Empowering Shopkeepers in Times of Crisis
In Kenya, the coronavirus pandemic is presenting new challenges for shopkeepers who must continue supplying their customers with essential goods, even amidst a global crisis. We talked to Alice Waweru, TechnoServe’s entrepreneurship regional program manager, about the challenges these micro-retailers are facing and what TechnoServe is doing to help.
In Kenya, small retail shops are vital to the local economy, often providing 80 to 90% of all consumer goods. In recent weeks, as many governments have asked people to stay home and practice physical distancing, small neighborhood shops have become increasingly important in ensuring continued access to essential goods such as food and hygiene products. At the same time, these shopkeepers are facing immense challenges as they try to run their businesses.
What’s it like on the ground in Kenya right now?
In Kenya, we are seeing more COVID-19 cases each day. Since the first case was reported in mid-March, the government has put in place strict measures to curb the spread of the virus, including promoting physical distancing and good hygiene practices.
The Kenyan government also announced an economic stimulus program that will reduce some taxes and provide cash transfers for certain groups of people, including the elderly and other vulnerable populations. Across East Africa, we are seeing the suspension of international flights and the closing of many borders. Schools are closed, there are dusk to dawn curfews in place, and many markets are also closed. These measures are in place to protect everyone’s health, but they are inevitably having a huge impact on the economy as well.
What are the main challenges micro-retailers are facing? Who is most impacted by the current situation?
One of the main challenges micro-retailers are facing relates to supply chains and getting products into their shops. For example, nonperishable food and hygiene products are often out of stock or the prices are much higher than normal because of high transportation costs. Transporting products from the distributors to the shops has become very difficult because of widespread closures and a lack of flexible cash has made it difficult for shop owners to increase their inventory for high turnover products. Shop owners are also trying to figure out the best way to handle cash. Many have started to promote cashless transactions as a way to reduce the spread of the virus.
The crisis has also had impacts outside of the shop. For example, some shopkeepers are on the frontline helping their customers and suppliers maintain good hygiene practices, especially when being served at their shops. In addition, these shopkeepers have to learn how to deal with the extra work of taking care of the children, helping with school assignments, and doing household chores in addition to managing the shop. In Kenya, a dusk to dawn curfew has also led to some safety and security challenges in many of the communities.
What is TechnoServe doing to help micro-retailers?
In Kenya, we are encouraging our micro-retailers to focus on business survival rather than growth. By doing so, they can focus their efforts and resources on making sure the business will make it through the crisis. First, we have redesigned our programs to ensure that micro-retailers remain engaged and learning during this time — even if we cannot train them in person.
Second, we are working to keep them connected to one another and to the ecosystem. Although we have suspended our in-person training, we are continuing our training remotely using digital platforms such as WhatsApp, Push SMS, videos, and phone calls. Over 60% of our program participants own smartphones and are able to access the internet on a regular basis. For shopkeepers without a smartphone, we are also using SMS platforms to send important information. In addition, we are promoting digital learning with mobile applications that will be used to deliver training modules, show videos, and interact with the shopkeepers regularly.
Finally, we help shopkeepers solve immediate challenges affecting their businesses, especially addressing any potential loss of income. We want to ensure that our micro-retailers emerge from this crisis in the best possible situation, as they are vital to Kenya’s economy and to the communities they serve.
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