As the national and local government in the Philippines implemented necessary measures to control the spread of COVID-19, the livelihoods of MSMEs are critically distressed. Despite the disruption of the operations of CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), efforts are being exerted in order to continue providing financial and non-financial services to these MSMEs.
Upon the announcement of the enhanced community quarantine on March 16, 2020, CARD MRI announced “Walang Hulog” or the implementation of moratorium on loan payments of its clients and the suspension of all center activities to comply with social distancing until April 12, 2020.
“This decision will adversely affect our operations, but we must always go back to our core of existence: our MSME clients who we need to prioritize in these challenging times,” said CARD MRI Managing Director Flordeliza L. Sarmiento. She further added that the moratorium will allow clients to manage their finances better so that they can prioritize basic needs during the community quarantine.
Moreover, CARD Mutual Benefit Association, the microinsurance arm of CARD MRI, also suspended the collection of insurance payments. Claims, though, are still being processed at the provincial offices of CARD MBA nationwide. Its efficient strategy of settling claims with finality within 24 hours is still being observed where possible, enabling clients to continuously have access to a safety net.
CARD MRI persistently implements interventions to curtail the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. “Day after day, we think of ways on how we can keep on supporting our clients,” CARD MRI Founder and Chairman Emeritus Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip said. “With a string of 23 institutions specializing in financial and community development services, we know that we can do more for the low-income sector despite the challenges imposed by physical limitations brought by the community quarantine,” he explained.
With the communities under lockdown and access to basic social services rendered limited, an integrated online hub was launched by CARD MRI as an efficient way to reach out to its clients. These online services include free medical consultation, and educational sessions on business. Moreover, CARD MRI also launched a pilot project on mobile palengke, and an online buy and sell group for its clients.
CARD MRI has long recognized health protection as a crucial factor in achieving development. Over the years, it has created meaningful partnerships with doctors, hospitals, and clinics who also have the heart to provide basic health services to the low-income sector. Since its regular medical missions were put on hold in compliance to the enhanced community quarantine, CARD MRI brought its health services online.
On March 31, CARD MRI doctors went live on a Facebook page called “CARD e-Doctor”. The initiative was made possible by the Microfinance and Health Protection (MaHP) program unit of CARD MRI. Through their Facebook page, CARD doctors respond to health-related inquiries through a live video or via private message. The CARD e-Doctor commenced its first consultation with a live discussion about COVID-19, its symptoms, and preventive measures to take. Free online consultations are held Mondays to Fridays, from 8 AM to 5 PM.
To complement this initiative, CARD MRI’s pharmacy, BotiCARD, is open to serve CARD clients and the general public with affordable and effective generic medicines. Hygienic products are also available in the pharmacy.
Undoubtedly, the livelihoods ofCARD MRI microentrepreneurs are adversely affected by the outbreak. To support those in the line of food business, CARD MRI’s marketing arm, Mga Likha ni Inay (MLNI), spearheaded a mobile palengke to provide CARD members access to food necessities. Through the Palengke on Wheels, basic food supplies such as vegetables, poultry, and other foodstuff are bought in bulk from members (vendors and farmers) and are brought closer to communities under quarantine. Orders can be placed on its Facebook Page, Likha ni Inay Palengke on Wheels. The mobile palengke is currently being pilot-tested in San Pablo City, Laguna but is hoped to be made operational in other areas as MNLI learns from its initial experience in this initiative.
Last but not the least, CARD MRI also created an online community for its clients and members where they can continue their businesses despite restricted mobility due to the ECQ. CARD MRI’s newly launched Facebook group allows CARD clients to buy and sell their products. The group, which is searchable on Facebook as “CARD MRI Buy and Sell”, currently has more than 6,000 members, and closed more than 30 deals since its launch on March 29, 2020.
This Facebook group also paved the way for linkages between microentrepreneurs and the local governments who have been supplying communities with relief packages. For example, one particular CARD client from Panabo, Davao del Norte was tapped by the LGU to supply alamang to residents. Through this linkage, the microentrepreneur was able to secure income even during the ECQ. However, the restriction on movement threatens the supply of raw materials for the continuance of this opportunity.
The CARD-MRI Development Institute (CMDI), which offers formal education and trainings for microfinance clients, staff, and practitioners, is offering online modules for free during the quarantine period. Too, mechanisms have been put in place so that Senior High School and College students can enroll online in the comforts of their homes. Online classes will also be offered effective next school year.
CMDI also created an online community for CARD staff, clients, and members where they can discuss livelihood ideas. Dubbed as CMDI Kabuhayan Ideas Online, the group provides trivia, information, and educational videos that can help micro and small entrepreneurs in their business.
A blended approach
The enhanced community quarantine has placed physical limitations in delivering community development services. But these same limitations have sparked creativity and innovation among microfinance institutions like CARD MRI in continuously bringing its services to the low-income sector.
Being known as an institution that offers tailor-fitted products to MSMEs, CARD MRI gathered volunteer management and staff to conduct Kamustahan Sessions via phone calls and online messenger to have a deeper understanding of the situations faced by its more than 6.7 Million Clients. The reports gathered will serve as a baseline information for the institution to design responsive policies and products should national health emergencies happen again. CARD MRI believes that this information would be critical in further strengthening its digital initiatives.
“Our digitization journey started way back in 2016. We are now seeing the fruits of our labor. With our digital efforts paired with our adequate presence in the field, our support to and solidarity with our clients is maintained. We will not surrender, we will continue the fight, and I have high hopes that, together, we will win. The enormity of the challenges we are facing may tire us, but we will only rest, but never quit,” declared Dr. Alip.