The design and implementation of the 100WEEKS program (cash and training) is constantly evaluated through mobile surveys, conducted by our local call centers in Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana and Ivory Coast. This pre-existing infrastructure of local call centers and online data collections allowed us to quickly gather valuable data on how hundreds of families living in poverty have experienced the effects of the coronavirus crisis. Because we can compare this group to women that have not yet received any cash and women that have already graduated from the program, we have a thorough understanding of how the cash has helped the participants currently enrolled during the lockdowns.
There have been lockdowns in all countries where 100WEEKS is active. Travel restrictions and a ban on public transportation have cut off many rural areas from the rest of society, depriving millions of informal or casual workers of their sources of income. How have the women in our program gone through this difficult period? We conducted a large-scale phone survey amongst 640 women in all countries where we operate, collecting extremely valuable data on how the poor have dealt with one of the biggest crises in our lifetime.
The strict measures that have been put in place have had big repercussions for the women in our program. Not surprisingly, 95% of the women told us that they have been anxious about the COVID-19 crisis. Amongst the women currently enrolled in our program, 97% told us that the measures have seriously affected their lives.
Sharp decrease in income
Many income-generating activities were rendered impossible during the most severe lockdown periods. The ban on public and private transportation, the travel restrictions and the curfew have cut off many women from a market for their products. Running roadside businesses or selling food in cities became impossible for many participants, as they do not live close enough to reach these places by foot. Besides that, all markets and shops for non-essential goods had to close, affecting women that own a shop. Day laborers were also affected, since many of the farmers had to cut down on costs and stopped employing them.
Not surprisingly therefore, our data show a big drop in average incomes. In Uganda, the average income decreased by 69%, while in Rwanda we saw a decrease of 57%. In Ghana, the decline has been less severe, because the lockdown in rural areas was less strict.
Rapid increase in consumer prices
At the same time, on average, essential items have become more expensive. We asked the women in the 100WEEKS program about price changes. The vast majority (78%) indicated that their essential items became more expensive during the lockdown period. While in Ghana this share was somewhat lower, in Uganda all women faced price increases.
Figure 1: Have your essential items become more expensive?
Food security threatened
The combination of rising prices and reduced income forms a real threat to the food security of the poor. Women in our program were not insulated from this effect. As shown in figure 2, 48% of the women in our Rwanda program indicate that they have worried (rarely, sometimes or often) about not having enough to eat. This is a lot, showing how big the effect of the lockdown has been. Nevertheless, 90% of the women in the program say they never go to bed hungry because of a lack of food.
The situation has been far worse for families not receiving cash transfers however. Of all women selected for our program who have yet to receive their first cash transfer, 85% worry about not having enough to eat. This indicates that the cash transfers have worked as a lifeline during the lockdown period for the women in our program, providing for basic necessities when other income disappeared.
Women that have already graduated from our program have also been affected severely. In this group, income dropped 56%. However, even though they do not receive cash transfers anymore, they worry significantly less about food security than the women who never received cash, as figure 2 illustrates. We see the same for the other food-security indicators. This result suggests that the women that no longer participate in the program are still better equipped to deal with this crisis than women who never took part. They have built resilience.
Figure 2: Different food-security indicators
Repercussions for children
Children often suffer the most from the adverse effects of a crisis. In a report on a framework for nurturing care by the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Bank Group, extreme poverty and poor mental health of caregivers are considered major risks for child development. A crisis of this magnitude could pull many families into extreme poverty, causing a spike in stress levels of caregivers as well. Threatened food security could further aggravate these effects as plentiful and balanced nutrition is crucial for the health and brain development of a child.
Apart from mental and physical health, education is another critical element of child development. Most women surveyed said that their children had not been able to go to school. As in Europe, children in Rwanda, Ghana and Uganda had to shift to home schooling. As shown in figure 3, different methods for homeschooling are used and there are some noticeable national differences. Ghana stands out, where 25% of women report that their children did not do any school work during the lockdown period. Furthermore, one could question the quality of the education at home, especially of the self-prepared school materials, which many women reported using.
Figure 3: Different strategies for homeschooling
All in all, we have seen that the measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus have negatively affected income, consumer prices and food security in the countries where we work. Even though the women in the program were affected, the cash transfers significantly improved their coping capabilities. The results suggest that the cash transfers have been used as a lifeline, improving the food security of the women in the program and forming a safety net for their families. This is crucial, because these conditions highly impact the development of the children involved. We also saw that the families that have already graduated from the program are more resilient.
The 100WEEKS-method aims at empowering participants to establish their own sources of income, lifting them out of poverty sustainably. In these extraordinary times, we saw that the weekly cash transfers served a different goal, proving the flexibility cash offers. Since making a living was rendered impossible, the cash transfers became essential to survival. Many lockdown measures have now been lifted, but the consequences of this crisis will be felt for a long time. The fact that the program lasts for 100 weeks, allows the women to rebuild their income-generating activities, as they will be able to use the cash transfers for the necessary investments. We have increased our efforts to scale up our program to allow as many women as possible to benefit from it now that is most needed, and also to help rebuild local economies after lockdown measures are completely lifted. After all, investing in multiple income-generating activities not only benefits the women and their families, it also contributes to strengthening local economies. The hardships that this crisis has created, make the demand for both more pressing than ever.
For this report 100WEEKS conducted a survey specifically to measure the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the lives of the women in our program and graduates from our program. To obtain quality data we use validated World Bank questionnaires and customized to fit in the specific context we are working in. In total, we interviewed 640 women of which 512 live in Rwanda, 88 in Ghana and 40 in Uganda. At the time the survey was conducted 507 of the women received cash on a weekly basis. 133 already finished their 100 weeks. The outcomes of the survey can be found in our COVID-19 dashboard (to log in please use: Partner1@100weeks.org, password: data4good).
 These data come from the baseline survey of women who have been selected for our program but haven’t received any cash or training yet.