Workers at Georgia's CaucasPack repurposing their production lines on short notice to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: CaucasPack

These days, things are anything but business as usual.

But around the region, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed our country offices to take their “usual business” and quickly adapt it to address the current context. By using existing programmes, networks and partnerships, we have seen some of our well-laid efforts take shape in a new way.

Already laying the digital groundwork

In the past years, many countries around the region have been supporting governments to shift or adapt their public, social and legal services to digital or mobile forms as a way to improve efficiency, lower corruption and provide access to remote populations.

Shifts that have already happened are obviously a benefit in this time of restricted movement, but we’re also able to build on those tools to respond in the pandemic - whether it’s adapting a social card system to provide quick cash transfers for families who need it most, or providing more mobile service centers for challenged areas.

From ecoschools teaching climate change to language and skills training for refugees, we’re helping move our and our partners’ education programs online.

Armenia’s social impact lab, ImpactAIM, has supported an array of social impact entrepreneurs over the last few years, yielding innovative products and companies. Many of those startups have adapted their tools and services for a COVID response, while other small businesses are developing new COVID-specific tools. From a digital education company creating 12,000 new classes in two weeks to a health app integrated with national health institutions that now provides access to polyclinics and helps provide safe data to stop the spread of the virus, these small business grantees have built on ImpactAIM’s support to provide tools for both citizens and the government alike.

Keeping the workplace going

Turkey’s Business for Goals Platform has already done a survey of the pandemic’s impact on small and medium sized businesses. 36 percent of small businesses had to suspend their operations. On average, over 50 percent of companies surveyed said their revenues had fallen by more than half, and only three percent said they weren’t affected at all.  The platform, which is open to enterprises that integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into their corporate policies and strategies, is now working on a series of webinars to help companies address the crisis and continue their business.

In eastern Ukraine, where years of conflict have affected livelihoods for thousands of people, UNDP have been supporting entrepreneurs to create new employment opportunities. As those businesses could again suffer in this restricted pandemic climate, we have created an array of online trainings and tools to help transition owners to digital production and sales, including a collection of 20 online stores, and opened up a new grant award.

Georgia’s packaging sector is a priority in the EU4Business project providing support to private sector. CaucasPack, one of the companies supported by UNDP in marketing, green technologies and partnerships as part of this initiative, changed its production lines to produce face shields. We’re now connecting them to potential customers.

Sometimes the work comes from companies or organizations we’ve supported in the past, who are now using those resources to produce much needed equipment. And this local production means more sustainability to the procurement of this needed equipment, instead of having to compete with the rest of the world to obtain it.

The Engineering Faculty in Sarajevo prints and assembles visors with equipment provided by UNDP. Photo: UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina
A toymaker shifts production to visors to help frontline workers fight COVID-19 in Moldova. Photo: Dinu Bubulici / UNDP Moldova

Igor H, who owns a educational toy-making workshop in Moldova, shifted his production to produce personal protective visors and special protection boxes for hospital patients. The laser-cutting equipment he’s using was provided by a UNDP-EU business development project.

In an effort to expand the skills of the younger generation and improve educational opportunities, UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been supporting STEM development in elementary and secondary schools and universities. And now, those programs are using that equipment to produce PPE.

The burden of unpaid care work on women has increased due to school closures and the need to look after elderly family members at risk. Women are expected to be caretakers of their families and communities, due to widespread gender roles and stereotypes, putting them at higher risk of exposure.

Azerbaijan’s UNDP-supported Women’s Resource Centers not only continue to offer their network of members trainings (now online) and grants to support their businesses, but recognizing that women are bearing a higher percentage of the pandemic pressures, are now holding regular virtual individual and group psychotherapy sessions.

Leaving no one behind

Social inclusion is a cornerstone of UNDP’s mission, and in this pandemic, working to reach vulnerable and remote communities with information and support is a priority.

In North Macedonia, a community works program has been repurposed to provide services to the elderly, frail and vulnerable whose lives are more deeply affected by self-isolation measures. Unemployed workers are mobilized to deliver groceries, medicines and necessary supplies. Our creative solution is solving two problems at once: increasing income of one group and caring for the needs of another.

UNDP Montenegro, who has been supporting social services to the elderly through day care centers, is now dispatching those caregivers to provide nutritional and health care, as well as necessary supplies and medicines.

Trained health volunteers, who have been working to deliver needed health advice and basic care to rural populations in the Aral Sea region of Uzbekistan, are now being deployed with COVID-19 information and support.

People living with HIV and TB are more vulnerable to the risks of the Coronavirus, and restricted movement means more difficulty in treating patients. In Kyrgyzstan, we’re continuing to support those groups through our partnership with the Global Fund. This means figuring out how to distribute substantive methadone treatment for people who inject drugs (a key prevention program for HIV), arranging for several months of pills for treatment to HIV and TB patients and using video calls for overseeing treatment by health care workers. In addition, equipment procured for HIV and TB testing is now being used for COVID-19 tests.

It is these types of collaborations and partnerships, from governments to community groups, businesses to donors, that has allowed UNDP adapt immediately to mobilize short-term responses. Of course, these are just examples of shifting already existing programs to serve the current context. We are also creating new initiatives, while we investigate the longer term impact of the crisis and develop solutions to bring countries forward on the other side of it.

Fighting COVID-19 takes a whole of society approach. UNDP is working across the region to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Find out more about our work.

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