Eco-Inclusive Enterprises Innovating to Fight COVID-19
To stop the spread of COVID-19, countries across the world have asked people to stay home, shut down transport, businesses and services with the exception of those that are deemed essential. The pandemic is impacting businesses in unprecedented ways, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that have just started out, or that have limited financial buffers.
In some countries, the stringent restrictions on movement, the lack of transport, labour shortages and market shutdowns are causing serious disruptions across supply chains. Fresh produce accumulating at farms, leading to food and financial losses for farmers who are unable to sell their produce or disruptions in the supply or maintenance of clean tech material (such as solar photovoltaic panels) are just a few examples.
Lack of information and awareness on COVID-19 also causes issues; the spread of misinformation, unproven prevention measures and ‘cures’ which make people more vulnerable to the virus.
Other effects caused by COVID-19 include layoffs and reduced incomes, which significantly impact the livelihoods of families and their ability to survive this pandemic.
But sometimes crisis breeds positivity as well. In the case of some SEED-supported enterprises, we’re seeing widespread resilience, with enterprises finding new solutions to transport limitations, focusing on new product lines, markets and partnerships. In this context, a few innovative eco-inclusive enterprises are coming up with resourceful ways to not only keep themselves afloat but also to solve the problems their communities are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Here are some examples of SEED supported eco-inclusive enterprises and their innovative response to the current crisis:
1. Spreading vital information about COVID-19 to farmers
Normally, Farmerline uses its mobile-based platform to share best practices and weather forecasts with farmers, but during the current crisis, the platform is also being used to deliver vital World Health Organisation information about COVID-19 to farmers across Ghana. The messages explain what the virus is, how it spreads, the symptoms to look out for and protective measures farmers can implement to stop the virus from spreading. Through mobile voice and SMS messages, they spread vital tips and advice in local languages. So far, 43,732 minutes of COVID-19 tips in Twi have been sent out to 7,844 farmers. They are also currently enlisting volunteers through social media to record voice messages in 13 additional local languages.
2. Stepping in to overcome shortages of face masks and other protective equipment
During the crisis, Ecoplastile had to stop their operations in Uganda which focused on processing plastic waste into material used for construction. They noticed the environmental and health problems of using single-use face masks on their community and have started producing multi-use and biodegradable face masks in partnership with an Australian based impact investment venture, EarthTech. Ecoplastile is currently looking to work with marginalised youth and women with skills in tailoring and design to increase the production of face masks and help people in Uganda fight the virus.
In Zimbabwe, two SEED enterprises - Tonderai Nhura founder of Biogenesis Organic Sweet Potatoes and his wife Doreen Nhura, founder of Solar Bags Zimbabwe - are collaborating to make face masks. They are considering sewing face masks from recycled materials to distribute to hospitals, prisons, and farmers’ market in their area. They have a prototype and are waiting on certification, which has been delayed due to the current lockdown in Zimbabwe.
In Malawi, Kibebe was also affected by COVID-19. Their main business selling accessories from upcycled waste products has “completely vanished”. The critical health situation in Malawi made them realise that they can redirect their trained artisan staff into producing face masks to help slow the spread of the virus. They were able to acquire 20 sewing machines from closed tailoring schools and 40 through a donor grant for producing face masks. They have temporarily hired new staff and volunteers to increase production capacity and meet the high demand for face masks. They also recently announced that they are attempting to make protective personal equipment for hospital staff.
In South Africa, AET Africa has repurposed a section of their factory - which normally produces energy efficiency products for water heating and cooling systems - to produce face visors and cloth masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
These eco-inclusive enterprises are taking advantage of new business opportunities while solving the pressing needs of their communities. This goes to show the importance of investing in SMEs like these, so that they can continue to solve our future social, environmental and economic problems as well.