Staff Writer l Palladium - Aug 31 2020
Empowering the Private Sector in the Pacific to Respond to COVID-19

Photo Source: MDF

The pandemic is expected to have lasting impacts in the Pacific region, especially in developing nations, where governments are imposing lockdowns but may not have the resources to provide stimulus packages – leaving citizens without a social safety net.

“A vital dimension in minimising the impact of COVID-19 will be supporting businesses to survive and adapt in the short term and position for recovery,” confirms the Market Development Facility (MDF) team, an Australian Government-funded program operating across the Pacific.

If there is to be meaningful and lasting results from the private sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific region, MDF recommends taking a Market Systems Development approach to establish sustainable recovery initiatives in the impacted countries.

Market Systems Development (MSD) focuses on interventions to ensure long-lasting and large-scale beneficial change to developing countries and economies. The focus for these approaches is often unique and tailored to the industry or economy in which they are working – it’s rarely one-size-fits-all.

MDF is the Australian Government’s flagship MSD program and it has proven to be one of a small number of program delivery mechanisms that works successfully in the Pacific region.

In June, MDF published a report, Engaging the Private Sector for a Market-Led Recovery, to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on their extensive experiences in empowering businesses in the Asia Pacific region, the team made several recommendations on how both the private sector and public organisations can take advantage of the opportunity to ‘build back better’, creating a stronger and more sustainable economy than before.

According to Paul Keogh, an MDF Program leader, there are already a few early examples of organisations working with the crisis to create new opportunities.

From telecommunications company Vodafone recently launching a digital payment platform in Fiji, to an agricultural inputs provider taking advantage of the mass movement of people creating backyard gardens to import new, improved vegetable seeds into the country, there are many similar stories of companies building back better. Though the situation is still evolving, these are hopeful signs of movement into an eventual recovery phase in the region.

“In normal times MSD works to innovate, identify trends, and exploit opportunities to help our partners get ‘ahead of the curve,’” says the report. “In the current climate, more than ever, this will become a matter of survival as the destructive forces of COVID-19 break in waves across the economies of the region.”

Four keys to success

If the private sector and aid organisations are going to successfully respond to the COVID-19 crisis in developing regions, MDF recommends ensuring that these four features are built into a recovery strategy:

1. Flexible mechanisms: Much like MDF, programs that are set up to respond to rapidly changing circumstances are going to succeed in this environment. MSD programs are often utilized in crisis recovery and combined with an agile and flexible team, organisations are able to rapidly meet needs as they come up.

2. Women’s Economic Empowerment: Rather than attempting to ‘retrofit’ business models in the wake of a crisis, MDF recommends using the opportunity to maximise the participation of women from the outset and embed them into business models and strategies moving forward.

3. In-country capacity: Building a team with locally based members allows for work to continue in-country even in the midst of a crisis. These team members serve as eyes and ears on the ground, providing insights into the economy and those directly affected by it.

4. Real-world intelligence: Lastly, MDF recommends building a network of programs that work with the private sector to both gather intelligence from the economy and analyse impacts that span from small households to large multinational firms. Having this information at hand, allows organisations like MDF better respond to crises in the most appropriate way for particular regions.

The report stresses that “trade-dependent Pacific economies will need regional solutions to maintain food security, address supply chain issues and support economic recovery” and that incorporating these four features along with an MSD approach is a proven means to improving economic outcomes for individuals and businesses adversely affected by the pandemic.

MDF is funded by the Australian Government and implemented by Palladium, in partnership with Swisscontact. Read the full report.