Operationalising Volunteer Credits to protect and transform businesses amid COVID-19


The results of Ghana’s COVID-19 Business Tracker Survey has demonstrated the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on businesses and jobs. The findings reveal that an estimated 30,000 businesses were closed during the country’s partial lockdown in Accra and Kumasi, and 85,000 businesses remained closed nationwide after the lockdown. In addition, the results show that wages of an estimated 770,124 employees were reduced and 41,952 employees were laid-off.

This pattern is the same across the continent and all over the world, with businesses looking forward to preferred policies to reduce the cost of credit; cash bailouts; and deferral of payment obligations. In ‘building back better’ in the new normal brought by COVID-19, it is increasingly becoming clear that governments, development partners and the private sector need to invest in accelerating digital transformation, incentivising formalisation and reducing the cost of credit. It should however be noted that many actions across multiple partners are already in place/motion.

While some governments will not have significant financial resources to bailout businesses, Africa has at its disposal its people with capacities to protect businesses and help them transform. The critical question is, how do we mobilise these capacities with little or no financial resources at the disposal of governments?

The Volunteer Credits

The answer is in operationalising a new currency – the Volunteer Credits – that enables individuals to ‘earn’ and ‘redeem’. It is an idea that can potentially turn this century-old tradition of volunteering into a currency that is earned and redeemed – and in the process avail millions of volunteer hours each year.

How would it work?

The starting point is for professional associations and businesses to consider recognising ‘volunteer credits’ in their certification or hiring and promotion decisions. In Ghana, like in other countries, there are multiple professional associations like teachers, lawyers, bankers, accountants, communicators, marketers, engineers, information technologists among others.

Members of these associations and individuals should consider earning ‘Volunteer Credits’ by taking actions that protect businesses and help them transform. The ‘Volunteer Credits’ can then be redeemed at the time of renewal of membership or certificate of practice (where this exists), and where appropriate in hiring or promotions. With this effort, we can mobilise capacities and put them at the disposal of businesses and monitor their progress.

It is important to note that many professional associations have pro-bono services, and members require a certain number of hours to renew their licence for example. It has now become critical to achieve this at a large scale, so that micro, small, medium and large businesses can be protected and transformed.

Next Steps

As part of the follow-up actions, UNDP and partners are looking forward to experimenting with this effort – starting with professional associations in Ghana.

In the broader sense, however, this is a transformative effort that can help businesses across the world – and most importantly, the ‘Volunteer Credits’ can help in this decade of action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This could also make the UN Volunteer Programme grow in its second ½ century since it was founded to mobilise volunteers and promote volunteerism. Just to put it into perspective, the world population is estimated at 8.5 billion by 2030; and if just 10% of this population provides 2 hours of Volunteer Credits a month, that would be 204 billion hours. Even if we impute an average wage of US$5 an hour, that will be about US$1.02trillion a year. This is such a huge investment, worth exploring.

>>>The writer is an Economic Advisor, UNDP in Ghana and The Gambia


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