A year of COVID funding: Priorities and what lies next

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Devex explores where the COVID-19 funding is going. Photo by: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Beginning in March 2020, Devex began collating information on the COVID-19 funding response using our funding platform with weekly updates providing insights into funders’ priorities. Throughout the year there have been ups and downs as action has intensified and then slowed. Apart from the direct response to COVID-19, new focus areas including education, gender, small- and medium-sized enterprises, tourism, and food security as social and environmental impacts have been identified.

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But tracking the data has not only helped identify who the funders are and where their priorities lie, but also how announcements have been turned into action — with opportunities for partnerships through tenders and contracts to deliver on the global needs.


Interact with global COVID-19 funding in this tableau interactive dashboard from Devex.

The funding boom

In January and February, the pandemic was largely focused on China and its neighboring countries. Forty-three billion dollars was directed by the government of China to support measures to prevent and control the spread, with an additional $11.5 billion on further suppression methods. The China Development Bank also announced emergency loans worth $2.9 billion to support impacted businesses.

Hong Kong and Malaysia were among other jurisdictions implementing financial responses, but global programs were also ramping up including a $675 million preparedness and response plan to support the World Health Organization in fighting “the further spread of the new coronavirus outbreak in China and other countries across the globe.”

In March, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO. As governments began to take the threats to their health systems and economies seriously, major funding activities were announced to ramp up health capabilities as well as to protect industries and jobs at risk of being lost.

An analysis of Devex funding data shows $10.9 trillion in announcements occurred this month — led by $5 trillion in support from G-20 countries, $1 trillion to support the economic impacts in the United States, and $1 trillion in available lending from the International Monetary Fund. An additional $9.2 trillion was added by July 1 with new announcements seeming relatively minor in comparison to this peak period. By Dec. 20, $20.6 trillion in funding had been announced.

A monthly cumulative total of COVID-19 funding announcements. Source: Devex funding database.

Funding insights

Governments have been the major source of funding announcements since the start of the pandemic, focused on supporting the response primarily within their own countries. Through 833 funding announcements made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 20, governments have supported $12.2 trillion in announcements.

Multilateral institutions are the second-largest funding source, supporting $7.7 trillion worth of announcements. Other donors — including bilateral donors, nonprofits, philanthropic donors, research institutions as well as the private sector — contribute a small portion of the funding. Through 1,386 announcements they are supporting $1.1 trillion in investment.

Funder breakdown, Jan. 1 to Dec. 20, 2020. Source: Devex funding database.

The sharp difference between government and multilateral funders compared to the rest is due to the nature of the programs they aim to support. Large-scale national economic or health initiatives and infrastructure projects are among the big announcements focused on maintaining employment and returning to economic normalcy as soon as possible.

Announcements smaller in comparison could target specific social issues and vulnerabilities emerging through the pandemic — especially in the work of bilateral, not-for-profit and philanthropic funders. Health campaigns, support for women and girls, children at risk of abandoning education, and vaccine distribution in low- and middle-income countries were among the issues being addressed.

Across time, the response needs changed — with vaccines an example of the way funding transitioned throughout the year.

Funding for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments began in February. In China, $115 million was granted for research to improve diagnosis and treatment of the virus, while the former U.K. Department for International Development — now merged into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office — and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were looking at investments in treatments and vaccines.

In May, confirmed cases of COVID-19 passed 5 million — and the need for a vaccine became clearer to avoid a worsening economic crisis. Pledging summits organized by the European Commission and Global Citizen helped mobilize $22 billion in new vaccine funding for the month. By September, the vaccine focus had turned to the purchasing and distribution of vaccines to ensure no one would be left behind. Another funding boost in December ensured the Asia-Pacific would not miss out.

Monthly funding announcements for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Source: Devex funding database.

From announcements to action

Funding announcements are just one way to understand the priorities for various donors in responding to the pandemic. To see how announcement translates into action, looking at the programs implemented, tenders released, grants awarded and contracts signed can show how announcements are being implemented.

Governments as the major funder are the hardest to track. Despite supporting more than $12 trillion in investments through announcements, just $10 billion can be tracked through programs, $2 billion in grants, $356 million in tenders, and $190 million in awarded contracts. Private sector announcements are also difficult to track. Three hundred and fifty-five billion dollars in announcements were made resulting in $571 million worth of programs. Awarded grants have seen $17 million distributed and $20 million has been distributed through awarded contracts.

Interactive: Who's funding the COVID-19 response and what are the priorities?

As funding activities in support of the COVID-19 response transition from words into action, our analysis of funding data is transitioning with it. Here's the latest.

The translation of announcement to action is also a challenge when monitoring multilateral institutions, but transparency is better. Of their $7.7 trillion in announcements, $204 billion has been directed through programs. Tenders have provided $3.7 billion in business opportunities to private sector partners to help deliver on announcements, with details on $371 million that have reached the contract stage, while $339 million has been disseminated through grants.

While new issues created by the pandemic will continue to emerge in 2021, the tracking of funding is likely to be largely focused on how announcements are being delivered upon. And as responding to the pandemic increasingly impacts all areas of development, specific COVID-19 announcements are likely to be reduced as the response becomes part of business as usual.

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About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.

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