Kenyan enterprises explore new business opportunities to mitigate the impact of the pandemic


 (Source: ChinAfrica)

The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world in terms of human health, lives and livelihoods.

Kenya is no exception. The country is estimated to have already lost 30,000 formal jobs, with another 140,000 becoming susceptible to the pandemic, according to Sachen Gudka, Chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. The country's manufacturing sector comprises about 330,000 direct and 3 million indirect jobs. In the informal manufacturing sector, about 1.8 million people are facing joblessness due to a sluggish economy.

However, that is not to say that parts of the economy are not thriving. Indeed, a number of businesses have seen increased activity, driven by the pandemic itself.

Positive signs

From individuals hawking face masks and sanitizers in the streets to companies increasing working hours, some sectors of the Kenyan economy are clearly doing well. It is not all doom and gloom after all.

For example, the delivery company Glovo reported a 30-percent increase in business as of April. The same goes for Uber Eats, a company that delivers meals to clients.

And Safaricom, the biggest mobile service provider in East Africa, registered a 70-percent jump in data usage over the same period. This follows the dusk-to-dawn stay-at-home directive issued by the Kenyan Government, meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

Others have been compelled to adapt and channel resources into activities they are not used to being involved in, just so they can meet the contingencies that the current situation demands. For example, the Kikotec textile company that manufactures gardening clothes, is now making N95 face masks.

While some sectors are laying off staff, others have had to increase their labor force to meet the increasing demand. Bedi Fabrics had to double its workforce from 400 to 800 employees, as orders for personal protective equipment took off.

The same goes for Sendy Ltd., a logistics service company that delivers goods for clients. It offers delivery services for over 5,000 businesses, including multinational corporations such as Unilever, DHL, Maersk and Safaricom.

Innovation leads the way

Sendy is now innovating to adapt to the current business climate that the pandemic has brought about.

On April 30, Sendy launched what is known as the Sendy Go, a free-to-download app that gives shoppers access to a wide variety of household supplies sourced from local traders.

Using Sendy Go, shoppers can easily select items from their favorite stores, pay and get them delivered to their doorstep.

"The idea is to support local manufacturers and traders by enabling users to shop safely and minimize movement during this time," said Edwin Kuria, Brand Manager for Sendy Ltd.

Sendy Go is running on the company's extensive logistics network. It is already partnering with local markets and stores selling goods ranging from groceries and household essentials, to pharmaceutical and personal care products, as well as cooking gas and face masks.

The free-to-download app is available for Android and iOS users in major cities in Kenya.

The fact that the global pandemic has disrupted supply chains and broken trade links for many businesses is obvious, with the reduced production of goods and services. However, the flip side of this crisis was the business opportunity the pandemic inadvertently created. There was a gap that needed to be filled. Sendy saw it and stepped in to bridge this gap.

"The Sendy Go project has increased business activity for the company, but more importantly, it has enabled us to reconnect traders and companies with the customers," said Kuria.

Whereas the company is enjoying increased business at this time, there are aspects of its operations that are underperforming as a direct consequence of the pandemic. It is a mixed bag for the company, according to Kuria.

"Since we are predominantly a business that supports other businesses, COVID-19 has negatively impacted our business units, specifically for businesses that have had to halt operations at this time," he said.

Despite the company seeing an increase in the transportation of especially fast-moving consumer goods, Kuria said they have been cautious not to add more employees to the numbers they already have, electing instead to hire for the very critical roles only.

"We have also adapted by allocating new roles and staff to demanding roles," he adds.

Even though the app is geared toward boosting profits, it also has a humanitarian component, assisting the less fortunate living in informal settlements.

The app also enables shoppers "to simultaneously support families in need by matching every order made on the platform with a donation," said Kuria.

They are able to do this, he explains, through a partnership with Sokowatch - a company that enables families living in informal settlements to redeem essential supplies through e-vouchers from local shops.

Through this partnership, Sendy's objective is to feed 5,000 families across Nairobi for the next few months.

Reinventing themselves

And just like Sendy Ltd., Therma Check, another company, had to reinvent itself and take full advantage of the pandemic. The company previously supplied medical equipment to hospitals under a different name.

"We are now supplying non-contact body temperature detection devices to our clients," said Michelle Wamae, CEO of Therma Check.

These devices are not your everyday thermometers. Over and above reading body temperatures, they are used as face recognition devices, capable of recording and storing information using artificial intelligence. And they are not cheap either. Each device retails for between $1,500 and $1,700.

"Business was just OK before the pandemic, however, I had to be innovative and come up with a totally different solution to what others were providing to stay afloat," said Wamae. So when everybody else was rushing to produce personal protective equipment and face masks, Wamae went in a different direction.

In partnership with a group of electronic companies based in Shenzhen, China, Therma Check is able to ship in these devices, which, Wamae said, are in great demand by corporations.

"I bought a few devices to test the market, and the response has been overwhelming," she said, declining to name her Chinese partner for fear competitors might get in on the act, thereby undermining her business. Therma Check is the only company in the country supplying these devices currently.

Wamae was able to forge links with the Chinese company through an online business group known as Kiosk Market Place.

As far as she is concerned, Wamae is very optimistic about the future prospects of her business. She is aiming to expand into other neighboring countries.

However, the prevailing conditions are making it difficult to import goods, given the current restrictions.

"This is a big challenge, which means goods become expensive," she said.

Even as many small and medium sized enterprises, as well as big corporations, are going through a very difficult time, it is reassuring to see that some are managing to stay afloat. As the old saying goes, never waste a good crisis.