East Africa: Mastercard Foundation Mounts Aggressive Response to COVID-19 - Daniel Hailu

Daniel Hailu is Regional Head for Mastercard Foundation based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is in charge of strategic implementation and stakeholder engagement for Eastern and Southern Africa.
12 June 2020

AllAfrica Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Amadou Mahtar Ba speaks with Daniel Hailu, the Regional Head for Mastercard Foundation based in Nairobi, Kenya, as part of the Dialogue for the Future - a series of interchanges by AllAfrica with prominent leaders. Hailu, who is in charge of strategic implementation and stakeholder engagement in eastern and southern Africa, outlines the efforts by Mastercard Foundation to address the spread of COVID-19 in Africa.

AllAfrica: Good morning, Daniel Hailu. Welcome to this interview, which both of us are doing from our homes. This is the first of the 'Dialogue for the Future' series we are doing focused on COVID-19. Mastercard Foundation is one of the largest foundations in the world, but for those who do not know about the foundation, please tell us what you do and how you do it?

Hailu: Thank you for this opportunity. The Mastercard Foundation is fairly new - it was established in 2006, and it operates independently of the Mastercard company. This is something we like to clarify upfront. We are independent - we have our own board of directors, our own management. Our aim is focused on advancing education, financial inclusion to catalyse for prosperity across Africa. The Foundation also works to support indigenous young people in Canada. In 2018 we had what I will call a milestone event when we launched our "Young Africa Works" strategy for the next decade. We will focus on enabling 30 million young people in Africa, especially on young women, to secure employment that they see as being dignified and fulfilling. So that's who we are – a young, vibrant and bold foundation, going into the new COVID-19 reality with the same spirit.

LISTEN: Interview with Daniel Hailu

AllAfrica: It is great to hear you talk about youth in Africa, especially young girls. We'll come back to that. That is something I work on a lot. But starting with COVID-19, what does the Foundation do to help address COVID-19 response in Africa?

Hailu: The need on the continent is so diverse and substantial. As the public health crisis evolves into socio-economic challenges here on the continent, we saw a need for collaborative and complimentary efforts from a range of actors. It is clear to us [that] no one organization has the capacity to tackle this challenge unilaterally. About two months ago we launched the Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program to focus on supporting African communities and young people, as well as young people and the indigenous communities in Canada, to support them and their needs as they evolve during this COVID-19 reality.

Looking short-term, long-term, and being purposeful

These are communities we know very well from our body of work over the last decade or so. We have been working with a range of partners on the continent. We are looking long term, we are looking short term, and we are being very purposeful as we are going about our work.

First, you want to support the immediate needs that are emerging from the vulnerable communities – front-line health workers, students. That's the first category. The second one, and I would say the largest area of focus, is to support interventions that will enable economic recovery and building the resilience of communities, enterprises and institutions across the continent. We are going to focus on expanding access to financial services for large, medium and small enterprises, supporting the adoption of digital solutions. That is an area we are familiar with from our past work. The third is the expansion of e-learning solutions. We are two months in, and we are just starting.

AllAfrica: Excellent. I would like to ask a question about how Mastercard Foundation is supporting the public health response?

Hailu: This is actually an interesting point. The Foundation's work has not been strictly focused on public health. As I alluded to at the start of our conversation, we focus on education, access to finance. This is the space for us. These unprecedented times demand   flexibility from organizations like ours who are in a position to support these essentials. We have pivoted to focus on this emerging need. So under the Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program we've moved quickly to partner with a range of actors that have experience, influence and reach for building robust public responses to the COVID-19 situation. There are many examples. In Kenya, we have partnered with the Equity Group Foundation, a long-time partner of ours…

AllAfrica: The bank?

Hailu: Yes, Equity Group Foundation and Equity Bank. We have donated U.S.$5 million to a partnership that will support the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers in public hospitals. I think that was one of our first commitments in Kenya. We are also partnering with the Red Cross Society in Kenya and Ethiopia, and a number of other organizations, to provide essential support to front-line healthcare workers. In Uganda, we are partnering with the Malaria Consortium to train community health workers and raise the awareness of COVID-19 among affected communities. And if I could just jump back to Kenya, this one is a really interesting one…

AllAfrica: Sure.

Hailu: We are partnering with an entity called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) to recruit and train and deploy about 2,000 community volunteers that will work to promote messaging and screening in informal settlements across Kenya. These are vulnerable communities in Kenya, and we are working with organizations that have the ability to reach a grassroots level. Those are just a few examples.

READ: Mastercard Foundation Commits $5M to Protect Kenya Health Workers

And if you allow me, we are not just focusing on outreach or just providing equipment; we also see an opportunity here to support businesses in the countries we are working in, that can actually play a role and participate in solutions. We hear a lot about PPE (personal protective equipment, such as gowns, gloves and masks) and medical devices being brought in. But there are actually capacities in the countries we are supporting as well.

