News from TrustAfrica’s Solidarity Fund: Supporting the Informal Sector and Community-Led Responses During COVID-19

September 9, 2020

It is hard to believe 5 months have passed since the world was turned upside down. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to rage across the world, we at TrustAfrica continue to find ways to respond. In April 2020, we launched a COVID-19 Africa Solidarity Fund to support emergency responses across Africa in the face of this new virus. Through the catalytic support of this fund we have contributed to the protection of the health of informal sector workers in Zimbabwe, the protection of women against GBV during nationwide lockdowns in West Africa, and provided relief funds for local communities to develop contextually relevant responses such as collective purchasing of goods, community gardens and more. Please read more about this support from TrustAfrica’s Solidarity Fund in this newsletter. 

Solidarity with Informal Workers and Daily Wage Earners

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), “informal employment represents 90 per cent of total employment in low-income countries. The specific risks associated with COVID-19 exacerbate the main vulnerabilities of poor workers in the informal economy. If they continue working, they usually have no access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand-washing stations Responses which include  protecting the health of urban informal sector workers by improving access to soap, water, and alcohol-based sanitizers for handwashing at urban markets and trading zones and distributing masks and gloves to informal traders and service providers” is critical to protecting this segment of society from exposure to the virus. TrustAfrica, through its ZimbabweAlliance donor-civil society framework was able to support Citizens’ Manifesto convergence platform to make sure this vulnerable population is not abandoned. In Harare, VISET has been able to channel the support from the TrustAfrica Solidarity Fund to support hundreds of Health Packs to selected informal traders and City of Harare COVID-19 Response Teams who are monitoring operations at the markets which have reopened. This contribution has been integrated into the roll out of VISET’s Comprehensive Informal Sector Response Plan to COVID-19 which was launched on 31 March 2020. The health packs were accompanied by informational leaflets sharing the measures to protect against transmission of COVID-19. VISET has also been at the forefront of advocating for the allocation of stimulus packages for informal workers to cushion against the added economic hardships of this time. 

In the western part of Zimbabwe, BVTA has been busy working with daily wage earners in a similar fashion as part of the Citizens’ Manifesto convergence platform in Zimbabwe. BVTA conducted online and physical trainings to equip vendors with alternative skills to keep afloat during the outright lockdown.  BVTA also purchased and distributed nearly 400 masks to BVTA members to help fight the spread of COVID-19 as many vendors and informal traders could not afford the masks which were being sold at exorbitant prices. In addition, BVTA handed over 45 hand washing water dispensers to the Bulawayo City Council for use in select marketplaces. The water dispensers also help raise awareness as they were inscribed with messages that encourage observation of WHO recommended measures in the fight against COVID-19.

As the economic strain of COVID-19  pandemic grows, the discourse around the formalization and recognition of the informal sector in Africa is garnering more attention. With support from TrustAfrica, BVTA and VISET co-hosted a breakfast meeting on 3 July 2020 to co-create solutions with private sector, local authorities, resident groups and informal traders that provide eco-friendly, healthy and secure trading spaces as part of a larger call for inclusive city design planning. In some circles like the World Economic Forum (WEF), calls for a “New Deal” are underway to expand “health care coverage and public health infrastructure, including in the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities; an improvement and expansion in social support and safety nets; and increased investment in digital capacity and bandwidth, with digital platforms for education and financial services seen as key to providing economic security for low-income households”. The advent of COVID-19 provides a pivotal opportunity to go beyond lip service and develop holistic responses for the inclusion of this marginalized sector into the economy for once and for all. The political will of leaders in Africa will need to recognize the critical role that the informal economy plays and make comprehensive safeguards to guarantee the wellbeing of some of the world’s most vulnerable workers. 

Solidarity with Communities

The growth of mutual aid networks in response to the  COVID-19 outbreak has underscored the importance of supporting community-led responses. At TrustAfrica we prioritize community-led responses as wayof stimulating the agency of citizens to co-create solutions to the collective challenges they face . Across the continent we’ve witnessed the emergence and strengthening of citizens coming together and self-organizing to create systems and structures of community-based support in times of need. TrustAfrica signed the Philanthropy’s Commitment During COVID_-19 Pledge and as a result, grant partners across our portfolio of projects were able to repurpose funds as well as receive funds for solidarity actions in response to COVID-19. In developing relationships and structures where everyone contributes in assisting each other, the community ecosystems are receiving an injection of investment and confidence which lays a strong foundation for the resilience of these communities. The partnership TrustAfrica enjoys with local community groups will enable outreach to some of the most vulnerable and overlooked communities in West Africa and Zimbabwe.  

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, at least seven women’s organizations are responding to the threat which the national lockdowns  pose to women. According to UNDP “Gender-based violence (GBV) increases during every type of emergency – whether economic crises, conflict or disease outbreaks. Pre-existing toxic social norms and gender inequalities, economic and social stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, have led to an exponential increase in GBV.” As a result, various interconnected responses are being implemented by TrustAfrica partners to raise awareness about this increased risk amongst young women and girls locked down in unsafe homes and to support communities in setting up appropriate mechanisms to respond to the various types of violence facing them. Given the impact of lockdowns on women both in terms of GBV and the increasing economic strain, a number of these organizations are also focusing on strengthening the leadership of women to participate meaningfully in COVID-19 related decision-making processes to advocate for gender responsive policies to protect women facing violence in their homes and communities, as well as to secure the necessary social safety nets for women.  

