COVID-19 has disrupted lives, accustomed income sources and supply chains. While the health response continues to be the priority, and before we initiate the de-escalation that will reopen the economy, physical distancing strategies impose restrictions to the way food gets distributed, banks service their clients or businesses offer their goods to the markets. Many activities, especially tourism, have come to a halt in Barbados and elsewhere, and not all employers are able to keep their staff on payroll. Businesses’ liquidity has diminished dramatically, as has cash income by employed and self-employed. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has offered technical assistance to key actors in the private sector and non-governmental organizations wishing to inject recovery innovation into the local economy, retool small businesses, support transitions to digital servicing, generate jobs along the way and safely deliver food, and more, to Bajan homes. This assistance is designed for the response to COVID as well as for the mid-term, as the economy recovers, and some technological assets remain acquired as an alternate business model for many enterprises.
UNDP’s policy for Barbados and the region suggests “keeping as much cash as possible in people’s hands”, which starts with avoiding layoffs and retooling businesses. New digital strategies accelerate the switch to e-commerce and to alternative ways to safely delivering goods during the distancing time, so that the cash keeps flowing. To promote economic transformation and quick digital transitions, UNDP has signed Partnership Memoranda with FarmFinder, TenHabitat and WiFETCH with the double objective of economic reactivation and the inclusion of the elderly and persons living with disabilities, who face additional hurdles at this time.
TenHabitat, a non-profit developer of investor-ready businesses and ideas will support local startups for economic recovery and co-create a user-friendly digital skills marketplace for unemployed persons. UNDP and FarmFinder will develop a digital farming and fisheries portal to more effectively connect the vendor to the consumer, including a traceability system on locally farmed and fished products. UNDP and WiFETCH will connect businesses - who have lost customers - to buyers; it will also continue ensuring safe deliveries at home, assisting Barbadians who face special difficulties in procuring for their daily needs, by integrating hotline and volunteer services.
Speaking on what retooling the economy for reactivation means, Nikola Simpson, Head of the UNDP Economic Transformation Team noted: “We want to connect the fish vendor in Oistins who can’t sell to hotels, to the taxi driver who no longer has tours and can be enrolled to deliver safely the fresh local fish to a senior citizen in St. John, creating jobs, income for families and services for all Barbadians, especially those who need them most.”