Blog Post: Building Resilience amidst COVID-19

  • Private Sector Foundation Uganda


In the midst of the Coronavirus, all companies across the globe are asking themselves if they will weather the storm. What started out as a localized problem for one Chinese province, has brought virtually the entire world to a standstill. Transportation suspended, major events postponed, stocks nose-diving, employees sent home, shops closed, health systems crumbling and so many far-reaching consequences on humanity and economies alike. Companies are scrambling for ways to survive this crisis and cutting the fat off the business is a premier option for most. But while we seek to minimize or even eliminate wastage, the human resource should be the last to go. Businesses should look to this crisis as not just a business crisis but also as a human crisis. The question then is, how do enterprises in Uganda remain afloat?

By now several companies have thought deeply and in hind-sight of what they could have done differently to minimize the effects of the crisis we all face. It is crises such as this that draw our attention to the risk management plans of businesses. Ugandans are not known to plan that far ahead, which is why insurance uptake in our country is estimated at 1%. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a perfect example of a systematic risk- one that no business can protect themselves against, let alone see coming. All industries and investments are affected, albeit to varying degrees. Insurance to cover such liabilities is minimal if any. Travelers worldwide had to contend with forfeiting the money they had spent on booking flights, hotels among other things since their insurance cover did not cover such incidences as a global pandemic. Because of this, our poor planning culture has got to go. Individuals, and consequently businesses must several years ahead while maintaining a keep firm foot on the current situation.

While a crisis such as this is out of our control, certain strategies may help alleviate the damage it causes. But what is most interesting to me is an issue many Ugandan businesses have kept their heads in the sand about; innovation. So far the evolution of businesses in Uganda is highly influenced by the actions of the competition. It is no wonder that Uganda has for the longest time maintained a trade deficit. It is not just the elite Ugandan who prefers designer brands from out of the country, but even the young person downtown is contented with cheap knock-offs from China. Therefore, while to ignore the competition might be suicide, businesses need to listen to the market. To REALLY LISTEN!

Granted, our business climate, may not quite be as supportive of innovation, but as I have heard on several occasions, Ugandans, and indeed Africans, are good at improvising. And improvisation is precisely what businesses need to see the other end of this crisis. Businesses must improvise, adapt and overcome. Specifically, they need to develop an innate capability to evolve. A Kauffman Foundation study revealed that over half of the Fortune 500 companies were founded during a recession or at a time when stock markets were dropping. Many of these companies were a result of a merger while others turned the downtown to their advantage seeking new markets or even adapting their product lines. In order to do this more effectively, businesses must invest in innovation, as well as research and development.  

We have seen in recent years, that the business climate is highly disruptive and volatile, even during periods of growth. Innovation must assume a more prominent role in the operations of corporations and SMEs alike. Adapting and overcoming, therefore, become necessary to predict and prepare for challenges or changes in the business environment. In order to sustain innovation as an on-going activity, companies should develop innovation strategies, complete with staff responsible and reward for progressive ideas but most of all, they should be customer-centric. American billionaire, Bill Gates, in a TED talk predicting an outbreak such as the Corona virus, mentions the need for companies to continue to invest in innovative competitions across industries as a means to hack the problems we have not encountered yet. Perhaps businesses could adopt similar strategies within their corporate social responsibilities.

In Uganda, where over 70% of the population is below the age of 30 years, it is no longer an option for government policies and interventions not to mainstream the youth. For many industries, they form a significant portion of the market, but for all, the youth are literally the future. For companies to build resilience, they must adopt forward-looking strategies, meaning, they must take into account the impact of their operations on future generations to guarantee sustainability and continuity.