One of the early learnings we had around COVID-19 was that the struggle by many organizations to maintain the continuity of critical functions along with a safe working environment. While many international organisations (UN, embassies, INGOs) were quick to activate business continuity plans with elaborate staff safety and security protocols as well virtual applications to ensure business continuity, this was not the same with many government agencies. The culture of business continuing planning and disaster management in the public sector is weak and the absence of these capabilities at wide scale within government made it impossible to do business in the midst of crisis of the magnitude of covid.
Take the example of Ethiopia’s industrial parks, home to dozens of manufacturing industries and thousands of mainly low-income workers, maintaining a safe working environment means reducing the capacity of vehicles that transport workers, maintaining a 2-meter distance between workstations and making sure workers can adjust their behaviour in response to the current situation. However, the nature of the work they do and how they do it hinders the ability to maintain these protocols. The reality is that minimum physical distance between workstations, reducing the number of people on company transport means workers must minimize contact, wait longer to leave work and with restricted movements, this leads to loneliness and their overall psycho-social wellbeing. Keeping the workers informed and providing them with virtual psychosocial support will go a long way in maintaining business continuity, safeguarding critical functions at the industrial parks during covid and beyond it to future disasters.
The covid-related measures, just like the ones we see in the general population, while inevitable, may be contributing to psychosocial burdens on the workers as they continue working to reduce the economic ramifications on their households and the country at large. We conducted a sense-making exercise in 7 industrial parks across the country which drew out the need for continued support for workers and administrators to cope with the ever-changing nature of the crisis by expanding awareness on various topics, encouraging behavioural change and tackling psychosocial burdens. Besides, the uncertainty of their jobs is itself an economic burden that they have to bear, on their own.
We partnered with the Industrial Park Development Corporation to develop a plan to empower employees to keep themselves safe, create a positive work environment and manage their stress during a crisis. To achieve this, however, we needed a non-traditional way of getting information to employees to address the various challenges. First, the information had to be delivered remotely to keep in line with COVID restrictions. Second, the content must be designed in a digestible format that can reach the various literacy levels of the workforce. Finally, the messages had to be in multiple languages since Ethiopians speak more than 80 languages.
We also wanted to leverage an existing infrastructure that works at a large scale to reach 40K industrial park workers since the timing is sensitive.
In true accelerator lab fashion, we investigated our innovation ecosystem, mapped and identified a social enterprise group as a partner for our work. Viamo uses a mobile-based technology to deliver messaging campaign through IVR and mass text messages with the added capability of providing remote training and surveys. Since 2012, the company has been harnessing the power and ubiquity of mobile phones to connect individuals and organizations using digital technology for better decisions making. The company sought to reach the most isolated populations and providing the information to make informed decisions for a healthy, prosperous and empowered well-being. This vision aligns with the UNDP's vision promoted through the instrumentality of the Lab, namely, to provide the tools, the support systems and knowledge need to reduce vulnerability and build resilience against crisis and shocks.
We designed the content for the campaign and training, so it addressed the current issues and recent development in what we know about the virus as well as updated guidance from the Ministry of Health. We began with a need’s assessment with representatives of the industrial parks on the type of information that would be most beneficial at this stage of the pandemic in Ethiopia. Multiple awareness creation campaigns have already been carried out and people generally have a good understanding of COVID-19 and measures to protect themselves and their families. But from the assessment and additional research, we identified that there was a gap in translating the knowledge into action. We therefore worked with line supervisors, giving them the knowledge and skills needed to communicate effectively with employees and workers who are under tremendous psychosocial pressures like stress and anxiety.
Data collection through a mobile survey: this remote survey will establish some key indicators on the employee’s knowledge and action around COVID-19 to help us understand and better design the communication campaign based on their needs. This survey will cut across distance, language and literacy barriers for insightful communication and data collection on a sample of 3,000 employees. This will include an end-line survey to show how the program has also brought about change in knowledge, attitude and practice so we can measure our impact.
Communication campaign with IVR and messaging: Based on identified gaps in employee’s knowledge through the survey and some pre-determined topic, a behavioural change intervention is designed and rolled-out via a communication campaign delivered thorough SMS, IVR and toll-free numbers. We will be pushing information directly to employees, but they can also request information on their own time. This activity will empower the workers with actionable information to alleviate psychosocial burdens.
Remote training for Supervisors: on top of the mass awareness creation campaign, 150 supervisors from across the country will receive training on how to be a better support system to their employees. It will cover effective risk communication, community and rumor management, maintaining a positive work environment and procedure for home care of COVID-19. This training will go beyond the pandemic to create a positive and productive working environment in the medium and long-term.
In addition to supporting the continuous awareness creation at various levels across the industrial parks, this partnership will be able to show us how effective it is to conduct surveys, training and communication campaigns remotely. To the best of our knowledge, this is not something that UNDP Ethiopia has ever done before so we hope to have learned from this exercise that we can take on to other projects. This initiative also allowed us to engage with a social enterprise in a way we have never done before here in Ethiopia.
Even more important, we want to proof that of the many measures in fighting a pandemic like Corona, community engagement is the foundation of success, and that fundamental changes in how people behave – whether in relation to public health, law and order enforcement, or other forms of restrictions – can be influenced when people have incentives to change and access to trustworthy information.
We look forward to updating you on what we have learned in the coming months. But in the meantime, we would be happy to hear your thoughts on this topic on our social media or through email at email@example.com.