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Business Resilience
Practitioners’ lessons learned from Covid-19 and recommendations for the future of doing business

Inclusive Businesses are Inherently Resilient

In the face of Covid-19, resilience has become the most significant buzz word in the global business landscape. Widely defined as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity" every single consulting firm and think-tank has released a framework or toolkit for assessing a company's level of preparedness to survive shocks and thrive amid pandemics, severe economic downturns, and protests. What many of these models have overlooked is the role that inclusion plays in ensuring that a company can withstand and even thrive in the face of shocks.

Through my work across Africa and my role on global boards, I have observed that the companies least affected by the health, economic and social shocks that have emerged as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are those that already had inclusive business models. A more in-depth assessment reveals two critical components of their inclusive business models which have set them apart and ensured that they survive and thrive:

First, they had invested in local sourcing from smallholder farmers and had built strong local ecosystems composed of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support logistics and other aspects of their operations. As a result, despite the increasing levels of protectionism and restrictions in global trade, their businesses faced minimal production disruptions. For example, Nigerian Breweries Plc. (Heineken) benefited from its decades of investment in local sourcing of sorghum and cassava starch, instead of dependency on imported malted barley, and its relationships with local SMEs. The company worked directly with smallholder farmers and provided logistical support, ensuring raw material availability to keep its factories operational. Even small and medium-sized enterprises like AACE Foods, which I co-founded, experienced increased demand for its bulk spices and seasonings from large fast-moving consumer goods customers in May and June 2020. Many of these institutional customers faced challenges importing bulk spices from Asia during the lockdowns and were compelled to explore local sourcing opportunities. The AACE Foods team rallied its local supply chain of farmers and aggregators to meet these new orders efficiently.

Second, these businesses had invested in developing products and services to meet the needs of customers at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). They had also built out extensive distribution channels to ensure wide-spread availability. These prior investments ensured that they could retain their customers and benefit from strong sales growth during the pandemic when many other competing products were considered unaffordable. Given the rampant job losses and declines in remittances which affected the purchasing power of many households, these companies even gained new customers during the crisis. For example, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, prioritised innovation over many decades to produce a range of high quality and affordable personal, home, and hair care products in India, Indonesia, South Africa, and many other emerging economies. Its wide range of pack sizes and strong local distribution networks enabled it to meet the needs of its BOP customers for affordable soaps, hand wash, and home insecticides, in the face of a health crisis.

Researchers have cited statistics that indicate that 43% of businesses never reopen after a disaster, and 25% of businesses that do, fail within a year. We can only expect more human-made and natural disasters linked to climate change, future pandemics, economic shocks, and social crises. However, our businesses' ability to withstand these shocks hinges on the choices that we make as leaders today. Indeed, our decision to invest in inclusive business models hinged on local sourcing, innovative BOP products and services, and distribution strategies that engage and serve low-income populations, will not only strengthen business operations but also ensure resilience and our long-term survival.

Ndidi O. Nwuneli
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is a serial social entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is the Co-founder of AACE Foods, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting, Chair of NourishingAfrica.com and Founder of LEAP Africa.

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Telling a story of resilience: Hands-on insights and resources from practitioners

In this CLUED-iN edition we gathered the inspiring stories and insights of practitioners, who shared the lessons learned from Covid-19 that they found to be particularly relevant for companies to stay resilient and shape the future of doing business. The resulting recommendations range from personal advice to practical toolkits, insightful webinar findings, and concrete advice for entrepreneurs and other stakeholders that shape the private sector in countries around the globe, including government.

Susann Tischendorf

Table of contents

graphic summary

GRAPHIC SUMMARY

A visual summary of the most important learnings when it comes to building resilience for crises in the realm of inclusive business. Learn more about these aspects by reading this eleventh edition of the online magazine on inclusive business! The…

Inclusive Business Action Network

editorial

Inclusive Businesses are Inherently Resilient

Nwuneli observed through her work that the companies least affected by Covid-19 have inclusive business models. She suggests two reasons for their resilience. First, inclusive businesses have invested in local sourcing and strong ecosystems. Second, these businesses had developed products and services that meet the needs of the customers at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) – even in crisis.

Ndidi O. Nwuneli

featured story

Telling a story of resilience: Hands-on insights and resources from practitioners

In this CLUED-iN edition we gathered the inspiring stories and insights of practitioners, who shared the lessons learned from Covid-19 that they found to be particularly relevant for companies to stay resilient and shape the future of doing business. The resulting recommendations range from personal advice to practical toolkits, insightful webinar findings, and concrete advice for entrepreneurs and other stakeholders that shape the private sector in countries around the globe, including government.

Susann Tischendorf

Staying resilient during and post Covid-19 – Research findings and resources for entrepreneurs and governments

“Businesses rely on people,” asserts Professor Jane Nelson, Founding Director of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School. In this interview, Nelson explains that she sees four key lessons learned for businesses from the current crisis, highlighting a need to focus on technology, leadership, diversity and relationships.

Nathalie's Trade - Perceiving the global need for clearer inclusive businesses models

Nathalie’s Free Trade is a “feel-good-do-good” food brand based in Sweden. In this interview, founder Nathalie Aldana explains how inclusive businesses can help the most vulnerable in times of crisis. She contends that the relationship between the Global North and South needs to be synergetic better than dependent to become resilient.

MIT D-Lab - supporting early stage entrepreneurs in emerging markets to reach Focus, Agility and (then) Resilience

MIT D-Lab is a multidisciplinary programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that fosters the development of appropriate technologies and sustainable solutions to global poverty through education, research and the practice of inclusive innovation. In this interview, Jona Repishti, Social Entrepreneurship Manager at D-Lab MIT, explains why entrepreneurs should use the current crisis for business housekeeping and why Focus and Agility come before Resilience.

From rescuing to reshaping

With the looming thread of Covid-19 spreading to Africa, African development organizations, joined by the international community, came together to discuss plans and actions in virtual meetings. We at iBAN monitored the ongoing debate and provided summaries of insightful webinars on our Covid-19 response page. Now, three months into the crisis, we want to share our impressions of how the crisis evolved from first aid measures to detection of underlying problems and recently to an outlook on future solutions.

Prepare your inclusive business for the next crisis

As a business leader, you could spend countless hours reading through all of the current toolkits and theoretical frameworks on how your business could improve its performance during times of crisis. To help you invest your time effectively, we at iBAN will highlight what we consider the three most important steps out of ygap’s toolkit for your path to increased resilience. The following lessons learned focus on risk preparation, finance tracking and crisis communications.

ygap - guiding social impact ventures to push business resilience

ygap is an international development organization that supports early-stage social impact ventures with locally-led solutions to local problems across Africa, South Asia, the Pacific Islands and Australia. In this interview, Kaitlin Tait, Co-Founder of ygap and Program Director for yher, explains how ygap is focussing on supporting female entrepreneurs during the current crisis and stresses that business resilience soon will be a competitive advantage.