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe communities are self-organizing around their collective livelihood crisis. As the COVID-19 alerts intensified, Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHI-TREST), based in one of Harare’s high-density suburbs, was immediately concerned with the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies, as well as the food insecurity in the already vulnerable community. WASH issues are increasingly common in Chitungwiza, which was the site of the cholera outbreak in 2018. Organizations like CHITRUST have taken the lead in legal cases which have reached the High Court to compel local authorities to provide safe, clean and potable municipal water during this COVID-19 outbreak. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe severely threatened an already critical food security situation arising mainly from the prevailing poor macroeconomic conditions and consecutive years of drought. The movement restrictions associated with COVID-19 significantly impacted businesses and urban and rural livelihoods, further limiting household incomes. This led to a higher than previously anticipated food insecure population, especially in urban centers. The food mobilization intervention by CHITREST, in partnership with TrustAfrica has been catalytic in building momentum for greater relief mobilization in the marginalized community. Other TrustAfrica partners are responding to the food insecurity crisis by developing community gardens which will increase access to healthy foods and support the growing of immune-boosting natural herbs and foods which are indigenous to Zimbabwe.  The community garden being championed by Amandla Center is simultaneously nurturing civic action and building community at a time when physical distancing has left many community members feeling isolated. The growing movement around alternative food production is one of the important side-effects from COVID-19 which is growing stronger and gaining momentum. At TrustAfrica, we will o continue contributing to such movements through our work around resilient food systems and food sovereignty. 

The coronavirus outbreak has also been instrumental in reviving conversations about alternative local economies. Community partners in Zimbabwe, through a collaborative initiative called Gateway Zimbabwe are receiving seed support for local responses to various communities through the Gateway Fellowship program. Gateway Zimbabwe innovated in its granting approach by acknowledging that most of the community-based fellows are not affiliated with any registered organizations and are not used to submitting grant proposals. Consequently, we devised an application process which allowed proposals to be submitted via WhatsApp voice notes, which is the most readily accessible & affordable online platform in Zimbabwe. Following consultations back and forth via voice notes and working closely with Gateway Zimbabwe staff to talk and think through the sustainability of the initiatives, the first group of initiatives were approved and will be rolling out in the 5 communities where Gateway Zimbabwe has existing cohorts of fellows.  By taking an experimental approach to these initiatives, the success of the initiatives will lie largely in what the communities are learning about co-creating responses alongside their communities and will lay the foundation for longer-term projects. This approach is allowing communities to access funds that would normally be reserved for registered traditional organizations. One Gateway fellow, in a community which is about 30 km outside Harare, is using the seed funds to prototype a community-owned enterprise which leverages collective purchasing power, particularly during lockdown where movement and subsequent livelihoods are significantly restricted. The Gateway Zimbabwe fellow says, “We are taking Ubuntu to the next level and reclaiming our sense of wealth. The current capitalist economic trends have reduced us into consumers, living from hand to mouth. That lifestyle has deprived us of self-determination.” The collective buying scheme allows members to buy in bulk as part of community store, and then the savings from the store are used as a resource pool for community investments. While this initiative is meeting an immediate need of procuring affordable food products without requiring community members to travel, it is also creating an experimental platform for building local economies. These are just a few stories of the home-grown solutions that become possible when we show financial solidarity with communities.  

Solidarity with Our Institutions

It is no secret that COVID-19 has exposed the weakness in systems across sectors globally, and Africa’s already frail health systems have not been spared from this exposure. More than ever, strengthening the health sector is paramount to not only respond to this pandemic, but to develop more robust long-term responses to the multiplicity of health outbreaks faced annually. The establishment of the African Union Center for Diseases Control and Prevention in 2017 was a welcome step in strengthening responsiveness to health crises across the continent and will have an increasingly important role in developing continent-wide responses to pandemics like the latest Coronavirus outbreak. As Governments scramble to respond to the outbreak, collaborations between the private sector and philanthropy will go a long way towards enabling the sector to address the intersectionality of economic, political and social issues related to health crises. TrustAfrica is honored to be able to contribute to this collective response. As part of our further support to the health sector, TrustAfrica is partnering with Vital Strategies to support the Ministry of Health in Senegal for capitalization of knowledge on case management and contacts of COVID-19, as well as rapid mortality surveillance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Senegal. As early as April 2020 we were able to support efforts towards combatting COVID-19 in Senegal. Senegal was one of the earlier countries on the continent to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases, registering its first cases in March. While the government put protective measures in place, Senegal also accelerated its scientific responses which gained global recognition. The innovations to the Coronavirus that is ravaging the globe included trials for developing a $1 COVID-19 home diagnostic testing kits, and low-cost 3D printing of ventilators by Senegalese engineers – a practice adopted early on by Senegal and which has now become the norm across many countries. Support to health sector enable local responses which will become critical as global supply chains continue to be compromised. 

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