Lessons in Resilience – Navigating Business in Africa During COVID-19

Since the beginning of the pandemic, African countries have defied the nightmare scenarios­­ that predicted overrun health systems and an inability to recover from global economic shocks. For our second Lauder Africa webinar in October, we wanted to find out how African business – from larger scale enterprises to the small and medium enterprises that make up the majority of livelihood opportunities – were weathering the storm. We spoke with Constantine Manda, co-founder of the Impact Evaluation Lab at Tanzania’s Economic and Social Research Foundation, and Adetayo Bamiduro, co-founder of Metro Africa Xpress (Max.ng). They shared their insights on the challenges of the COVID-19 economic fallout and especially how it is playing out for precarious small and medium enterprises.

In the immediate aftermath of strict lockdowns and severe social distancing measures, many businesses appeared to experience a decrease in expenditures but were not able to anticipate the length of time that such measures would be instituted. As Constantine shared, these businesses found themselves prematurely utilizing emergency funds with the hopes that the pandemic would be short-lived. Adetayo shared how his company has been able to support and create opportunities for businesses in their network as part of a long-term strategy to increase resilience for the mobility sector. Despite these challenges, MAX made news recently for raising funds via private bonds, an unusual approach in the Nigerian market.

We asked, what can we learn about resilience during this time of uncertainty?

See the whole webinar here.

Highlights

Africans voluntarily isolated: Leveraging data from Google’s mobility data sets after the declaration of the pandemic by the WHO, Constantine Manda shared how African citizens were in public settings, ultimately remaining sedentary at home. This represented a unique public voluntary reaction towards isolation, even before many of these African countries implemented lockdowns and restrictionary measures.

Demand for delivery was high, but not enough to keep people moving: Nigeria experienced an extended lockdown in many of its largest cities after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in February. Despite cash transfers for the most vulnerable and other assistance measures, the precarious employment activities of many laborers hung in the balance. Even as we’ve seen a worldwide advancement in digital services and e-commerce, we learned from Adetayo about how this was not enough to help during a lockdown period that went on for months.

The pandemic is changing government support and regulation: The vast majority of small and medium enterprises work in a brick and mortar medium – remote work or a shift to digital will require new skills and capital. Many Africans find themselves risking health and defying public health measures in order to engage in livelihoods. Constantine shared how governments reacted and developed policies to help businesses:

Resilience has increased optimism that things can change: When asked what the future holds, Adetayo shared his thoughts on resourcefulness, optimism and resilience:

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