On the Frontlines: Social Enterprises Respond to COVID-19 Across Sub-Saharan Africa
As the new COVID-19 reality has taken shape over the past couple of months, FINCA Ventures portfolio companies are on the frontlines as sub-Saharan Africa prepares for what is to come. We wanted to highlight some of the promising initiatives that our investees are undertaking to serve their customers, better support their communities and flatten the curve.
Amped Innovation’s production facility operations in China came to a halt in Q1 2020 but is now back up and running to meet the demand of its distributors. The remainder of the Amped team is working from home. Many of Amped’s distributors are forward purchasing to ensure they have enough product on hand to sell appliances to customers throughout the year in case of further production delays or import restrictions in the countries where they operate. Expecting that some distributors will experience lower than forecasted demand or longer payment cycles from their end-customers, Amped is preparing to support distributors to ensure they are able to keep the lights on to serve their customer base.
As incomes drop precipitously and food shortages seem likely, East Africa Fruits (EAF) is making sure that vendors have inventory and farmers have income so that fresh food gets to the right place at the right time and for the lowest possible cost. While the company’s hotel and restaurant customer base in Dar es Salaam has slowed as the tourism industry has shut down, growth from supermarkets and informal vendors has increased. And with the recent close of its Series A, EAF is well positioned to connect local food to local customers. Additionally, to support safe and healthy distribution, EAF is now supplying its clients with soap and buckets to encourage customers and sellers to consistently wash their hands.
After the COVID-19 related school closures in Kenya, Eneza Education partnered with Safaricom to provide their SMS, web platform and Ask a Teacher features to all learners in the country for free for two months. Following suit, Eneza made the platform free for learners in Cote d’Ivoire as well, which was publicized by the Ministry of Education. Eneza is now eager to engage with other potential partners to continue to keep the platform free of cost for learners for the rest of the year, recognizing that while the importance of learning has not diminished, consistent payments may become more challenging for families as parents are out of work. Eneza is also using its education service to share important COVID-19 health and safety content to its user base.
Good Nature Agro (GNA) is investing in storage capacity to buffer potential market disruption later in the year and is actively engaging new offtakers, like regional food security agencies, whose demand is expected to increase. GNA continues to actively work with its 5,000 farmers but is limiting group engagements to no more than 10 farmers at a time, including at purchase points, and has set up hand-wash stations at each meeting. Additionally, GNA has accelerated the purchase of inputs, such as fertilizer and packaging, to mitigate the possibility that trade and imports will be disrupted through the planting season.
Ignitia recognizes that smallholder farmers, typically the backbone of national food systems, are among the most vulnerable populations at risk for increased poverty during the pandemic. Ignitia is actively engaging organizations that are focused on increasing farmer resilience and food security to bundle their product to better support farmers during this time.
MDaaS Global designed a free mass testing playbook to help build COVID-19 testing capacity in Nigeria and across Africa. The playbook offers information on site preparation and includes downloadable content such as call center training guides. MDaaS also partnered with Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Group to create the Ogun State Walk-In and Drive-Through Testing Centre, which was designed for environments with PPE shortages. Additionally, MDaaS donated PPE supplies to its hospital partners in Oyo, Osun and Kwara states, crowdfunding capital to support this initiative. In order to better support employers to safely return their workforces to the job, MDaaS launched a new initiative that offers testing and monitoring services at the place of employment to mitigate outbreaks.
Sanivation continues to operate its waste treatment plant in Naivasha, Kenya as an essential service for both sanitation services and fuel supply, with newly implemented safety measures. The team is responding to the increased demand for fuel due to fewer suppliers operating and the annual rainy season by scaling up operations to three staggered shifts per day to increase production. The renewed focus on prevention of disease spread has put Sanivation at the center of coordinating government working groups in Kenya to advise on WASH initiatives and strategies. Most recently, Sanivation coordinated a community of practice among the 88 utilities in Kenya to share best practices, while also performing assessments of how COVID-19 is impacting them.
The past couple of months have been challenging—and the future looks equally uncertain—but we are proud of our portfolio companies for continuing to build in difficult times to ease the disruption and to create resilience where it is needed most.