"Under the Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program we've moved quickly to partner with a range of actors that have experience, influence and reach for building robust public responses to the COVID-19 situation" - Daniel Hailu, Regional Head for Mastercard Foundation.

In Ethiopia, we are supporting 12 women-owned factories producing protective gear locally. In Rwanda, we are supporting an organization called Gahaya Links, getting local artisans involved in making protective equipment. These efforts try to meet the needs that are emerging, and this is all over a period of two months. So we've moved quickly with our partners to bring solutions to the table that will be effective.

Unfortunately, one aspect of the COVID-19 reality that has emerged is the prevalence of gender-based violence. We have seen it spike with the onset of the pandemic. We are responding by supporting partnerships to deliver psycho-social support to communities and making sure these are available to victims at the nearest point of their need. So that's a few examples to give you a sense of the kind of work we are doing in this space.

READ: Mastercard Foundation Supports Ethiopia MSEs Affected by COVID-19

An unprecedented demand for flexibility

AllAfrica: And Daniel, on that specifically—the gender-based violence —have you been seeing it across the region, or is it more localized in some countries, and is it more an urban scourge, or is it also prevalent in the countryside?

Hailu: I wouldn't say it is isolated to any particular country. And I would say the spike we are seeing is partially due to economic pressure. We are seeing families who are vulnerable already, and they are being pushed across the line.. We are seeing it not just in urban centers; we are seeing it widely. This intervention that we are mobilizing is going to support not just urban centers, but across countries. And we don't see this as a short-term issue. This is something we feel is going to linger as long as the effects of the COVID-19 economic impact are with us. I think this is a space that needs support and visibility.

AllAfrica: I can't commend the Foundation enough for working in this space. If we want our societies to be healthy and thriving, we absolutely need to reduce gender-based violence. You cannot overcome this by being abusive and giving into fear. You have to spread the love, so that you can overcome this.

Coming back to the economic aspect, because obviously this is a health crisis. But in Africa, interestingly, there has been a lag. We are seeing the economic crisis before seeing the health crisis. This is now catching up with us at a rapid pace, but for the longest time, because of the lockdowns, there has been the economic crisis first. Can you give us an example of what the foundation is doing to respond to the current economic crisis in your region, and also if there are more long-term activities the foundation is doing to help the continent be resilient and come back in full force economically?

Hailu: Actually, if I may give a disclaimer, I'm sharing with you the work we are doing that I am responsible for in East and Southern Africa. But we are doing similar work across the continent. My colleagues based in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal are engaging in similar types of work. But to come back to your question - micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are a key area of focus [because of] the role that MSMEs play as a source of economic activity and employment. Keeping them going is critical in sustaining the livelihood of millions across the continent.

We know that these enterprises have been significantly affected by the lockdowns and by safety measures that have been put in place by governments across the continent. Supply chains been disrupted, and, ultimately, market demand for these enterprises has shrunk significantly. We know well that in ordinary times these businesses have significant challenges in accessing financing from traditional commercial institutions. COVID-19 has exacerbated that reality. We are working with a myriad of partners to deploy instruments that will offer flexible solutions, offer credit lines, during this key period when it's about making sure these businesses are able to sustain themselves until they can get back into the market.

The need is not just financial. It is important that we recognize that it is one thing to have the financing you need to pay the bills for the real estate side of things or your supply chain. But the other one is to have the knowledge on how to manage through such a scenario. So we are also offering, together with our funding, technical assistance to smaller enterprises. MSMEs need comprehensive support to tide them over until the crisis is abated. Based on current predictions, that looks like a lengthy period.

We are focused on making sure we are building the resiliency of these enterprises, so that they withstand this shock, because we suspect that, as time goes, on there will be other reasons that businesses are disrupted. So resiliency comes into play as a key element of what we are trying to deliver to these enterprises. Ultimately these support mechanisms we are enabling and deploying will not only protect these businesses today. We also recognize the direct linkage into our broader and bigger strategy around 'Young Africa Works', ensuring young people the opportunities to access dignified and fulfilling work.

There is a strong linkage in what we are doing in response to COVID-19 to our Young Africa Works strategy. Again, in Ethiopia - we are working with our partner First Consult to secure funding and financing to support the livelihoods of 50,000 workers. This is one example of many that we will be deploying across the continent and here [in east Africa].

AllAfrica: We will come back to Young Africa Works, but I would like to turn to education, which is key for the continent but also an area where the Mastercard Foundation has invested a lot. Unfortunately, one of the problems caused by COVID-19 is children staying home in many countries and not going to school. And that, unfortunately, has eroded the hard-earned gains which in many countries we have experienced. What is the Foundation doing, specifically, to help cope with this crisis in education.

