Resilience in the time of COVID-19

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Even before COVID-19 hit South Africa, as the first black, female-owned company in the transport safety industry, we have been no stranger to business challenges.

Our company, ITraffic, which manufactures road restraint systems, is part of an industry where, for many decades, there have been only three key players in the country. For a new company, our greatest challenge has been market access, as it is for many other small companies, even those with innovative solutions such as we have.  These are the companies which, with access to markets, could contribute towards economic growth and much-needed jobs—particularly for the youth who are most affected by South Africa’s extremely high unemployment level. 

But in an economy characterized by high levels of market concentration, excessive bureaucracy and red tape, small players have limited opportunity. Outdated regulations, rules and procedures that are needlessly complex create unnecessary roadblocks, strengthening the monopoly and limiting the space for entrepreneurship and job creation.

With COVID-19, we became even more vulnerable as we could no longer physically approach different organization to fish for opportunities. Maintaining networks has also become a challenge. While the government offered COVID-19 relief funds and loans to micro, small and medium-sized (MSME) enterprises, some entities were unable to access them. And those that did,  will later find themselves in debt, putting them in even more risk.

Snapping out of the COVID-19 pandemic paralysis and accepting the new reality that our business—which specializes in innovative road safety and technological solutions—will no longer be the same, was a necessity. We had to adapt or die!

To survive, we committed ourselves becoming more pro-active in rebuilding our business model, forming new alliances, and creating a culture of perseverance and resilience. This meant taking decisive steps to “failure proof” the business and stretching our resources to avoid drowning in debt. We are also deliberately interacting with other MSMEs, building networks and making sure that we are well exposed. We are now more intentional about demanding change in our sector.

However, there is no magic wand, nor is there a one size fits all solution that applies to all MSMEs. Each business is different, operating in different industries and each with its own dynamics. We can all restructure our businesses, adapt and work harder, but we will not survive without a true change in the economic structure of South Africa. 

Efforts to encourage people to be entrepreneurial during and after this pandemic will not work if access to key markets remains highly restrictive. What is needed is urgent structural change that will create space for equal opportunities and economic policy adjustments that will remove distortions and imbalance in various sectors to breakdown old and persistent patterns of dominance. The government needs to hold organizations accountable for transformation.

We also need to have a conversation about support provided to MSMEs, as often agencies created for this purpose are staffed by people with no hands-on entrepreneurial experience. To succeed, we need support from experienced people who can understand the challenges faced by MSMEs and are to guide accordingly.

Within South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, a focused support program for MSME participation in the manufacturing value chain was recently announced. The plan includes targeting specific products for manufacturing by MSMEs for both the domestic market and for export. It also allows for the provision of business and infrastructure support, financial assistance through loans and blended funding, facilitating routes to market, and assistance with technical skills, product certification, testing and quality assurance.

Looking forward, it gives me hope that the necessary space needed by small businesses to thrive could be opening up—a much-needed boon for successful post-COVID-19 recovery. 

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Authors

Keabetswe Mmolawa

Co-founder and chief operational officer of ITraffic South Africa

Joseph Ayieko
March 16, 2021

SMEs plays a major role in our economic space. This is a great article. Lets encourage SMEs to pick up linkages programme

Ibrahim sunusi kunchi
March 16, 2021

Governments shall engage in social program to boost socio-economic of their Nation, it shall lesser the level of corruption and take austrity measures on unproductive expenditures.

Ibrahim sunusi kunchi
March 16, 2021

Social program shall be created to boost socio-economic of the Nation, also governments take austrity measure on unproductive expenditures and lesser the level of corruption.

Temanhlane Masuku
March 16, 2021

How can young people work with their government and civil society organizations to respond to the impact of Covid 19 and build a strong post pandemic economic and social systems?
Covid -19 has not our health that has led to thousands deaths of our love ones, however it has cause global challenges that has increased child marriage in Africa (due to poverty, gender inequalities, closure of schools and hunger) for example child marriage has increased in Somalia, Mozambique, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda etc., gender based violence for example South Africa has the highest rate, food scarcity and unemployment rate is the global challenge. Therefore, young people need to come together and build a strong network. The future of their community, country and continent lies in their hands.
Since food scarcity challenge due to climate change and Covid 19 it has reduced food production. Young people need to have innovative and business strategies. They need to invest more in agriculture, for example 80% of Eswatini economy depends on agriculture. Young people need to develop marketing strategies that will help to sell their product. These can create jobs for the people. Young people need to add value in industrialization since most agricultural product are at a raw stage, by further processing the raw product its will help provide prolonged food shelf life instead of importing food from neighbouring country. For example, when growing peanuts its must be further processed into peanuts butter. When increasing the food supply chain, it will help create more jobs.
They need to access to internet and dive in research. Research will help in getting solutions on how to adapt and develop resilience strategies on climate change as it has contributed in food scarcity. Young people can work hand in hand with organizations that advocates on weather awareness in local communities and participating in policy making. Child marriage violates human rights. young people need to raise awareness on child marriage by using social media campaign, for example I participate on end child marriage campaign which was hosted by UNICEF partnering with the African Union, social media has an effect as most people participated on the advocacy of End Child Marriage. Young people need to empower women, women has a tremendous impact on development, educate a mother, she will educate a child. Lack of access to information has caused people not having access to health care, schools, and home affairs for birth registration. Lack of access to information and proper data is a setback to development.
Government needs to create an enabling environment for young people to participate in social and economic system by financing or provide working capital on agricultural projects, by providing proper digital education that is reliable, convenient and accessible by giving students laptop and teachers and ease to internet, therefore child marriage can decrease because children. will continue with their studies. They should allow youth to participates in policy making, for example the government of Mozambique has allowed youth to be part of the parliament. Government should have an ease to access to data and be accountable of actions that are implemented, and have transparency.

Yinka
March 16, 2021

This is a great lesson to learn