The Covid-19 pandemic has birthed rarely seen camaraderie and generosity from the business community in Kenya and the rest of the world.
Corporates are spontaneously stepping up to deliver solutions in dealing with the pandemic. Businesses are, in all the cases, voluntarily going out of their ways, to the point of setting aside the traditional profit motive, usually the true north of capitalism.
The kind acts range from lessening economic and social impacts of the disruption occasioned by the pandemic, to investing in the search for a cure or vaccine against the virus.
In reaction to confirmed cases in Kenya, the government announced stringent measures to stem spread of the virus. These include: indefinite closure of learning institution, suspension of events and public gatherings, closure of bars and places of worship, restriction of foreign travel and encouraging individuals to work from home
In anticipation of the imminent disruption that is likely to be occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures, private sector players have been offering relief. This is mainly to cushion the public.
Soon after the first cases were confirmed, Safaricom waived transactions fees for person-to-person transfers below Sh1,000 on its mobile money service, M-PESA. Limits for daily transactions and the wallets were also enhanced to facilitate small and medium-sized businesses to continue operating. These measures were meant to encourage cashless transactions to minimize the risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash.
KCB Group, on the other hand, boosted funds available for mobile lending and expressed willingness to lend to defaulters, previously blacklisted by credit reference bureaus but are now repaying loans. The bank also offered to renegotiate loan contracts to restructure and extend repayment periods, for which it would foot legal costs. This, the lender indicated, is meant to help customers get on with their lives in the face of a looming economic slowdown and to protect jobs by providing financing to businesses.
SWVL Kenya said it will provide services to cover the areas where there is the most demand for necessary commutes during this time of crisis. The bus hailing service will offer commuters on these essential routes free rides during the crisis period. Commuters that must travel for essential work can use the free ride service by using the HERE4YOU promotional code and free rides will also be reflected in the SWVL app.
Elgon Kenya has resorted to providing employees with basic needs such as sugar, wheat flour, cooking oil, tea, and emergency packages to help ease the situation. The Managing Director, Bimal Kantaria says they'll be giving their over 600 employees a Sh2,500 package for a family of five from Chandarana Foodplus, terming the move as 'goodwill gesture and supporting employees.'
On Friday, March 20, Vitafoam company sent a memo to its staff outlining the plans they are putting in place to help them get by during the coronavirus period. Vitafoam informed employees of its decision to support them with essential basic needs such as sugar and maize flour.
"As we brace for tough challenges ahead, we realize the impact this has on your financial position and would like to share with you in your burden and have prepared a contingency package to cater to some of your needs. The package contains food items such as sugar, rice maize flour, wheat flour, cooking oil, etc. and sanitary items such as toilet rolls, bio soaps, sanitizers, etc.," read part of the memo.
These examples of relief from private sector went beyond facilitating cashless transactions. With schools shut by the government as a measure to contain spread of Coronavirus, Longhorn Publishers offered its online learning portal for free to primary and secondary schoolchildren. The service can be accessed on smartphones or feature phones through USSD code.
Amazon also canceled the subscription of books and audio stories for children and students of all ages as long as schools are closed. Children everywhere can instantly stream an incredible collection of stories, including titles across six different languages, that will help them continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids.
The private sector is doing a lot more than just offering relief to individuals and businesses from likely effects in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Entrepreneurs and enterprises are also actively involved in the fight against Coronavirus.
Recently, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant, Alibaba, donated testing kits to African countries as well as other affected nations across the world.
Not all these gestures came with the outbreak of COVID-19. Some firms have been investing in research and development.
One such initiative is by Medicago, a Canadian biotech company. The company is partially owned by Philip Morris International, and is part of the tobacco company’s new course based on science, technology and innovation. Philip Morris International (PMI) acquired a stake in Medicago in 2013, and currently holds approximately 30 per cent of the company’s shares. The majority of the company’s remaining shares are owned by Mitsubishi Tanade Pharma.
Medicago is in the process of developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Recently, the biotech company announced successful production of virus-like particle – the first step in the development of a vaccine against the disease – which the firm intends to commence pre-clinical testing for safety, ahead of human trials, slated for August this year. The vaccine is manufactured from tobacco plants.
The common thread in all these initiatives is a business community offering to invest in initiatives to help society deal with an unexpected shock. Are these extraordinary acts the new normal for doing business in Kenya and the rest of the world? Is the private sector finally taking triple bottom line approach to business seriously and walking the talk in considering Profit, People and Planet?