"We know well that in ordinary times these businesses have significant challenges in accessing financing from traditional commercial institutions. COVID-19 has exacerbated that reality. We are working with a myriad of partners to deploy instruments that will offer flexible solutions, offer credit lines, during this key period" - Daniel Hailu, Regional Head for Mastercard Foundation.

Education is a mainstay for recovery

Hailu: Education is our mainstay in terms of the initial set of programs we were delivering, going back to the first decade. Education is an area in which we've seen the impact, and we are seeing the possibility that this impact will actually continue now. I know that countries are [assessing] how they will reopen or reorganize themselves to be able to deliver education. So, absolutely, a key part of the Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program is to enable support for education – not just basic education. We are looking at tertiary education as well. First and foremost, we've stepped up to face the immediate needs of students in our Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

We have more than 30,000 students enrolled in the program. Some of these students were caught [and made] very vulnerable with the onset of the COVID-19 emergency, and as a result of the disruption of education and travel. We moved quickly to ensure the safety of all the students – and that their basic needs are catered for, and that they could shift seamlessly to online learning. This is one part of it. More broadly, building on the work we have we have underway at the Mastercard Foundation Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning, we are now looking at how e-learning will not only bridge the gap that we are seeing and feeling today, but also becomes an enabler for how education will be delivered in a more effective way across the continent into the future.

If you were to say, "Tomorrow is tomorrow. What about today?", the response on the ground includes: in Rwanda we are working with the Education Board to offer support for lessons that are taught by radio and television. Recognizing that when we talk about e-learning and online learning, we have a severe disadvantage on the continent in terms of the rate of connectivity and device ownership. Being practical and shifting the modality of delivery from physical to one that is relatively accessible to a lot of people and a lot students, there is radio and television. In Kenya, we are working with an entity called CAP Youth Empowerment Institute to help deliver training around employability skills for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students. And, again, being innovative here and avoiding this gap where students stay home or stay away from their learning institutions for two to three months – and come back and are expected to plug right in and move forward.

We're looking to offer solutions that are practical and aligned with the realities on the ground, and also keeping an eye on the fact that, ultimately, we recognize that this is an area that is a challenge originally from the resource shortages that basic education institutions face. Now it is an opportunity – that we feel the need to support – for a transition. E-learning and education technology are the tools that will enable this to happen, and so it is a focus area for us.

AllAfrica: Absolutely critical, and I couldn't agree more. Education is a pillar, if you want to come back and come back stronger. If we want to make a very good bet on the future of the continent, then we have to be doing something on education. I would like now to have a discussion on the nature of your response. You started talking about it earlier; I would like you to expand on it. Of course the continent of Africa is large. What, in your opinion, is the best approach to addressing the COVID-19 response? Should we be focusing on specific country needs? Or is there some pan-African approach which you think needs to be looked at here?

READ: Education Technologies are Keeping Learning Going in Africa

Hailu: The Mastercard Foundation has experience working at a regional level, as programs and interventions that are delivered at a [continental] level. But we've evolved to a model where we are focusing our delivery mechanism for Young Africa Works on country level as well - as in country-level specific programming. We have experience in both, and we know that other organizations that are looking to support [response efforts] have similar experiences.

The sheer scale of the COVID-19 reality requires flexible response models

The sheer scale of the COVID-19 reality as we know it today, and as it will continue to evolve, will require the adoption of flexible response models. In the case of the Mastercard Foundation's COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program, we will leverage a combination of country-specific and regional-type programs. Country-level programming allows us to deliver context-aligned, grassroots-reaching interventions. This is really critical because, again, we are looking to support the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. In order to do that, there is a need to work at a grassroots level, which is difficult if you are working [only] on a regional level.

Having said that, regional programming allows us to leverage economies of scale. I shared earlier a number of examples which are country-specific, specifically related to Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia. We are currently developing a number of regional programs, as well, with partners that have regional reach and delivery capacity. This is the key point here. Regional programs require a different set of expertise to succeed. We are working with partners we feel have that capacity and capability – making sure that we are doing what's practical; making sure we are advising ourselves on the basis of the need, rather than programming based on what's comfortable. So, one example of this is our recent partnership with the Africa CDC, where we are partnering to deliver 1 million testing kits for the continent and deploy 10,000 community health workers to support the surveillance needs; contact tracing and so on. This is a critical partnership for us; we've committed $40 million to this initiative, and we're one of several funders that has joined the Africa CDC's Partnership to Accelerate Testing for COVID-19. And we are hoping to see more funders directing support to this initiative. So we Which are not always the same thing. We are stretching being flexible, pivoting as required, and adapting both models as needed.

