MONROVIA – The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense pressure on countries and governments across the globe. For Liberia, this marks the second major health emergency that the country has had to face in just a few years. The current outbreak has had an unprecedented strain on the economy with the closure of businesses, loss of jobs or sources of income for many, and the fear of the risk of the health care system being overwhelmed. One company that has lived up to its commitment to remain a strong development partner with Liberia has been Orange Liberia.
Despite that company’s own financial setbacks as a result of the outbreak, Orange has made available well over two hundred thousand United States dollars in cash and in kind to support Liberia’s fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate some of the hardships the most vulnerable populations are facing.
At the very onset of the outbreak in Liberia, Orange Liberia was amongst the first companies to publicly commit that it would take any and all measures to ensure that its services remained uninterrupted while at the same time taking robust steps to ensure the safety of both its employees and staff. Long before many businesses had started putting preventative measures in place; Orange Liberia had already set up hand washing stations, social distancing protocols, and today the company is partnering with the Clar Hope Foundation and local tailors to make and distribute tens of thousands of free handmade masks for people and customers who need them. These and other efforts were all put in place to ensure a seamless and uninterrupted access to telecommunications in Liberia, which experts note is a crucial element during national emergencies like COVID-19.
While the consumer never has to think about what goes on behind the scenes to keep a major telecommunications network up and running during a crisis period, Greg Cardoza, who serves as Chief Techical Officer for Orange Liberia explains that it is no easy task and applauded the technicians and staff working around the clock to ensure that there is no major break in the network. “It is during crisis like this that people want to know that they have access to telecommunications services in case of an emergency,” Said Mr. Cardoza, “lots of the customers don’t buy as many scratch cards because of drop in their sources of income and prioritizing of basic household items, but they want the assurance that if they need to make or receive an emergency call it will be possible.” Mr. Cardoza stated that even with the drop in revenues, the company nevertheless had to continue to ensure that all its sites across the country remain operational. “There is no big or small location for us. We sometimes spend thousands of dollars operating a tower in locations where the population size is small or where people are spending significantly less on telecommunications because of the ongoing crisis, but we maintain our goal to keep all sites operating during these difficult times,” Mr. Cardoza concluded.
Sources suggest that while some small segments of a population will spend more on telecommunications during a crisis period, notably on data, a bigger percentage of the population and especially those living in the rural will spend significantly less than usual on telecommunications as families focus their resources on purchasing more basic necessities such as food. A recent article by the International Telecommunications Union suggests: “the telecoms market is not immune to the economic downturn. Revenue lines will be significantly impacted… every market will feel the impact of economic slowdowns. Businesses and households/individuals alike will look more closely at their spending and some will have to reduce spending through unemployment or simply sub-inflation pay rises.”
This commitment has extended to not only to ensuring access to communications services overall but also providing communications equipment, information dissemination via mass SMS messages or online videos, being a backbone for the national emergency toll free hotline 4455 and providing tens of thousands of dollars in devices and voice and data services to Liberia’s front-line health authorities, quarantine centers, 14 Military Hospital and workers fighting COVID-19. This effort has also included a donation of 500 mobile phones to support health care workers and contact tracers from NPHIL and another donation of US$50,000 in medical and non-medical equipment to the Ministry of Health.
When Orange Liberia’s CEO Mr. Mamadou Coulibaly presented the donations to the Minister of Health in late March, he said in remarks: “We are a socially responsible company and a development partner of the Liberian government. Therefore, during difficult times like these, we align ourselves to support initiatives of the Liberian government to help get the country back on its fee.” He went on to make a pledge that Orange would do more. Insiders suggest that the company will make good on this pledge in the coming weeks as the Orange Foundation is preparing to ship tens of thousands of dollars in medical supplies to Liberia including 20,000 face masks, 10,000 N95 masks, 30,000 hand sanitizers, 30,000 gloves, 2,500 PPEs and hundreds of thermometers, visors and other equipment. This is in addition to another US$30,000 that is earmarked for additional COVID-19 activities.
Sara Buchanan, Chief Corporate Social Responsibility and Internal Communications at Orange Liberia says that the company takes its commitment of being a socially and ethically responsible company very seriously. Ms. Buchanan outlined that despite the enormous strains Orange like most international businesses was facing around the globe, the company had made a long-term commitment to remain in Liberia and support development and progress of the nation. She explained that in parallel to buttressing the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia’s efforts in the COVID-19 fight by various donations, Orange decided to directly support various communities like West Point or Capitol Bye-Pass and orphanages like Love a Child orphanage, through additional donations including rice, soap and other items. She highlighted that in addition to its corporate social responsibility projects, Orange Liberia remains the largest taxpayers in Liberia and would continue to honor its financial obligations.
Noel Chateau, Chief Marketing, Communication and Customer Experience Officer at Orange Liberia, explained how the company is working hard with other Government of Liberia Ministries and Administrations to provide innovative solutions supporting the population. “Very early, the Liberian Telecommunication Authority called us to develop a generous offer that would be sold at a discounted price, below the one of the regulation on floor prices. We came up with Orange Care Kit, but also with several discounted data offers for our business customers and a very special discount of 60% on our My Way offer for media and health professionals. We also answered the Central Bank of Liberia’s call to remove money transfer, bank to wallet transfer and merchant payment fees on Orange Money. Orange Money is critical in such a period of time where our customers want to avoid to touch cash as much as they can.”
Before these initiatives, Orange Liberia had launched, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, an educational portal, Orange Campus Africa, where students and teachers can browse and watch without any data consumption tens of thousands of books, courses and videos. “We are very proud of having launched this portal so fast and have witnessed more than 50,000 users up to now. We are working hard to add more local content”, Mr. Chateau said. “However, we know that not everybody has access to the Internet, so we are currently developing a solution to deliver courses over the phone for free all over Liberia. We expect to have a solution available in May.”
The efforts and strides that Orange Liberia pursues in Liberia including continuing to make investments and improvements in developing and improving Liberia’s telecommunications sector must be lauded. Based on the trend so far, Liberia and Liberians will have a mutually beneficial relationship long into the future as the company continues to sink its roots and reinforce its commitments to Liberia.