How DAWN is responding to COVID-19 in Myanmar

A rapidly evolving situation requiring resilience and responsiveness, while maintaining the well-being of staff and clients as top priority.

April 2020

As DAWN heads into its 5th year of operations as an independent microfinance institution, it does so amidst a global crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, just days before DAWN’s official anniversary on March 16. In the weeks leading up to this declaration, DAWN was faced with the decision of whether or not to postpone its 5th anniversary celebration. Ultimately DAWN decided to postpone the event, erring on the side of caution. At the time, Myanmar did not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases but that would soon change. By March 23, the country reported its first 2 cases and now has 111 as of April 19. As the situation escalated, the Myanmar Government announced several economic relief measures and is continuing to take action to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. In a country with limited health care capacity and social supports, and an economy already hit hard by the ripple effect of having early epicentres of the disease such as China, Japan, Thailand and Singapore as main trading partners, these measures are all the more important.

In parallel, DAWN adopted its own additional precautions, taking cues from best practices around the world and in support of guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Sports. DAWN acted quickly and mobilized a COVID-19 response team within its senior management team to roll out a business continuity plan across the institution. In the initial stages, the focus was on communication and education, especially on raising awareness of COVID-19 and the importance of following public health advice among staff and clients. Informational posters were distributed to all staff, along with ample supplies of masks, hand soap and hand sanitizers. All offices, from the head office to branches, were sanitized on a regular basis and infrared thermometers were ordered to facilitate temperature checks for everyone entering the premises. DAWN was also quick to implement temporary operational changes in response to client feedback and in compliance with the Microfinance Business Supervisory Committee’s Directive 2/2020, including providing a debt moratorium for its borrowers. DAWN also stressed the importance of social distancing and implemented several measures to enforce it, from suspending business travel to introducing remote work for all staff.

DAWN HO disenfection
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DAWN offices undergoing disinfection and protective supplies being delivered to branches.

As a microfinance institution with a high-touch model, working from home is a new experience for many of DAWN’s staff, over 800 of whom are based in branches and used to spending their days in the field with clients. They welcome the adjustment though, and remain in close contact with clients by phone. Ma Myintzu Khaing, a Group Lending loan officer from Pyay Branch, is in contact with her clients daily. She asks after their family’s health and speaks with them about their business situation and news from the local authority. She also shares with them updated COVID-19 information from reliable sources like the WHO and the Ministry of Health and Sports, and counsels them to avoid crowded areas as much as they can, to exercise physical distancing and to wash their hands often. Aside from maintaining their client outreach activities, staff are also continuing to keep in touch with each other through Zoom video conferences, Skype and phone calls, emails, messages via SMS, Viber and WhatsApp, and even a closed Facebook Group to discuss all things related to COVID-19. Training has also been adapted to remote work, and is now being done online. In these unprecedented times and novel working conditions, DAWN is doing what it can to retain a sense of normalcy.

DAWN field staff working from home.

The last several weeks have demonstrated the critical role of technology in allowing people to observe physical distancing requirements while maintaining social connections. For a high-touch operation like DAWN, the current reality brought about by this pandemic has reinforced the importance of its ongoing digital transformation. While face-to-face client interaction remains a core aspect of how DAWN operates, it is also accelerating efforts to develop and offer more digital transaction channels for clients in the future. While it remains to be seen how things will settle after COVID-19, for now, DAWN will continue to focus on the well-being of its staff and clients, and remain resilient and responsive to the situation as it unfolds.