Business Collaboration to Fight COVID-19 in Kenya

By Myriam Sidibe, Senior Fellow, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School, and Co-Founder and Co-Chair, National Business Compact on Coronavirus, Kenya

On April 9, Business Fights Poverty hosted a webinar with the National Business Compact on Coronavirus, that focused on action being taken in Kenya, and the lessons that can be learnt for other countries.

Kenya reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 16. That same day, private companies, the government of Kenya, members of the UN family, and civil society organizations came together to form a National Business Compact, a platform for collaboration for all of the stakeholders to coordinate and collaborate on tackling the outbreak.

It was clear that the response had to be rapid, and it had to be flexible. As Dr Mercy Mwangangi, Assistant Minister of Health, Kenya, said:  “We have realised that the response to this pandemic has necessitated the need for very prompt action and course correcting as we move.”

The coalition that we have built includes an industry wide approach where competing companies in hygiene, including Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Pwani, PZ Cussons and Menengai, as well as community-based soap manufacturers agree to work together. The coalition was convened by the Marketing Society of Kenya and brought in the Kenya Association of Manufacturers with its member companies. The Coalition also includes the UN family in Kenya and non-government organizations such as Amref. 

“It is clear that this is going to be an all-of-society response,” said Sid Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator. “What we have to do is flatten this curve with urgency and speed. And that will happen when we are all in this together, supporting the government of Kenya in making it happen.”

The approach that we decided on was threefold. Firstly, we had to create a unified communications strategy to amplify the government’s messaging on how to stay safe and limit the spread of the virus. Secondly, we need to scale up the distribution of hygiene facilities, alongside soap and water in vulnerable communities, in the acknowledgment that handwashing is the best line of defence against COVID-19. And thirdly, we must create a flexible funding mechanism to quickly respond to the government’s needs as the crisis evolves.

Together, the partners with a national approved communication brief, quickly developed a multi-channel communications campaign, using radio, television, billboards, and digital. To ensure that the campaign had a broad appeal, recruiting influencers, comedians and other public figures, and producing a puppet show to bring the message to a younger audience.

This campaign has had to be dynamic to keep up with a crisis that is rapidly evolving. As Manwa Magoma, Advisor to the Cabinet Secretary on Information, Communication and Technology, said, “The nature of this pandemic is that every other day it keeps changing… It’s forced those of us in the world of communication to think how we can adapt our communication needs or our communication material.”

Magoma said that the private sector has helped to augment the government’s communication strategy, bringing new resources and expertise to the table.

The flexibility has come in part because of the seniority of the people involved, said Pheodor Brown, Chairman of the Marketing Society of Kenya. “It was important to have the right level of leadership around the table, and having people who could make decisions,” he said.

To support the second pillar, and accelerate the distribution in the communities, the coalition is working with a combination of digital distributors and community-based organizations. For example, Copia serves over 180,000 rural customers and has over 5,000 agents.  We equipped their distribution retailers with over 1,500 handwashing facilities, soaps, and messaging for customers coming to pick up their items. Similarly, working with over 6,000 community health workers of Amref who are being trained via mobile and having access to some of the most vulnerable communities. The combination of retail distributors and community health workers means that we will have a better chance to support the estimated 6 to 10 million Kenyans that will be at risk and might find it very difficult to have access to regular soap, water and masks.    

This joint approach has focused on making sure that the communities they are working with feel ownership of the process, from retailers to community health workers.

“It’s important that it’s not just government-owned, but that it’s whole-of-society owned,” Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref, said. “The community needs to drive the response and see it as their own, so they hold each other accountable.”

E-commerce firm, Copia, has supported this initiative but has also leveraged its supply chains and networks of local agents in the fight against the outbreak. The company has distributed public health advice and soap through the shopping bags that it delivers to its customers. Since joining the Business Compact, the company has been working to put hand washing stations at its agent locations. Within three days, it had established 1,500 stations and hopes to expand these to include all 8,500 of its locations.

We invite you to get involved at and to join the wider effort, with Business Fights Poverty, to accelerate global learning and local action at

On April 9, Business Fights Poverty hosted a webinar with the National Business Compact on Coronavirus, that focused on action being taken in Kenya and the lessons that can be learnt for other countries. To watch the recording of the webinar, click here.

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