By Jeff Tyson* [caption id="attachment_16158" align="alignleft" width="616"] Market vendors feel the effect of the Ebola outbreak as they struggle with plummeting sales and rising cost of transporting goods in West Point, Liberia. The epidemic has devastating effects on household economies in the affected West African countries, where many make their living through small enterprises and microbusinesses. Photo by: Morgana Wingard / UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND[/caption] Microfinance programs could play a critical role in helping Ebola affected communities in West Africa recover — and now that Sierra Leone has lifted its travel restrictions, such programs are seeking ways to get back up and running. BRAC, considered the world’s largest nongovernmental organization, has set March 1 as the date it wants to resume operations in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. The organization does not operate a microfinance program in Guinea. Like other aid groups, BRAC and its peers have struggled over the past few months to connect with local beneficiaries and partners after freezing programs during last year’s Ebola outbreak. But they’ve been itching to get back given Ebola’s devastating impact on small enterprises and microbusinesses in the region. Traditional donors and other aid groups like the World Bank have pointed out the need for assistance to spur on economic recovery at the community and household level. The World Bank is considering implementing cash transfers. And last week, its private sector arm, the International Finance Corp., announced plans to invest $30 million in Guinea in 2015 to bolster small and medium-sized enterprises in the country. For Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea together, IFC is mobilizing at least $450 million for trade, investment and employment, according to the financing institution. The U.S. Agency for International Development is working on different payment schemes to help affected households, Jeremy Konyndyk, USAID’s director of foreign disaster assistance, said last month on Capitol Hill. Microfinance programs have traditionally worked somewhat removed from the more traditional aid community since they don’t rely on multilateral or bilateral funding. And yet, their role in helping to rebuild communities affected by the deadly virus cannot be understated according to Kristen Himelein, senior economist and statistician in the World Bank’s poverty global practice. “If [microfinance programs] can target getting those small and microbusinesses going again, there is real opportunity to accelerate the economic recovery,” Himelein told Devex.