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Financial Inclusion and Resilience: How BRAC’s Microfinance Program Recovered from the West Africa Ebola Crisis

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In July 2014, at the height of the Ebola virus disease outbreak, BRAC’s microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Liberia and Sierra Leone were confronted with two competing scenarios of how to move forward. Path one: revise operations in a challenging, volatile situation and press on, despite the threat to staff and clients’ health. Path two: pause operations, establish protocols to protect staff, clients and relationships, but risk long-term recovery and customer loyalty. 

As the crisis escalated, there were several contributing factors that made it irresponsible—and therefore in BRAC’s eyes, impossible—for BRAC to continue operating. The economic situation worsened and a state of emergency was declared in each country. Markets shut down and clients’ businesses struggled to stay afloat. Restrictions on gatherings and movement were put in place, making it extremely challenging for credit officers to collect payments. Group meetings, the established platform for collections and disbursements, were not permitted, which prohibited credit officers and clients from meeting. When borders closed, and major airlines began cancelling flights, panic became even more widespread. Like many other international non-governmental organizations, BRAC sent its international staff in both countries home, including key managers of BRAC’s MFIs. At the time, though more than 90 percent of BRAC’s staff in both countries were nationals, the majority of senior management (area managers and higher) were international. This became a key factor in BRAC’s ability to continue operating throughout the crisis.

This case study traces the effect of the Ebola crisis on the operations of BRAC’s MFIs. It examines the MFIs’ reaction to the crisis, and the repercussions of the suspension on operational viability, revealing lessons on how to build institutional resilience, that apply both to BRAC and the broader microfinance community. The case study also examines the resilience of clients themselves measured by their ability to repay loans after collections restarted, with the hopes of gaining a deeper perspective into their strategies for coping during and after the crisis. 

Document  -  English (en)

Document Information

Document Type Case Study
Author Hitoishi Chakma, Emily Coppel, Aissatou Diallo, Rod Dubitsky, Isabel Whisson
Year of Publication 2017
Publisher BRAC
Number of Pages 22
Region / Country Global, Africa / Liberia, Sierra Leone
Primary Language English (en)
Keywords Ebola, Microfinance Institution, emergency response
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