Sem Mandela Uutoni
Shortly after the end of World War 2, Winston Churchill was famously quoted saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. The relevance of these words ring true today as we grapple with the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic increased the vulnerability of many businesses, especially those trading in the second economy, particularly on youth entrepreneurs. This period has been characterised job losses, cash flow shortages, and closure of businesses. Many livelihoods have been affected as a result, and undoubtedly, the way business is conducted has shifted.
The merit of a crisis is that it presents opportunities to solve structural problems and innovate. This innovation was evident in Namibia as we saw new businesses emerge and positioned themselves to provide critical services in untapped markets. One such business is Tambula Online Shop, an e-commerce platform which sells and delivers a variety of products from different suppliers, including those from the informal market.
The decline in spending and economic activity, as a result of the public health measures to contain the virus’s spread, have led to a reduction in the cash flow of many second economy and youth-led businesses. This has contributed to uncertainty amongst entrepreneurs which leads to mental health pressures, such as anxiety and stress.
As the immediate and long term impact of Covid-19 to the Namibian socio-economic fabric are becoming more apparent, much-needed attention is being placed on mitigation. There is urgency on the obvious issues occupying mind space, however, as the One Economy Foundation, we are concerned about the soft issues which may be overlooked. Our particular concern is the impact Covid-19 has had on the mental health and confidence of young entrepreneurs, and how it impacts the natural rhythm of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, innovation and motivation to pursue future plans.
In response to this, the One Economy Foundation convened a forum which assembled entrepreneurs and experts to dialogue on topical entrepreneurial issues and to provide fresh and nuanced perspectives. This forum served as a foundational tool in rebuilding the capacity, confidence and capital of young entrepreneurs in a market shaken by unprecedented crises.
The forum provided great insights into the needs of youth entrepreneurs and the specific challenges they face in the context of COVID-19. The forum further provided a platform for entrepreneurs to network, and access information on the opportunities available for youth in trade, business funding and partnership development.
In addition to this forum, the One Economy Foundation has kept its finger on the pulse of entrepreneurs. Through the ONE Nation Fund (ONF) Microfinance and Entrepreneurial Training Programme, we provided collateral and interest-free loans to 46 grassroots entrepreneurs to the tune of 2.4 million. During the lockdown period, we provided the ONF beneficiaries a three month payment holiday and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
ONF has taught us consequential lessons about the needs, challenges and the ripple effect impact of investing in grassroot entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is our firm conviction that we have made a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on grassroots entrepreneurs and their communities.
Six key learning’s emerged our engagements with the ONF entrepreneurs and from the forum on how second economy and youth-led businesses can navigate the changing landscape of entrepreneurship:
There is great value in entrepreneurs collaborating and forming partnerships with like-minded organisations to leverage resources, increase production capacity and build resilience. Additionally, entrepreneurs can harness their shared knowledge, experiences and networks to achieve greater results. For example, through business-to-business (B2B) engagements;
Innovation and change management are critical success factors for businesses to survive and thrive, especially during a crisis. Equally important is developing an innovative mindest that is open to change and disruption. Resilient and agile businesses position themselves better to take advantage of shifting landscapes and circumstances. Adapting to said change ensures businesses remain relevant and maintain a competitive edge;
As we navigate through these incredibly stressful and uncertain times, entrepreneurs need to take care of their mental health. A key piece of taking care of your mental health is developing healthy coping mechanisms. This can include seemingly trivial and cliché-sounding actions such as exercise, developing routines, maintaining connections with other entrepreneurs and, if need be seeking, a mentor, life coach or a psychologist;
Incubation is critical to building successful and financially viable businesses. Incubation allows small businesses to leverage peer-to-peer learning opportunities, a comprehensive business support system, and the transfer of business skills;
Entrepreneurs need to identify expenses that can be reduced or deferred. This is essential to managing cash flow and financial reserves. This is in addition to assessing the businesses’ balance sheet to determine the pandemic’s impact on the company’s assets, liabilities and equity. This will enable informed decision-making on how the business can innovate, pivot and expand their value proposition to remain afloat beyond this pandemic.
*Sem Mandela Uutoni is the CEO of the One Economy Foundation