Partnering with Business During the Pandemic: Six Examples

Public-private partnerships have opened up access to digital platforms that facilitate change and amplify outreach to much larger audiences, as the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Breakthrough ACTION project has shown during the pandemic.

Absent a vaccine, much of the world relies upon the practice of broad-scale public health practice and preventive behaviors as powerful defenses against COVID-19. The need has never been greater to promote long-lasting healthy practices and reduce risks through social and behavior change programs.

Partnering with private companies is important in accomplishing this work during the “new normal.” Public-private partnerships have opened up access to digital platforms that facilitate change and amplify outreach to much larger audiences, as the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Breakthrough ACTION project has shown during the pandemic.

With $12.2 million from USAID, Breakthrough ACTION has been working with governments in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to promote prevention behaviors such as mask wearing, handwashing, and social distancing.

Businesses are often eager to work with organizations like USAID and Breakthrough ACTION because it benefits them, their existing clients — and potential new clients. Beyond growing their client base through increased exposure, businesses build goodwill and strengthen their reputations when they align with governments in the search for solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. They may also gain legitimacy and credibility as trusted partners of government efforts.

Breakthrough ACTION brokers these relationships to help governments around the world build the networks they need to implement effective health initiatives. These partnerships with diverse companies are setting the stage for post-pandemic collaboration and are showing that economic productivity and COVID-19 prevention can co-exist.

“These relationships pave the way for everyone to adopt safe, healthy behaviors while adjusting to — and thriving in — the new world we all live in,” says CCP’s Elizabeth Serlemitsos, director of the Breakthrough ACTION project.


  1. “Grab”-bing Opportunities to Stop COVID-19 in Myanmar

      Reaching commuters with COVID-19 prevention messages is critical for limiting the spread of the pandemic. In Myanmar, Breakthrough ACTION partner Save the Children teamed with Grab, the country’s leading ride-hailing company, to link users to the “Protect Together” campaign and disseminate messages about wearing masks and washing hands. Information is shared via the ride-hailing company’s mobile application, which has two million users in the country. “This partnership has contributed to the larger goal of Grab to keep our passengers and drivers safe,” said Cindy Toh, country head of Grab Myanmar. The campaign reached more than 5 million people since launching in June.


  1.  Online Rx for Pandemic Prevention in Indonesia

In Indonesia, pharmacies are usually the initial source of health information in the community. Now, thanks to Breakthrough ACTION, they are playing an essential role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. By partnering with mClinica, Breakthrough ACTION has reached more than 66,000 pharmacy professionals. mClinica members use the SwipeRX app to receive information to counsel community members on COVID-19 prevention, dispel myths and rumors, and provide advice on what to do if patients or their family members have symptoms. Raden Assifa Rahmah, a pharmacist assistant on the island of Java, said, “I know I am now giving patients accurate and trusted information. I am happy I can make a difference in this fight.” More than 23 million pharmacy clients have benefited from this improved access to information.


  1. “Press 1” for Prevention in Nigeria

     Thanks to a partnership with Airtel Nigeria, a leading mobile phone service provider, Breakthrough ACTION is making COVID-19 prevention information available across the country. Since March, Airtel has reached a million subscribers daily with reminders and alerts via text and interactive voice messages about pandemic safety. Airtel is also providing free access to the government’s COVID-19 information website to all of its customers even if they do not pay for data plans.


  1. Everyday Heroes in the Philippines

A new campaign by the Department of Health in the Philippines is urging people to be heroes in the fight against COVID-19. The BIDA Solusyon campaign launched in July was made possible by a partnership between Breakthrough ACTION, the Department of Health, and 28 public and private sector organizations including those in the retail, food service, information technology, and insurance industries. “Bida,” which means “hero,” focuses on four principles of COVID-19 prevention. BIDA Solusyon provides information online, in television and radio spots, and through signage in high-traffic areas. As of September 30, the campaign has been viewed more than 160 million times on social media alone. Working closely with private sector partners, Breakthrough ACTION is also helping distribute hygiene kits to enable healthy practices. Primarily intended for the lowest income Filipinos in high-risk jobs, the BIDA Solusyon campaign empowers everyone to make life-saving choices.


  1. Finding the Answers in South Africa

      COVID-19 prevention is getting a boost in South Africa thanks to a partnership with TooMuchWifi, a private internet service provider (ISP). With the ISP’s support, online messaging about COVID-19 safety provided by Breakthrough ACTION reached 324,356 users in hotspot regions in July alone. TooMuchWifi also sponsored quizzes, which provide prevention messages to people living in the informal settlements of Cape Town. More than 15,000 users answered questions on handwashing, physical distancing, and identifying symptoms, and 200 respondents each won 500 MB of digital data for acing the quiz.


  1. Facebook Campaign Urges Users to #SeekCareForFever in Sub-Saharan Africa

Fear of COVID-19 keeps people from seeking medical care, even for potentially deadly illnesses like malaria. Working closely with Facebook, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and Breakthrough ACTION launched the #SeekCareForFever social media campaign to help users understand that malaria is dangerous and ever-present, and that treatment must be sought immediately — even during this pandemic. With easy-to-understand multimedia posts, #SeekCareForFever was implemented in 10 sub-Saharan countries and Guyana. Representatives from each country received comprehensive training and support, access to custom creative content, and Facebook ad credits, which allowed PMI’s programming to temporarily pivot toward this life-saving endeavor during the pandemic without impacting the projects’ existing resources. The campaign reached more than 4.7 million viewers as of September 20.

A version of this story first appeared on USAID’s Medium page.

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