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Responding to crisis and building resilience: A look at one microfinance institution’s response during a global pandemic

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With the COVID 19 crisis erupting globally, financial institutions have been forced to quickly respond and rethink how they can offer quality services to their clients who are now faced with unemployment and stacking debt.

 

The Jordan Valley Links project, implemented by MEDA, supports 25,000 women and youth in the Jordan Valley to seize new opportunities in targeted sectors and to become economic actors. The goal of the project is to increase the contribution by women and youth to Jordan’s economic growth. The project focuses on access to finance and clean technology, food processing and community-based tourism sectors. Over five years (2016-2021), MEDA expects to improve women and youth’s entrepreneurial and business acumen through capacity building and market linkages; and working with communities, families, and market actors to reduce entry for enterprise development for women and youth.

 

Microfund for Women (MFW)[1], a strategic partner of MEDA’s Jordan Valley Links project (JVL) is a private non-profit Microfinance Institution (MFI) based in Amman, Jordan. They began their operations in 1996 and currently serve 140,000 clients (96% of whom are women) through their 62 branches across the Kingdom. MFW is considered one of the leading MFIs providing financial and non–financial services (both insurance and educational services) to low-income and small business owners in Jordan. MFW has strategically focused on women to empower them economically and socially in order to become more active and recognized members of society.

 

The impact of COVID-19 on clients

 

MFIs like their clients have felt the effects of the economic meltdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. MFW realizing this impact, not only on their internal operations but also on the lives of their clients and the wider community, developed a rapid response plan. They began to adapt to the evolving needs of their clients through their 753 employees who worked tirelessly to ensure that clients had access to information and tools to guide and support them. As such, during this pandemic, MFW has interacted with over 150,000 of its clients through phone calls, text messages, social media platforms and the media.

 

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The Action Plan

 

First, MFW delayed loan payments for the period between March 1 - May 31, 2020. This effort was to ease the financial burden on MFW’s clients due to the lockdown and low economic growth overall.

 

Second, putting the health and well- being of their clients first, MFW created three videos, to promote the importance of social distancing & working from home. Videos were shared on MFW’s social media platforms and staff Facebook accounts which helped to increase the reach.

Third, in partnership with Navcode, MFW launched a geolocation application called “Tamnoona” that identifies immediate client needs and connects them to MFW’s call center. Questions related to COVID 19 symptoms are responded to and triaged to Al Tibbi (Tele-health consultation application).

 

Fourth, they also identified the most vulnerable clients (via an internal survey) who were in urgent need of food and collaborated with the Ministry of Social Development and Tkiyyet Um AlI (Local NGO) to distribute 1,400 care packages to sustain a family of five for a period of one month.

 

In addition, MFW also embarked on the following:

  • Donations and Wellbeing: MFW staff decided to support the national effort to curb the COVID 19 Pandemic and collected around USD$23,000 from its staff members. The Chairman graciously enhanced their donations to reach $70,000. MFW also formed a task force to train 354 MFW officers on ways to reach MFW clients to check on their wellbeing.
  • MFW Mobile Application: MFW launched their mobile application to clients as an easy way to access services and communicate with staff. This has since been downloaded over 20,000 times.
  • Al Tibbi (Tele-health consultation application): This app allows the user to contact doctors through text messages or phone calls for medical consultations and provide them with 24/7 access to Al-Tibbi network of doctors and more than 1.6 million medical contents, number of downloads so far has exceeded 6,000.
  • Online Training: MFW partnered with Edraak (Arabic eLearning platform) to develop a Financial Literacy Course. MFW has also partnered with Knowledge Horizon and launched an entrepreneurship course for clients; thus far 5,634 clients have enrolled in this course.
  • Product adaptation: With technical assistance from the JVL project, MFW has developed and adapted special loan products, credit processes and procedures to meet financial needs of their clients and nonclients; these include: digital (and online) applications and loan disbursements via e-wallets instead of cash to reduce in-person transactions.

 

Microfund for Women has been keen on sharing their efforts to support clients in protecting their wellbeing during the COVID 19 pandemic. Their hope is that other institutions will be motivated to undertake similar interventions during these challenging times in order to mitigate the impact of this global crisis. The JVL project in turn is proud to partner with institutions such as MFW to support not only project clients in the Jordan Valley, but also all women and youth benefitting from MFW’s work.

 

About the Authors:

 

Keisha Thomas

Keisha is the Access to Finance Senior Technical Advisor on the Jordan Valley Links project. She is a financial Inclusion specialist with over nineteen years’ experience in providing strategic managerial and technical assistance to startup, mature and commercial microfinance institutions, NGOs, agricultural enterprises and government entities in West and South Africa, North & South America, The Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. Mrs. Thomas expertise includes product and procedural development, capacity development, business planning, governance and operations process design with a focus on improving financial services especially to vulnerable groups and rural areas.

 

Eithar Ghouli

Eithar is the Access to Finance Specialist on the Jordan Valley Links Project. She has 11 years of experience managing Women Economic Empowerment projects and campaigns in Jordan, for both refugees and host communities. Eithar managed and worked in various Access to Finance projects with Right to Play, Near East Foundation, USAID, ARIJ and CARE. She managed “CARE’S BADERI national campaign” that was implemented in the 12 governorates of Jordan reaching more than 3 million men and women through its regional tours.

 

[1] An MFI registered under the Ministry of Industry and Trade that operates under the umbrella of the Central Bank of Jordan.

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