ECI News

News from ECI, March 2020


Dear ECI family,

Much has changed since the ECI board of directors met virtually one week ago. The pandemic coronavirus was the first item on the board’s agenda, and the wellbeing of our staff and communities remains our foremost concern.

Today I am writing to offer my moral support to the whole ECI family around the world. In addition, I want to keep you up to date about how the pandemic is affecting ECI staff, partners, and people we serve.

Abraham Leno
Executive Director, ECI

Situation report

Congo and its neighbors

Considering the progress of the epidemic in Italy and the United States, we know that even very sophisticated health systems in advanced economies have struggled under the burden of COVID-19. ECI’s work to help the Congolese people strengthen health care and markets is so important because these life-sustaining infrastructures are just recovering and still very fragile. We know from our daily experience that the Congolese health system and economy will collapse quickly if we do not quickly slow the spread of the virus.

Congo and its neighbors have joined others around the world in imposing strict policies to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Rwanda, not far from ECI’s offices in both Bukavu and Goma, has closed land borders with its neighbors and imposed a lockdown. The government of the DRC has not yet imposed such measures, but we are certain they are soon to come.

The Congolese people are no strangers to epidemic viral diseases, and the expertise gained during the Ebola epidemic is already serving us well.

ECI staff and partners

I am in daily contact with all my staff, and all ECI managers are in daily contact with their coworkers, collaborators and communities. None of our staff members or grantees has been confirmed to have COVID-19.

At my direction, and in consultation with security staff at Alight, we have put in place an evacuation plan for all ECI staff. As executive director, I am relieved to report that all our staff members are in the place where they feel most secure.

  • Congolese nationals. Almost all of ECI’s staff members are Congolese nationals, and they are remaining where they are. To help our staff members stock up on water, soap, and other necessary materials while they are still available, we have disbursed pay ahead of schedule and added a bonus.
  • Expatriate staff. We have three expatriate staff: myself (executive director), product manager Tad Lunden, and finance director Hermann Aho. Hermann, who is an Ivorian national, is working from his home on the Rwanda side of the border, not far from ECI’s Goma office. At the urging of Alight’s director of security, in light of probable anti-foreigner sentiment, Tad and his family have returned to Minnesota. For my part, travel restrictions have forced me to remain in the United States. I am working from Virginia until travel to eastern Congo is possible again, and my family was able to join me yesterday.

We are reaching out to each of our partners and beneficiaries to ask how best we can support them during this pandemic. Our partner EWEZO, for example, has suspended their literacy campaigns during this time to respect social distancing and avoid bringing people into close proximity.

Our work to support Congolese communities

ECI’s commitment to the people of Congo is unshakeable. Unlike other NGOs, we build long-lasting, high-quality infrastructure – and long-term relationships of mutual trust with Congolese people, organizations and institutions. That means ECI can be exceptionally helpful during crises like this one.

ECI serves about 100,000 people per day with our drinking water services and clinics, and our community partners serve many more. Here’s what we are doing to protect the Congolese communities where we work:

  • Continuity of operations. We have pre-positioned cleaning and medical supplies at ECI offices, clinics and water points. Staff are equipped to work remotely wherever possible, and we are working closely to keep customer-facing employees healthy so they can continue providing vital water and medical services.
  • USAID partnership. We have officially requested emergency permission to use USAID funds to support a robust immediate response to the public health crisis, making links between existing humanitarian efforts with ECI’s more entrepreneurial approach. In the short term, we are exploring the possibility of directing USAID funds toward supporting local communities in their prevention efforts through social enterprise. I hope to hear from USAID in the coming days.
  • Community support underway. As we wait for USAID, ECI staff are taking active measures to reduce crowding at water points, and we quickly developed training materials to help staff educate customers about how to stay healthy.
  • Our long-term response. We believe the Asili social enterprise platform can contribute powerfully to strengthening Congo’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Our teams are prototyping new responses and developing concepts. The best solutions come from the people who understand the challenge best, so we will be inviting institutional donors, board members, and key supporters to design our response together.

How you can help

  • Support each other. This is a time when our humanity should speak more loudly than ever before. No gesture of support is ever wasted. ECI staff would deeply appreciate a word of support from our board members.
  • Advocate for Congo. You are part of the ECI family because you believe in the Congolese people. At a time of global crisis, Congo has no voice in the West but yours. We may soon ask you to help raise awareness of specific messages.
  • Stay in touch. I will have an update for you at least once a week during this crisis. My prayers are with you and your family as we go through this challenging time together. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need any support. ◼