"The first thing I have slowly learned about myself, my position in this organization, my position in life, is that the need to listen before assuming or ascertaining has never been more critical. This has been one of the values of the Mastercard Foundation as well" - Daniel Hailu, Regional Head for Mastercard Foundation.

AllAfrica: Now focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on your foundation's operations specifically. What happens to your Young Africa Works strategy, which is one of your flagship programs on the continent. What happens to it now because of the COVID-19 impact?

Hailu: Young Africa Works is our strategy for the continent for the next decade. We started the journey in 2018, and we were just picking up speed and getting into our stride when COVID-19 happened, not just on the continent but globally. Like most organizations, we and our partners have felt the effects of the global disruptions brought about by the pandemic. That's something we've felt starting in middle of March.

READ: Mastercard Foundation & Africa CDC to Deliver a Million Test Kits

At the same time, the reason behind Young Africa Works is the challenge of not enough dignified and fulfilling opportunities for young people. Focusing on that for a moment, that challenge has now gotten bigger. There are more people today that need access to employment than there were back in March. Our strategy is, in our view, more needed today than it was before COVID-19. Therefore, while the work of several of our partners have slowed down, we are very encouraged to witness some of our partners pivoting their delivery models to continue their program activities.

More young Africans need employment now than before COVID-19

A few have adjusted their execution to address emerging needs as well. One example, is a really inspiring one here in Kenya. Under the Ajiry Program, we have a partnership with an entity called Tribus TSG (a subsidiary of Centum Investment). Young African developers and co-developers have designed and deployed a zero-contact food distribution application to respond to the skyrocketing food relief challenges we are seeing. The application is aiding the delivery of food supply by the government at a national level and at a county level as well, and changing and pivoting a program that could have been disrupted. It needed to adjust itself, and it is now delivering a solution that is aligned and in tune with the emerging needs of COVID-19.

Mastercard Foundation and its Young Africa Works partners are committed to forging forward. We will, of course, be mindful of the fact that the world after COVID-19 may not look the same. We are very willing and ready to make sure that our strategy, our programming constructs, will ensure that they are aligned to, are listening, and paying attention to any emerging needs. Young Africa Works is our strategy for the next decade. We are committed to it. Our partners are committed to it, and we looking forward to forging forward.

AllAfrica: Daniel, this has been very informative, and many will take comfort in knowing that a foundation such as Mastercard Foundation is really focused on tackling not only the current crisis, but also working to make sure that the continent comes out of it stronger and forges ahead. To just wrap up our discussion, I will focus this last question on a human and personal level. As leaders, we often go through crisis, and one of the lessons many have been saying is what this crisis has opened their eyes to - which is humility. I will ask you personally, what are some of the lessons you are learning from this crisis, being an Ethiopian; being an African and simply being a human being?

Hailu: Thank you, Amadou. I will say COVID-19 has challenged me and stretched me in many dimensions. From a position of seeing a scenario unfold, which I think, looking back to February or March, nobody estimated we will be here at this point. So its been challenging professionally, but it's also allowed me to take on a role in the organization that is so fulfilling.

The need for listening has never been more critical

The first thing I have slowly learned about myself, my position in this organization, my position in life, is that the need to listen before assuming or ascertaining has never been more critical. This has been one of the values of the Mastercard Foundation as well. Listening looks like a simple action. But 'listening' means your ability to inform your actions on the basis of what's really needed versus what we may assume is needed. For an organization that is looking to support communities, regions and countries, I would say that is one of things I have had a chance to practice a lot over the last few months.

The other one is humility. The humility to take in information, process information and come up with a collaborative approach that allows us and our partners to land on an approach that is really addressing the need requires one to realign one's own perceptions. Humility is something we talk about a lot at the foundation and we've had to live it in the past few months.

I truly believe these two points – listening and humility – will guide us and make sure we stay on the right course as we support those who are being affected by COVID-19. Last but not least, I have also learned that the flexibility one is required to have is something that has a different meaning every day. Whether it is something that's relatively manageable like changes in where we work – as we are speaking to each other from our respective homes. But as a leader, the need is apparent to get a better sense and understanding of what people's position are. That is being challenged now because of the COVID-19 reality. Still imbuing an intimacy in [digital] interactions that one is having with colleagues and partners is something that has been a learning curve for me. It is not easy. I don't know if it is possible for us as human beings to get comfortable with this modality, but I continue to challenge myself not to let it get in the way of the quality of engagement that I have with colleagues. So that's where I am. But I'm sure if we have this conversation again down the line, I will have a few more [observations] to share with you.

AllAfrica: Daniel Hailu, we've just heard you. You mentioned "listening", and we've listened and we've heard you. Thank you very much for your time. It's a pleasure to learn more about the foundation. And we will make sure to catch up with you in another edition of 'Dialogue for the Future'.

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