How Covid-19 is shifting focus to social enterprise


African social entrepreneurs are refocusing strategies and services to reach vulnerable populations most affected by the crisis. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Social entrepreneurship has increasingly become a critical model to tackle the most pressing socio-economic challenges affecting Africa as businesses gradually learn to build resilience against crises such as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the virus keeps ravaging livelihoods, African social entrepreneurs are refocusing strategies and services to reach vulnerable populations most affected by the crisis.

Ashoka, an association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs is setting the pace in the new plan. It is banking on the ‘Changemakers United Africa’ initiative, a collective effort geared towards supporting African social entrepreneurs at the forefront of developing solutions that address hurdles occasioned by the pandemic on the continent.

Thirteen Ashoka fellows and three young leaders working on better access to healthcare and education, economic resilience, protection of vulnerable groups and transparency have been selected for the programme which will provide them with tailored support and expertise aimed at scaling up the impact of their enterprises in rural communities.

To date, Africa’s coronavirus cases are more than 2.2 million with over 53,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). The virus has maimed livelihoods, damaging business operations, government balance sheets, and has threatened to reverse the continent’s development gains and growth prospects of the last decade.

Projections indicate that Covid-19 will trigger a surge in extreme poverty on the continent with various studies predicting that an additional 12 million Africans might be pushed below the threshold of living of an income of less than Sh200 per day.

Pape Samb, the executive director of Ashoka Africa told Enterprise that governments, companies and social entrepreneurs, youth and women must now think, operate and lead in new ways during the uncertain and unprecedented circumstances.

“We must all learn together with empathy, urgency, confidence, and humility. Ashoka is building the field of systems change in Africa to accelerate and scale up African solutions by engaging social innovators and co-creating with companies, youth and African diaspora members,” he notes.

However, though over 80 percent of Africa’s economy is made up of SMEs, most of them don’t have a digital footprint, which is critical when dealing with pandemic where social distancing is encouraged and physical interactions curbed.

“Most SMEs are not registered in online databases, so they can’t be Googled. For instance, locating through the internet a chicken producer in Yaoundé, or a tomato seller in Bamenda, is near impossible.

“To get even basic services, people still go to busy marketplaces, exposing themselves to Covid- 19, despite government’s ban on gatherings of over 50 people,” says Maxine Moffet, founder of Bridge Africa Ventures in Cameroon.

He adds that by developing several online marketplaces for various goods and services, African entrepreneurs could enable populations shop for what they need from the comfort of their homes or offices without exposing themselves to the virus.

Prosper Kompaore, founder of Atelier-Théâtre Burkinabè (ATB) in Burkina Faso says that due to the closure of in-person performance tours, theatre shows, cultural events his enterprise has imagined and implemented an artistic resilience programmme.

Food crisis

“ATB distributes theatrical works digitally and provides entertainment, whilst educating its viewers and raising awareness about Covid-19 related topics on Burkinabe television stations,” says the innovator.

According to Shona Mcdonald, founder of Shonaquip Social Enterprise (SSE) in South Africa, the lack of protective gear while treating patients is putting the lives of frontline healthcare workers at a high risk of infection, a gap he has been bridging whilst creating jobs.

“It is also creating fear for people with disabilities, old people and those with comorbidities that need to return to work. Which is why SSE is manufacturing multiple-use powered air purifying respirators to protect healthcare workers.”

For Maria Baryamujura, who founded Community Based Tourism Initiative (COBATI) in Uganda, the tourism sector in Africa has been badly hit by the virus, compelling her to come up with a solution.

“As a result of reduced tourism in-flow due to Covid-19, rural communities in high tourism zones in Uganda have seen a significant drop in income which is why COBATI is facilitating a programme that will enable the affected communities to cope with the livelihood, health and food security challenges arising from the Covid pandemic,” she says.

In Cote d'Ivoire, Daniel Oulaï has concocted Grainothèque to help create remedies for the food crisis in the country, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation warning that the world may be moving from a global health crisis to a global food crisis.

“The pandemic is affecting global food markets, which puts us in a Covid-19 survival situation and increases the risk of famine after the pandemic. This is why the Grainothèque organized an online hackathon with actors from local agricultural value chains to generate solutions to limit the repercussions of the health crisis on food security,” he notes.

As Africa turns to e-learning to keep students in school, Karima Grant, founder of Imagination Afrika in Senegal says close to 3 million children have had their school year disrupted this year in the country.

“Digital and mass media reaches not only children, but also their parents with educational content that can support literacy and mathematical outcomes. This is why ImagiNation Afrika decided to produce a 25 minute – 16-episode educational series using local Senegalese content to spport children’s learning through a play-based approach,” he explains.

In Kenya, one study shows that at least 326 businesses are registered daily in the race for Covid-19 survival, with the country among those leading in Africa in the number of digital innovations created to tackle various hurdles during the pandemic.