Training in times of social distancing

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, all of us have had to adapt and started to rethink our ways of working. At Social Finance, our capacity building activities make up an important part of our portfolio. Since the spread of COVID-19, we and our partners are exploring different ways of organizing trainings.

Article | 26 May 2020
In February 2020 we launched our very first Training of Trainers (ToT) on financial education in Egypt. The aim was to test and finalize the materials for vulnerable populations and women and to prepare two groups of trainers to roll out the ILO programme to hundreds of potential beneficiaries.

At the end of the ToTs, almost 50 trainers came up with very concrete roll-out action plans. They requested the ILO to support them with administrative facilitation and many were getting ready to start with a first group of beneficiaries.

However, as in many countries around the world, COVID-19 hit and governments started to ban group gatherings including meetings and trainings. Since March 19, Egypt has implemented a long list of closures, curfews, and policies designed to encourage citizens to stay at home.

Our trainers decided to innovate and experiment in order to stay within their training plans. Why not transform the face-to-face training into an online one? Trainer Ehab was the first to experiment. He invited eight participants to take part in the first training in a teleconferencing format. All were colleagues from different branches from his organization Al Tadamun, a leading MFI in Egypt. It was launched on April 5 and lasted six days for five hours per day.

The training adopted different tools including active sessions and exercises based on the financial education trainer’s manual. However the challenge was to maintain a high level of interactivity and organize the group work.

Financial education trainers in Egypt now collaborate online

While the situations may be different for everyone and depending on internet access and the time and electronic devices available, here is what we learned from this first experience on applying a participatory methodology online:
  • Adjusting the training duration by reducing the number of hours of training per day, but extending the number of days, helps to keep the motivation high throughout the training
  • Having a camera is really important to ensure a minimum level of interactivity and engagement
  • Sharing screens is also a must so that all participants can have a group experience in watching a video or seeing their contributions being typed on the slides (as a way of replacing the use of flipcharts)
  • Sending a trainee booklet in electronic format that can be used as a reference during the training
  • Creating a shared drive to post all hand-outs and exercises, organized by day and session
This was one solution to replace face-to-face training by an online one while keeping the participatory approach as engaging as possible. Importantly it ensured continuity in the activities and helped to keep the motivation of the recently trained trainers high.

What else can be done?

The financial education e-learning was launched in November 2019
Pure online trainings are on the rise, in particular in these times of confinement. This is what we realized after launching our interactive financial education e-learning in November 2019. The initial uptake was of about two or three people logging in and taking the four-hour- e-learning course and completing the certification in a week. Since the beginning of the lockdown, this figure has gone up to two or three learners per day. We expect the numbers to increase as the word is spread among learners and we continue to advertise the course widely and frequently. In parallel, we are accelerating the finalization of the Arabic and French versions of the e-learning course in order to offer this innovative learning opportunity to more people during and after the pandemic.

What about mixing the two above approaches?

We are exploring the use of this e-learning course to facilitate the roll-out of the ILO financial education in countries where TOTs have taken place but trainings to beneficiaries cannot be completed because of the pandemic. This is the case in Nigeria and Ghana where we are planning for beneficiaries to take four modules of the e-learning course and join alternate online discussions on the topic facilitated by the trained trainers. This option would contribute to reinforcing the financial education messages for the beneficiaries, stimulating exchanges amongst them and keeping the trained trainers active in the delivery of quality training to more and more people in their countries.

Financial education training is one example but what about our other capacity building programmes?

Trainings are key activities of many of our ILO interventions. This is the way we ultimately help changing the lives of men and women all over the world - through aggregators who are the main recipients of our trainings.

What can we do to continue building the capacity of our partners and stay relevant in the midst of this global crisis?

Initially we postponed some of the scheduled trainings or capacity-building activities, such as the Impact Insurance Academy which is now scheduled for September. When we realised that the crisis situation was going to stay for a while longer and possibly beyond the duration of ongoing projects, we decided to be more creative. In Sierra Leone for example, our one week Making Microfinance Work 2 on product diversification was scheduled this quarter with no option to postpone.

We gave it a deep thought and in collaboration with our colleagues in Turin, Freetown and Abuja came up with an alternative training approach for this very technical course. It will be a series of pre-recorded one-hour webinars, combined with online discussions, individual and group work and online wrap-up sessions. All sessions will be facilitated by certified trainers based in other countries and coordinated by ITCILO. The innovative approach was shared with the potential participants (all from MFIs) to gauge their interest. They immediately expressed great enthusiasm, which was very encouraging. A mobile internet data allowance will be provided to those participants with local internet connectivity issues.

Perhaps a positive outcome of this crisis is the cultivation of more strings to our capacity-building bow? We will share with you the good practices that will arise!