastrophic expenses, the effects of poor nutrition, or compromised health.

Here are a few things that we have some knowledge of, that governments, international organisations, donors and NGOs can do now – being careful about the practicalities in the context, to ensure they do no harm – that may stand the poor in good stead in the world of COVID19:

  • No Regrets Cash now: the poor are both poor and vulnerable because they do not have enough money
  • Use your social protection systems to get funds to families and communities now, to:
    • Get cash out, digitally (M-Money, M-Banking etc) wherever possible, because it is quick, cheap and efficient
    • Mitigate income shocks that may result from a COVID19 world, whether from health costs, families being newly labour-constrained, markets, workplaces and services being less accessible
    • Reduce possible risks – the possibility of which, we emphasise, we are not experts on – around physical cash as vectors, or, more straightforwardly, people physically moving to distribute cash
  • If you don’t have a social protection system stood up, use other large-scale registries or networks that you do have to get resources into communities, for example:
  • If you have payments that are due to go out soon, consider bringing them forward, to help recipients, and reduce the chance of the getting delayed

Resilience of our offerings – and what they may be able to do for you in a COVID19 world: remote programming

Some donors, international organisations, NGOs, and perhaps host governments too, will have excellent humanitarian and development programmes that are running at the moment that they are going to find harder to sustain in a COVID19 world, because of problems travelling to deliver, monitor, and evaluate, or because they have had to move team members onto COVID19 response or backfill activities.

We want to highlight the opportunities to keep delivering by:

  • Using remote techniques – like bandwidth-frugal apps, ODK, SMSs, or even old-fashioned phone calls – to get the assurance you would previously have got in other ways involving more physical travel
  • Using transparency to drive assurance: share more information more openly – through social media, dedicated websites, apps, SMSs, and by pro-actively calling recipients – and benefit from the social accountability
  • Delivering content and materials remotely, to users’ own devices, using videos, social media, podcasts, mp3 (remember those?!), SMS

Our tech team can help with pragmatic solutions in these areas, that work on the kinds of connectivity, devices and networks that  are relevant for these contexts.


If there is anything you would like to know more about, please do get in touch with me, on @email, or your CGA contact.

Yours ever, and wishing you good health, strength and morale


Charlie and the team


Charlie Goldsmith Associates is now part of the LWR-IMA World Health family: