Listening During COVID-19: A Year in Review

In the early days of the pandemic, we noticed that the data circulating about the impact of COVID-19 was coming from wealthy markets and customer segments. The 3.5 billion who are offline or didn’t have a smartphone were omitted from the conversation.

We mobilized to do what we do best: listen to customer voices at scale. We began collecting data in April 2020 across all our surveys with 6 standard questions on the impact of COVID-19, and with sector-specific deep dives funded by key partners.

To date, we’ve heard from more than 50,000 customers in 32 countries. By tracking and sharing what we were hearing, we’ve helped inform action so companies, NGOs, and governments could direct the right kind of support to those who need it most.

Here are some specific calls to action that we suggest based on the data we’ve collected. We invite all decision-makers across the globe to engage with this data and share how they are acting on it.

01. Gig Economy

As we saw from our data, most gig workers need support to manage debt, save for the future, and mitigate the risk of not being able to work due to illness or an accident. Our partner, Flourish Ventures, has emphasized the important role of financial technology companies in advancing economic opportunity, improving gig workers’ financial resilience and access to financial services.

02. Financial Inclusion

Clients need flexible, low-cost access to liquidity to help their households and businesses cope. That could mean supplying access to new capital (unconditional cash transfers, new low-cost loans) or making existing loans more flexible in terms of use and repayment. The segmented data on our dashboard highlights the need to support different sectors and business types differently.

03. Off-Grid Energy

While off-grid energy customers are faring worse than before the pandemic, our research showed just how much energy access is valued, and the positive impact it has on quality of life, opportunities to earn an income, and safety and security. Nevertheless, nearly one third of customers are struggling to make repayments for energy products or services purchased. Finding ways to financially support these customers and companies during this time is essential.

04. Agriculture

Prioritize smallholder farmers as a group that needs special attention in recovery efforts: despite the notion that COVID-19 may not be as widespread outside of city centers, we know that farmers, particularly those in rural areas, are struggling. These farmers have been most severely impacted by lockdowns — affecting their input prices and access to markets — and they will require special support. Specific challenges that are top of mind for farmers are: liquidity, access to affordable inputs, and market access.

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