When a Crisis Presents an Opportunity for Innovation
Back in 2013, Green Heat ran out of money. The freshly started business – focused on producing and distributing waste-based briquettes and biodigesters, just launched into the Uganda briquette market, optimistically thinking that they were no more than ‘a fancy upgrade’ from charcoal. Relying on supermarkets to sell their product, they had underestimated the pay cycles of local supermarkets, often paying them every 30-40 days. Thus, the young team found themselves with serious cash-flow issues and were forced to rethink and overhaul their sales model to focus more on sales middlemen to shorten the payment cycle.
Now another crisis is here: COVID-19. The transport shutdown means the business can not move their products as they would like to, the markets where they sell are closed, hardware shops are closed which this is affecting materials to start up new sites and their expansion into other countries is halted. Meanwhile, more products have to be provided on credit, which means cash-flow issues are lurking.
However, if their previous crisis has taught them one thing, it’s that flexibility and resilience are essential when it comes to adversity. “There are always opportunities,” says Gabriel Okello, the enterprise’s business development manager. “A crisis presents opportunities for innovation. Whether it is “mobile money solutions, combining deliveries or tracking and data-driven solutions.”
Here are a few of their coping strategies:
With public transport down, and sales reducing, Green Heat has asked its agents to start collecting data on client locations and demand to figure out combined transport movements and figure out more efficient transport routes.
The importance of training
Realising that many of their sales agents are at home or reducing work times, Green Heat – having experienced the importance of capacity building – is planning to provide financial literacy and sales tips to its sales agents. They are working on producing audio and infographics in different languages that can be accessed also on feature phones.
Now’s the time to invest in technology
Realising the importance of online and data management now and into the future, Green Heat has started to think about investing in and developing better systems to do contact management, estimate product demand and manage product distributions and payment (i.e. through mobile, USSD codes). “When I am innovating, I consider certain parameters – but with the coronavirus, these parameters are changing all the time. But a few weeks in, and with country guidelines in place, we can now seize opportunities, and I see plenty.”
Image Credit: Green Heat International