This testing year has proved Oikocredit’s resilience, our partners’ courage and our investors’ trust
Thos Gieskes, Managing Director at Oikocredit
Oikocredit’s Managing Director, Thos Gieskes, reflects on one of the most challenging years in our cooperative’s history and considers what 2021 may bring.
The past year has confronted humanity with the entirely unforeseen challenge of the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. Some 1.5 million people around the world have died from Covid-19. Millions more have suffered illness, bereavement, separation from loved ones, loss of social mobility, disrupted livelihoods, and all the misery and anxiety these entail. The virus has pushed an estimated 100 million people into extreme poverty. Huge numbers of heath care and other frontline workers have made enormous sacrifices to save lives, tend those who are in need, and keep societies functioning. All these people are much in our thoughts.
Here at Oikocredit we can be proud of the way our partner organisations and we ourselves have coped with the pandemic, working side by side in solidarity. We offered support from the beginning and continue to be there for our partners, many of whom work closely with low-income and vulnerable people in some of the poorest countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America and are still in need of assistance and encouragement as they face continuing difficulties.
Examples of our crisis-response support to partners this year have included staying in close contact to understand their needs and concerns, allowing partners to delay and reschedule repayments, and in some cases providing additional liquidity despite the increased risks. We have provided advice on business continuity, cash flow, health and safety, compliance with government regulations, and risk and scenario planning. We have adapted our capacity building programmes to function with hardly any in-person meetings. We have brought partners together through webinars and online encounters to share experience and strategies. And we have used our coronavirus solidarity fund to give financial assistance for crisis management, awareness training, and the cost of sanitation and personal protection equipment.
More about how we have adjusted our approach in response to the pandemic while maintaining a steady course can be found in our recent Impact Report 2020: Sustainability and solidarity.
The safety and wellbeing of Oikocredit staff at central office and in our focus regions have also been a key priority. Our internal restructuring in 2019 has made us more adept at embracing remote and online working practices while maintaining the effectiveness that comes from frequent and well-managed dialogue between colleagues and partners. I must pay tribute to my colleagues for their commitment and flexibility despite all the hardship and uncertainty the pandemic has caused.
This unprecedented year has also brought several useful lessons for the future and cleaned the lens through which we look at life and at the planet. For Oikocredit this means renewed determination to come through stronger and better. As an impact investor and worldwide cooperative, we will not weaken in our commitment to deliver our mission of using sustainable finance and capacity building to support the empowerment of low-income communities and to help marginalised people improve their quality of life.
We understand that 2020 has been hard for our investors as well, many of whom will have been personally affected by the crisis in one way or another. We cannot thank you – Oikocredit’s investors – enough for your loyalty and long-term belief in our work despite the current uncertainties. The fact that our investors have stayed with us has been a beacon of continuity, supporting and inspiring us in responding with resilience to the crisis that has struck many of our partners so hard and, if to a lesser extent, our own organisation and people.
Looking forward to 2021, we know that the year to come will continue to be challenging for Oikocredit, for our partners and their clients, for the wider social investor and social development communities, and for most of humankind. There have been signs of recovery in the countries we work in, and in recent months we have resumed the financing of new partners. But we should also expect delays and setbacks. Together with our stakeholders we’re currently working on a new purpose-driven strategy, which we will launch in 2022. We’re jointly exploring our long-term vision, purpose, theory of change and strategic choices to support the transition to a more equitable, just and sustainable future. Forty-five years after we were founded in November 1975, Oikocredit continues to go where our work is needed. Our mission is more important than ever. And our resolve to work productively with others is undimmed.