In the last few weeks, similar to other organisations and governments around the world, the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity has been adapting and responding to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Beyond the public health consequences, this virus has caused severe economic disruption, as travel restrictions are imposed and businesses shuttered to try and slow the spread of this deadly disease.
At the Fund, we’ve been actively engaging with our portfolio to understand how they’ve been affected by COVID-19, and how swift and innovative their response to this extraordinary set of circumstances has been so far. This blog series will highlight some of the ways in which our participants are adapting as well as demonstrating how our portfolio companies are continuing to reach, engage, and support their rural customers during this lockdown period.
Although the direct consequences of COVID-19 vary by geography, business model, and sector, there are some common themes across the portfolio. In nearly every case, non-essential staff are now working from home, and group training and customer field visits have been canceled as a result of the social distancing regulations. Some companies operating outside of agriculture have also had to close down their branches and agents network in order to adhere to restrictions on non-essential sectors, whilst projects importing supplies from East Asia have reported difficulties in accessing their supply chains as global manufacturing slows down.
One common response we’ve already observed is that companies are turning to innovative, digital tools to continue to reach their customers despite the lockdown. Easy Solar, a leading solar company in Sierra Leone supported by the Fund, provides a clear example; as Sierra Leone began introducing restrictions on shops, Easy Solar set up an online sales platform to enable customers continued access to their solar and cooking products. Other companies have turned to similar routes, by increasing their investment in radio advertising and tele-sales, or by using mobile platforms to communicate with their customers.
Fund participants have also recognized their role in the fight against COVID-19, by providing public health information and updates to their customers using mobile and digital technology. SyeComp, an agricultural technology start-up in Ghana, has already launched a dedicated public health hotline for their smallholder farmers to help the mitigate the impact on rural, agricultural communities. Other companies including Olam, Equity Bank, Futurelink, and Stewards’ Globe have set up similar initiatives, helping to ensure that their customers access the information they need to keep rural communities safe.
As this crisis develops, we will continue to share updates and insights from our participants, explaining the effects of this crisis on their operations and how they are responding to them. We hope that this blog series will be a valuable tool in sharing ideas about how the private sector can respond to COVID-19, and help demonstrate the innovations and adaptiveness of companies supported by the Fund.
Theo Sands, IPE, Tripleline