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IGC’s response to COVID-19: A message from IGC’s Executive Director

The IGC’s overriding strategic priority in this period is to support developing country governments as they design and implement their COVID-19 policy response. We are focusing our research efforts, our country teams, and our policy relationships on providing this support.

As the COVID-19 crisis has spread to developing countries, it has become clear that the impact on lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries will be devastating. As the collapse of commodity prices, trade, investment and remittances has been exacerbated by the severe disruptions caused by lockdowns, incomes have collapsed and millions face acute hunger.

One of the greatest challenges of the current crisis is the pronounced uncertainty around almost every dimension of the crisis and the policy response. Governments face the need to take urgent action and to tailor their response to the distinctive economic, social, and health conditions in the local context. Yet, they have no roadmap and very little data to inform their decisions.

The International Growth Centre (IGC) is well-positioned to support the COVID-19 policy response in developing countries. With our embedded country offices across Africa and South Asia, we have the local knowledge and established relationships to work with policymakers in identifying emerging policy challenges and where new data and research is most critical. With our international research leadership and researcher network, we are able to draw insights into these challenges from the latest frontier research, while also commissioning rapid response research to generate new data and analysis.

IGC’s response

The IGC is committing all of these resources to support developing country governments in the design and implementation of their COVID-19 policy response.

Our COVID-19 response has three key components:

  • We are supporting policymakers in our partner countries in Africa and South Asia with data, research insights and advice, drawing on our research leadership and network, and working through our country teams.
  • We are generating new data and commissioning rapid response research to deepen our understanding of the crisis and inform COVID-19 policy decisions in the short and medium term.
  • We are convening research leaders to distil policy guidance from research with the aim of informing debates in international forums and within international institutions.

Supporting policymakers in developing countries

Our first priority is to support developing country governments as they craft their COVID-19 response. We are working closely with our partner countries to understand the particular challenges they face and to provide data and research-based advice as they navigate the economic and broader policy challenges of the pandemic.

In April, we published an IGC COVID-19 guidance note on containment strategies and support for vulnerable households which distils key issues and provides practical guidance for policymakers. The note was informed by the experiences in our partner countries, the evidence available to date, and the expertise of world-leading economists and health experts, 37 of whom formally endorsed the guidance. We are following this up with a growing set of more narrowly focused policy briefs.

Our teams of economists in our country offices across Africa and South Asia are responding to multiple requests for advice and information. Based in-country, they ensure that our research and guidance are informed by an understanding of the local context and policymaker demands; they are well-placed to identify where and how IGC can best support the policy response. Furthermore, recognising that stemming the transmission and impact of COVID-19 and associated containment measures is increasingly also an urban challenge, we are working on the deployment of research and evidence to support more localised policymaking as well.

Generating new data and research

Our second area of focus is on generating data and research. Up-to-date data and analysis on the economic impact of the crisis, including the lockdown policies introduced in response, is critical for enabling governments to target support for vulnerable households. It is also essential to enabling governments to design appropriate policies such as when and where to impose lockdowns, modify and lift containment measures, allowing employment and trade to continue where possible so as to lessen damage to livelihoods.

In late March, we launched a rolling Special COVID-19 Call for our research affiliate network, targeting rapid response research projects to measure the economic impact, inform the immediate policy responses and provide insights into the medium- and longer-term implications. As of 11th May, we had received 74 proposals, with a value of £1.5 million, and had approved an exciting set of projects in Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, among others. We are actively seeking additional funding to support the continuation of the call.

Anticipating that a large number of surveys would be planned for the coming months and that the benefits of harmonising questionnaires could potentially be very large, we launched a collaborative COVID-19 economic data initiative, with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The initiative will bring together surveys funded by the IGC and IPA, and others to provide robust and comparable data on the economic impact of the crisis across workers, firms, sectors, and countries to give policymakers access to the best available data so that the policy responses can be tailored to the local context and adjusted in real time.

Our country teams are also active in this area. In Sierra Leone, for example, the IGC team has collected the needs of different policymakers and helped build a high frequency survey module that has now been rolled out, using a national sample of 6,000 households and businesses. They have built an accessible dashboard that provides a range of data visualisations. The IGC Ghana team is planning to combine electricity data with survey data and provide weekly monitoring reports to the government.

Countries are adopting different approaches to tackling the crisis. We are tracking these approaches in the IGC policy response tracker, which allows policymakers and researchers to quickly compare the different approaches.

Convening research leaders to inform global debates

Our third area of focus is on convening research leaders to inform debates in international forums and within bilaterals and international institutions.

To support DFID’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, we were requested by DFID to establish a DFID COVID-19 Economic Advisory Group to provide a responsive forum for emerging policy issues. Co-chaired by Rachel Glennerster, DFID’s Chief Economist, and myself, the group consists of independent international experts engaged in the COVID-19 crisis. The first meeting discussed containment strategies and support for vulnerable households, focusing on the issues raised in the IGC policy guidance note. Subsequent meetings have discussed debt relief and, most recently, data strategies to support COVID-19 policy responses.

On 29th April, I chaired our first online event, which focused on global leadership to support Africa’s response to COVID-19. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Professor Sir Paul Collier and Dame Minouche Shafik discussed the need for international action to support the work of Africa’s leaders in tackling this crisis. With over 1,000 people tuned in, the panel highlighted the role of African leadership in the crisis, emphasised the need for a ‘learn as you go’ approach, and underscored the critical importance of global action, as ‘we are all in this together’. We have subsequently hosted events on the economic and security implications of COVID-19 in the Middle East and on the impact of COVID-19 on informal and migrant workers in India.

Our newly established Council on State Fragility, co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, David Cameron, and Dr. Donald Kaberuka, is bringing an urgent focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The Council’s first meeting was held on 11th May and focused on identifying actionable recommendations for national policymakers and international actors.

Governments across the developing world face an unprecedented crisis and are having to develop a locally-appropriate policy response with little data or guidance. IGC is working to support these critical policy decisions by increasing the supply of data and supporting rapid response research, and by convening leading researchers to distil relevant policy guidance. We will adapt our approaches and respond to the changing needs as the crisis evolves. The IGC is committed to working in partnership with developing country policymakers to help provide the data and research-based advice they need to navigate this crisis.

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