13th March 2020 is a date that many Kenyans would sooner forget but will likely always remember. The announcement of the first COVID-19 case in the nation changed the trajectory of many people’s lives. Within a month of this announcement, national borders were closed, and counties followed soon after. News of the cessation of movement caught many unawares, including Dorothy Akinyi who was in Homa Bay visiting her mother.
Panic set in when it became clear to Dorothy that she would not be able to return to Nairobi, where she ran a cake and peanut butter shop. With no way to return to the capital and create her products, her business was bound to crumble. On the flip side was university student James Osore, who, being locked within Nairobi, was readying himself to start producing hand sanitizers and hand washes to meet the new rapidly growing and unmet demand. Less than a day after the travel and trade restrictions were affected, these two small business-owners were already bearing the financial brunt of the pandemic.
Research conducted by the International Finance Corporation in August 2020 revealed that 69 percent of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) experienced a 40 percent decrease in revenue. The measures implemented to slow the spread of the virus limited access to raw materials as it became difficult to ferry goods across borders. This increased the cost of production of many businesses while reducing the quantity of goods produced. Solo business owners like Dorothy were also faced with the challenge of lack of labour for service provision. Not to mention that many people were reeling in their spending to only cater for essential goods. With reduced supply and demand, many wholesale and retail businesses either collapsed or were forced to scale down operations through lay-offs. The only way to stay afloat was to pivot and find new ways to do business in this new normal.
With the introduction of new regulations requiring certification and approval by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) for producers of hand sanitizers, James was forced to halt the production of hand sanitizers and washes. With lots of time in his hands, due to paused school activities, James had a chance to think outside the box, causing him to come up with formulations for new products. His search for investors didn’t however come as easily as many investors were biased toward Covid related products and services.
Determined to introduce the new products, James set out to raise funds for his business from the family members and close friends that believed in his vision. With a clear plan and tenacity, James was able to raise enough funds and is now thankful for the change in regulation as it was the spark that lit the path to his now thriving business, Sanura Beauty. Further, he now knows that fundraising is a tool available to him and the growth of his business.
As for Dorothy, she took advantage of a supply shortage and began selling queen cakes to hotels and shops in her village. This became her new income generating activity as she patiently waited out the restrictions in Homa Bay.
Today, both James and Dorothy’s businesses have grown beyond their initial goals. Amid these difficult times, they were able to switch gears and find new markets and new products to tap into. This has diversified their business portfolios and boosted their sales. Not every small business owner got to have as happy an outcome as these two did, but there are certainly lessons to be learned from their ingenuity and adaptability in times of duress.
M-Changa is an African online and mobile fundraising platform that was launched to make fundraising more convenient, more efficient and more secure than the traditional Harambee. To date, over 50,00 fundraisers have raised millions of dollars from over 1M+ contributors.
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