The Covid-19 pandemic has birthed rarely seen camaraderie and generosity from the business community in Kenya and the rest of the world.
Corporates are spontaneously stepping up to deliver solutions in dealing with the pandemic. Businesses are, in all the cases, voluntarily going out of their ways, to the point of setting aside the traditional profit motive, usually the true north of capitalism.
The kind acts range from lessening economic and social impacts of the disruption occasioned by the pandemic, to investing in the search for a cure or vaccine against the virus. As of March 22, 2020, there were more than 600 confirmed cases in 34 African countries, 15 of which were in Kenya.
Globally, 294,110 confirmed cases, out of which 12,944 succumbed, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
In reaction to confirmed cases in Kenya, the government announced stringent measures to stem the spread of the virus. These include: indefinite closure of learning institution, suspension of events and public gatherings, closure of bars and places of worship, restriction of foreign travel and encouraging individuals to work from home
In anticipation of the imminent disruption that is likely to be occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures, private sector players have been offering relief. This is mainly to cushion the public.
Soon after the first cases were confirmed, Safaricom waived transaction fees for person-to-person transfers below Ksh1,000 on its mobile money service, M-PESA. Limits for daily transactions and the wallets were also enhanced to facilitate small and medium-sized businesses to continue operating. These measures were meant to encourage cashless transactions to minimize the risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash.
KCB Group, on the hand, boosted funds available for mobile lending and expressed willingness to lend to defaulters, previously blacklisted by credit reference bureaus but are now repaying loans. The bank also offered to renegotiate loan contracts to restructure and extend repayment periods, for which it would foot legal costs.
This, the lender indicated, is meant to help customers get on with their lives in the face of alooming economic slowdown and to protect jobs by providing financing to businesses.
These examples of relief from private sector went beyond facilitating cashless transactions. With schools shut by the government as a measure to contain spread of Coronavirus, Longhorn Publishers offered its online learning portal for free to primary and secondary schoolchildren. The service can be accessed on smartphones or feature phones through USSD code.
The private sector is doing a lot more than just offering relief to individuals and businesses from likely effects in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Entrepreneurs and enterprises are also actively involved in the fight against Coronavirus. Recently, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant, Alibaba, donated testing kits to African countries as well as other affected nations across the world.
Not all these gestures came with the outbreak of COVID-19. Some go some years back. Some firms have been investing in research and development.
One such initiative is by Medicago, a Canadian biotech company. The company is partially owned by Philip Morris International and is part of the tobacco company’s new course based on science, technology and innovation.
Philip Morris International (PMI) acquired a stake in Medicago in 2013, and currently holds approximately 30% of the company’s shares. The majority of the company’s remaining shares are owned by Mitsubishi Tanade Pharma.
Are these extraordinary acts the new normal for doing business in Kenya?
Medicago is in the process of developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Recently, the biotech company announced the successful production of virus-like particle – the first step in the development of a vaccine against the disease – which the firm intends to commence pre-clinical testing for safety, ahead of human trials, slated for August this year. The vaccine is manufactured from tobacco plants.
The common thread in all these initiatives is a business community offering to invest in initiatives to help society deal with an unexpected shock.
Are these extraordinary acts the new normal for doing business in Kenya and the rest of the world? Is the private sector finally taking the triple bottom line approach to business seriously and walking the talk in considering Profit, People and Planet?