Rethinking Our Service Delivery Model And Building Resilience In The Face of COVID-19

By Ritah Namwiza, Team Leader, Collage

“2020 is our year!”

This was my message to my team as we ushered in the new year. 2019 had been good to us. We had realized tremendous growth: more than 400 products sold, more than 25 producers brought on board, launched our training programme, and stories featuring our entrepreneurs had reached more than 30,000 people.

Additionally, we had won funding from the University of Edinburgh MasterCard Scholars Program. The funding would help us to recruit and train 50 additional producers, more than triple our sales, and support organizational expansion including hiring more help. There was a lot to celebrate.

Our plan for 2020 was simple. Build on the gains of 2019 by recruiting more producers, kickstart our training programme, increase our marketing, avail credit resources to our entrepreneurs, and provide tailored mentorship to our producers to bring more and improved products to market.

Producers and partners attend a training in November 2019.

By mid-January, we had recruited ten producers and seven producers had signed up for our training programme—we were on fire.

Around the same time, news of a Novel Corona Virus started making rounds. We were apprehensive but we hoped that it would be contained. We continued with our work, business as usual.

By the end of January, it was clear that COVID-19 was not going away any time soon.  January 31st, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. We were terrified—for our lives and for the small businesses we were supporting. We had seen the outbreak bring Wuhan to its knees. Majority of our entrepreneurs had barely broken even, the last thing they needed was three months without business.

As I write this, Uganda is on total lockdown and 2020 is definitely not going to be our year.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses

Didus Busingye owns Komuka Skill Workshop (Komuka) that produces leather products. Although he has been in business since 2016, it wasn’t until 2018 that he started seeing business growth. Like most small business owners, Didus has had to deal with a number of challenges including a small capital base, limited access to market, challenges sourcing raw materials, and unfavorable tax regimes.

2019 saw Komuka expand production, move into a new shop, bring new products to market and launch a training programme.

Now, the COVID-19 outbreak is threatening this progress.

“We had not stocked material because we were yet to get paid by the shops we supply. By the time we realized we needed to act, it was hard to get material because most shops were closing. It is going to be tough because we are not producing, we are not selling, and yet we have bills to pay. We also think things will be hard for us once the outbreak is over because everybody will be broke and sales will be low. It will take us a while to recover,” Said Didus Busingye.

Rethinking Our Response

Didus is not alone. Many small entrepreneurs are in a similar predicament.

In our case, we had to close the shop and sales have greatly plummeted. We have had to rethink our entire plan for 2020. For instance, while we continue to deliver training and mentorship, we are increasingly doing so through online platforms. This has meant cutting down the target number of trainees.

Secondly, a key priority for us now is to ensure that our producers are reassured that we are standing with them. We have started a social media campaign called the Collage Voices of Hope to collect solidarity messages from our customers, producers and other entrepreneurs from across the country. This campaign will help us to forge stronger ties with our producers and to deepen our brand penetration.

Importantly, we are aware that our producers are anxious about how they will get back on their feet once the outbreak is contained. As such, thanks to the funding we got from the University of Edinburgh MasterCard Scholars Programme, we are redesigning our credit facility in order to extend loans to our producers to enable them to pick up the pieces and get back to work.

This is going to be a trying time for small and micro-entrepreneurs, majority of whom were already struggling to stay afloat. It is imperative that we put in place measures to help them mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, more than ever, as the formal sector shrinks and economies take a downturn, we must stand with our entrepreneurs.

Like everyone else, we do not have everything figured out but we have faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel, we just need to find it.



2 thoughts on “Rethinking Our Service Delivery Model And Building Resilience In The Face of COVID-19

  • nakalanda23April 6, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Oh God, the reality of this message is everything painful. . . . I wish we could turn the hands of time and see the hope we desire ahead of the tunnel. I feel every bit of this prick ?

  • Nabimanya PeterApril 6, 2020 at 9:24 am

    It’s the reality of our times, we can’t wish it away, but lets stay clear headed as we pass through this time. We need to stay courageous and positive hoping we will keep safe and survive this first while looking at production of essential products after this wave goes will offset our bounce back. Lets not lose our minds,its not easy for every human being, humanity is bigger than this virus.


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