Inclusive businesses’ insights to staying resilient in times of crisis

By Susann Tischendorf, Director at Inclusive Business Action Network, and Sabrina Bennis, Trainee at Inclusive Business Action Network

Inspiring inclusive businesses have invested in their relationships with stakeholders, shared experiences and strengthened public-private partnerships to stay resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic and tackle the needs of low-income communities around the globe in times of crisis.

Resilience is one of the widest used terms among the global business community in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. An innumerable number of toolkits and guidelines have been prepared by consulting firms and other organisations to support companies in assessing their level of preparedness to confront and survive the pandemic. However, as Ndidi Nwuneli of Sahel Consulting points out, “many studies have overlooked the crucial role that inclusion plays in ensuring that a company can withstand and even thrive in the face of shocks.”

Resilience and inclusive business go hand in hand as their business models and practices are inherently resilient. For this reason, inclusive businesses operating in sectors like energy, health, education and food are well-equipped to tackle humans’ complex needs that have unfolded during the Covid-19 crisis despite the challenges that they themselves face.

The short documentary ‘Inclusive Business – Companies As A Force For Good’, which was recently awarded the ‘Silver Trophy’ at the 2020 Deauville Green Awards, illustrates how inclusive business create triple wins. They improve the income and livelihoods as well as the access to products and services of communities at the base of the pyramid, offer economically profitable and stable businesses, and decrease governments’ social expenditures.

The film also presents the aspirations of inclusive business and their struggles in developing solutions for low-income people. Sharing such experiences has become increasingly important, particularly in times of the current pandemic. The past months have also shown us that fostering close relationships to customers, suppliers and employees, and promoting empathic leadership are essential for businesses to stay resilient in difficult times. For instance, Golden Sunland supports its rice farmers in Myanmar through the guaranteed buy-back programme to mitigate some of the market access challenges they face.

The Global Distributors Collective (GDC) is helping its 160+ members of last mile distributors around the globe to access relief funding and technical assistance to cope with the pandemic and to prepare for the post-Covid-19 world. For example, GDC offered its members a virtual workshop series on topics like ‘fundraising in the face of Covid-19’ and ‘pivoting to online sales’, partnered with CGAP to offer members pro-bono 1:1 technical assistance and developed the Covid-19 resources hub with curated content. Other insightful learning materials to foster business resilience have been developed, some of which can be found in the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN) 11th edition of its online magazine CLUED-iN.

Vava Coffee in Kenya has been providing organic food products like kale and maize, which are grown on its farm through the Kisaju-Kipeto Organic Food Project, to local communities and has educated these on handwashing, protective gear, etc. The company also collaborates with its partner Northstar coffee roasters in the United Kingdom to raise funds to support its coffee farmers through a crowdsourcing campaign. Vava Coffee will soon launch the Boflo na Kahawa initiative to provide, at a short travel distance, essentials to the local community such as fresh bread and hot coffee.

The Covid-19 crisis also provides a unique opportunity for the public and private sectors to unite efforts and transform inclusive business into the ‘new normal’ of doing business. Essilor, a French multinational operating in the vision care sector, perfectly illustrates the potential of public-private partnerships to strengthen the resilience of communities at the national and global levels, which are now, more than ever, necessary according to Jane Nelson of Harvard Kennedy School. The company supports local-level governments around the globe in raising awareness among rural populations on handwashing and social distancing by using its existing wide-spread rural network of vision care providers.

In response to Covid-19, Bridge International Academies developed a 360-learning remote programme tailored for low-income communities called the Bridge@home programme. It adapts to the restrictions of learning @Home by including virtual classrooms, digital self-study packs, WhatsApp, digital platforms as well as radio in a multichannel and integrated approach that makes learning at home engaging for students. Bridge International Academies’ innovative programme is not only supporting pupils and parents, but it is also being used across various countries by governments to support the Sustainable Development Goals during the pandemic. For instance, the Edo State Government in Nigeria has implemented the EdoBEST@Home programme to ensure that every child in the state can continue learning despite schools being closed.

All these inspiring inclusive businesses’ resilient practices have enabled them to survive the shocks provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic and even thrive amid its challenges.

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