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Surviving 2020: Lessons on Resilience from Kenya’s COVID diaries

July 2nd, 2021

We conducted four rounds of interviews over the phone with about 200 respondents from the Kenya Financial Diaries between March and December to understand how ordinary Kenyans were affected by the COVID-19 shock. After a period of severe stress in June, most households recovered to modest levels of stress with incomes allowing for survival, but still well below pre-Covid levels.

While nearly all families were stressed throughout the study, by September, we saw increasing divergence in the sample with higher-income, diversified households taking advantage of low wages to make new investments and some of our worst hit households—often salary-dependent workers who lost jobs—seeing their fortunes continue to deteriorate.

Formal relief measures played only a small role in household resilience. Instead, households coping best with the shock benefited from diversified informal income streams catering to local demand, resilient forms of social finance (through shopkeeper credit, rent arrears, savings groups, and domestic remittances), and low-investment, low-expectation subsistence agriculture.

Insights from these interviews suggest a number of ideas for intervention to support recovery and rebuilding.

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