3 lessons we learned from our COVID-19 response in Belarus

January 15, 2021

Handover of PPEs to volunteers of Belarus Red Cross Society, April 2020.

Unlike almost every other country in the world, Belarus hasn’t gone into complete lockdown. That decision made the government to focus on two key “lines of defense” in attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19: mobilization of the healthcare system for early warning surveillance of the infection and development of measures to remedy adverse socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.

Rather than slowing down its programmatic activities in the face of a new uncertainty, UNDP Belarus took a strategic and bold decision to speed up and amplify its presence on the ground, doubling its efforts to help local communities strengthen healthcare systems, boost local development, and protect the environment.

Handover of PPEs to volunteers of Belarus Red Cross Society, Minsk, April 2020.

Handover of disinfection liquids to schools, Minsk, April 2020.

Health protection first

From the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the UN system in Belarus tailored and activated a Crisis Preparedness and Response plan to address the urgent needs of the national and local partners in fight with COVID-19 and coping with its consequences. UNDP took the lead in supporting operations and logistics, risk communication and community engagement. UNDP reprogrammed and mobilized additional resources to bolster the health system through procurement and delivery of much needed personal protective, medical supplies, and equipment for healthcare institutions, schools, social welfare facilities, border protection institutes. As of December, UNDP spent USD 383,750 on COVID-19 response activities.

Knowledge and communication is key

It goes without saying that COVID-19 hit certain people more than others: elderly people, women, people with disabilities, entrepreneurs, to name a few. To support those vulnerable and not to leave anyone behind, UNDP and EU channeled their efforts bringing on board Belarus Red Cross Society to target elderly people and their relatives with a brand-new information campaign. The message is simple: following simple precautions measures will keep you physically and mentally healthy.

No myths, no stereotypes: during crisis making credible information accessible to everyone, including vulnerable groups, is crucial. With this in mind, together with the local Association of people with disabilities, UNDP translated complex COVID-19 information into a plain language, making it accessible for people with learning difficulties.

With the world going rapidly online due to COVID-19,  we had to leverage our digital presence in reaching out more people – that’s how we’ve come up with a new media product: podcast “Corona Question". The product looks beyond the medical aspects of the crisis. Through personal stories of Belarusians and opinions and experience of invited experts, it tells about the pandemic impact on different areas of our life: from entrepreneurship and to environment protection and agricultural development nuances.  

Helping businesses to adjust to the “new reality”

Tapping into our traditional strong work on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), we did research on the impact of the pandemic on the local entrepreneurship. The study has been conducted with the support of the Ministry of Economy and helps to offer corporate and policy recommendations to the relevant partners and businesses to help SMEs recover and strengthen their resilience in the post-COVID-19 world.

Talking about support to businesses, we paid special attention to women entrepreneurs, their struggles during COVID-19 and possible ways to support them. At the community level, we launched a Business and Career Week for women entrepreneurs with a series of 15 trainings to support them in their business and career aspirations during COVID-19, which engaged 400 women. New business models and their practical application became the main topic of a “Creathon” event, where women exchanged ideas on how to adjust existing business products/services and develop new ones – more resilient formats to speed up transformation and recovery. We continued with a new freelance educational programme for women entrepreneurs offering online workshops and networking sessions, helping women-entrepreneurs meet emerging market and customer demands.

To expand our support to SMEs from 5 regions of Belarus, we offered a series of online consultations and individual recommendations on business development during COVID-19. 

With digital disruption as one of the key priorities of UNDP’s COVID-19 response strategy, we tapped into this area in a bid to offer SMEs digitalization as a solution tool for adjusting businesses and its processes amid COVID-19 based on SMEs needs they identified in a survey.  

Building back better towards 2030

To cut the story short, COVID-19 challenged us to reconsider our work in Belarus in no time, identify needs of our partners and offer innovative solutions.  

Therefore, UNDP focuses its recovery efforts on promoting employment opportunities for population affected by COVID-19, increasing capacity of businesses in applying and producing digital tools to respond to and recover from COVID-19, as well as enhancing digitalization and increasing digital literacy for social resilience. This approach is aligned with UNCT COVID-19 Socio-economic Response Plan for Belarus, which is focused, among others, on “smoothing the COVID-19 related impact on SMEs” and “skills development for a digital economy and service provision”.

The 2020 has been a challenging year for Belarus and the upcoming 2021 might be even more so, but we remain determined, committed and ambitious to continue work together with our national and international partners for the benefit of people of Belarus.

UNDP Belarus' in facts and figures: download infographics.