If at the start of 2020 you had told us that we’d be heading into the most severe pandemic since the first world war, and that the world would effectively come to a complete stop for a few months, we would not have believed you. We weren’t exactly prepared. So it took a pandemic for us to learn that life and business are highly unpredictable. Lesson learned.
In the face of drastically altered facts, there is only one sane choice: adapt. It took us a little while to regain our footing, but once we snapped out of “deer in headlights” mode, we ACTed (pun intended).
First, in order to create a sense of community, solidarity, and action, we organised a COVID design challenge in collaboration with TechVillage, Impact Hub Harare and Stimulus. One team came up with a tool that was inspired by the lack of timely access to water in high density areas. Another developed a digital solution which aimed to help with the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe. See our April blog post for further information.
Second, we created video content so that we could run our trainings virtually. While the lockdown in Zimbabwe eased off as we started our HCD facilitator training and HCD research training programs, travel between cities remained restricted; we were nevertheless able to include a whole team of participants from Bulawayo remotely. One participant said, “the constant availability of the trainers at any given point was helpful. We were able to communicate with them and the daily feedback from the uploads was also very helpful in keeping us on track.”
And as we write this, we have just completed our Business Growth Program’s (BGP) second bootcamp. This second boot camp focused on the results of the “mini-HCD research” that was conducted by the researchers we trained earlier in the year. The objective of the research was to test each participating business’ core assumptions and hypotheses in “real-time” and explore whether they stood up to scrutiny.
What large successful companies do on a grand scale is focus obsessively on the core needs of the consumer. They offer the end-user accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and user-friendliness, amongst other things. Entrepreneurs must do the same: by addressing the core needs of their customers, they are able to create a relationship that provides an effective advantage over their competition.
The feedback from the “mini-HCD” was that our 6 entrepreneurs have some adaptation and building to do in order to build and sustain their relationship with customers, and grow. Fortunately for them, this feedback comes at a time when they can deliberately – rather than reactively – plan for this. Let us remind ourselves that growth depends on one thing, and one thing only: customers. It is only by better serving them and by offering them value for money that growth can accelerate. As McKinsey & Company puts it: “the priority for businesses in the next normal must be to manage the immediate impacts of the crisis on consumer demand. Depending on their position, that may mean ramping up digital solutions, leveraging third-party platforms, and using social media to continue conversations with their customers.” The nature of that conversation must be mindful, attentive, and caring. It is a precious relationship, and must be treated as such!
From our own organisational growth perspective, and despite the pandemic, this has been ACT’s most prolific year. In addition to running our usual programs, we were invited to submit a proposal for the African Guarantee Fund’s Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, delivered a “Career and Entrepreneurship” workshop to 70 beneficiaries of SOS Children’s Villages, are planning a more comprehensive workshop with SOS and Schweppes for next year, and passed the second stage of evaluation of UNICEF’s request for proposals for HCD training services, which we are bidding for in collaboration with ThinkPlace and our friends from MUVA in Mozambique.
We also welcomed Angela Tarusarira to the team. Angela is taking charge of all our finances, and has greatly improved our efficiency and reporting accuracy.
So yes, what a year. There is no sugar-coating the human and social cost of the pandemic. In the face of this new reality, we feel that we can only do one thing and this is to continue to do whatever we can to serve our community.
Enjoy your holidays and we hope to engage with you in 2021. Stay healthy, stay positive and stay innovative!