As self-isolation and self-quarantine, lockdowns, and social distancing are adopted to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, poor and less affluent communities, in both the Global South and North, will be especially vulnerable. The world, perhaps more than ever, needs to come together to help those affected.
Governments, banks, foundations, and humanitarian and charitable organizations are already mobilizing their resources and directing them to the front lines of the fight. That said, more needs to be done to support those most likely to be impacted by the social and economic impacts of the virus. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we need to move quickly to ensure that help is provided as humanely and transparently as possible. Indeed, the way in which we handle this crisis is likely to become the norm in crisis management for decades to come.
Challenges in mobilizing financial resources
The COVID-19 outbreak has already exacted a toll on Africa’s economy, with low and middle-income countries experiencing negative impacts in several sectors, including tourism, agriculture, and health.
The World Bank's Africa’s Pulse report warns that the first recession in sub-Saharan Africa in twenty-five years is about to descend on the region, noting that "growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been significantly impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and is forecast to fall sharply from 2.4 percent in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1 percent in 2020."
In other words, we need to mobilize financial resources as quickly as possible to support the countries that need help the most.
As was the case pre-COVID, however, funders are likely to want answers to a key question before they commit to a grant: "How do we know the funds we disburse will be used for the purpose stated?"
It's a valid question. When the post-pandemic dust finally settles, no funder will want to be the subject of a journalistic expose of the misuse or misappropriation of funds.
Transparency and speed are paramount
Generally, funders engage in due diligence to reassure themselves they are investing in organizations that are governed effectively, transparently, and accountably.
Different funders use different due diligence frameworks to assess the financial stability of the organizations they would like to fund. Some frameworks are simple and only take a few weeks to work through, while others are more complicated and involve considerable work.
What's a funder to do, however, when the problem is urgent and setting aside months to complete and circulate paperwork is an unaffordable luxury? One solution is obvious: we need to standardize our due-diligence processes to promote efficiency in grant funding. The Global Grant Community, a financial governance platform of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) that provides funders and grantees with a one-stop self-assessment/due diligence tool, attempts to do that. Funders who opt to use the online platform are able to:
- Invite organizations they are interested in funding to assess their financial management capacity against the requirements of the international standard for Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP) and a Non-GFGP Assurance Framework.
- Review due diligence assessments completed by organizations "ready to be funded" and provide funding to those that meet their criteria in support of the speedy implementation of COVID-related activities.
- Search a directory to identify and connect with organizations that have demonstrated robust internal procedures, policies, and processes, thereby reducing the risk of mismanagement and corruption.
Yes, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic require the global community to act fast, but not to act blindly or irresponsibly. We need to ensure that our limited but much-needed funds go to organizations that can manage them effectively and put them to use quickly to help save lives and livelihoods. Time is of the essence.