With President Obama committing 3,000 military personnel to fight Ebola, growing concerns that the world’s health organizations were too slow to respond to the epidemic, and the announcement of the first case of a transmission occurring outside Africa, the Ebola crisis has reached a new level of intensity.

Nowhere is the situation more dire than in Liberia, which has suffered the most cases and the most deaths from Ebola. But the immediate health crisis is just the beginning.  The very efforts to control the virus –flight cancellations and border closings that severely restrict the movement of people and goods – are having unintended consequences.  Business activity has been severely reduced, people have lost their jobs, and ordinary tasks such as shopping for food, clothing and cleaning products, receiving medicines, and withdrawing cash from banks have become extremely difficult, if not impossible. We are only now beginning to speculate on the full economic impact of the Ebola crisis. For a country like Liberia, whose fragile economy is just recovering from the second civil war in a quarter century, the effect could be devastating.


Interventions that keep the economy functioning and the credit flowing at these challenging times are more important than ever.

One such intervention is the USAID Liberia Investing for Business Expansion (IBEX) Program, which, in small but important ways, is helping to keep the financial sector and the economy working.

Even as the disease outbreak reached critical levels this summer, IBEX has continued to facilitate about $1 million in loans to small and medium-sized businesses through our partner banks, Ecobank and International Bank Liberia, as well as help business borrowers in restructuring their loans if they have fallen on hard times due to the crisis. IBEX is also exploring the feasibility of a mobile money platform with several potential partners to ensure that rural teachers and healthcare workers continue to get paid via our partner banks, retail distributors and mobile network companies.

We are working with the government of Liberia, international donors and multinational organizations, such as WHO and the United Nations, to identify small businesses that can receive financing to stock and sell essential cleaning supplies and protective equipment that have become increasingly scarce as the virus has taken hold. Most recently, IBEX is collaborating with partners to identify construction companies that can build Ebola treatment centers.

And we are working with our US partners and Liberian diaspora groups to raise funds for post-Ebola investment strategies, ensuring that – when the virus is brought under control – there are plans in place to accelerate economic growth and get goods and services moving again.

Some NGO and charity organizations have had to stop operations to protect the safety of their expat staff, but the IBEX program is operated almost entirely by very dedicated, local Liberian technicians and consultants who have been able to remain in their homes and continue working.

So while the international health organizations focus on containing the Ebola outbreak, IBEX – with the tremendous support of USAID - will continue to work hard to keep the economy functioning during this period of crisis, knowing that Liberia and its neighbors will be back on their feet in the near future.

Bruce, a Liberian-American, is chief of party for USAID's Liberia Investing for Business Expansion (IBEX) Program, implemented by International Executive Service Corps (IESC) under an award to the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA).  IBEX facilitates access to credit for small businesses through improved risk management and outreach, coupled with technical assistance provided by IESC's core Monrovia-based staff and volunteer technical experts.  www.iesc.org/ibex.