Business

Three Tips African Women Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Navigating Shocks like COVID-19

by Aziza Isaack Godana

I train women to start businesses in Northern Kenya and find new ways of earning livelihoods. In recent years, Northern Kenya has been devastated by climate change. We’ve experienced one of the worst droughts ever to hit the country. The drought was followed by severe flooding. Favorable breeding conditions were responsible for two swarms of locusts that moved at over eighty miles per hour and ravaged local grazing lands.

It’s fair to say that the women in my part of the world know a thing or two about navigating extreme shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve weathered one shock after another. They’ve not only survived. They’ve also evolved into leaders in their communities.

Only a few years ago, many of the women weren’t allowed to own businesses in our patriarchal communities. Today, over 40% of traders at a livestock market are typically women, many of whom employ men!

Women entrepreneurs trading livestock at a market in Northern Kenya (Image credit: David DuChemin for The BOMA Project)

What can these incredibly resilient women teach us — no matter where we live — about coping with change? In my experience, there are three things that are a must have for anyone navigating a profound shock:

1. Be flexible

Our women entrepreneurs have a primary business. But they also have a backup plan. By diversifying businesses, entrepreneurs ensure that their businesses will not be affected the same way by a single market event.

After her convenience store business was impacted by COVID-19, Grace Naker Endnog started baking and selling donuts to survive the pandemic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Grace Naker Endnog recently. Before becoming a businesswoman, Grace was dependent on menial labor like washing clothes and burning charcoal for income. Money was unpredictable. Her children often went to bed hungry.

My team worked with Grace in setting up a convenience store. Business was good and life was on the upswing. Grace was able to make more than enough income to feed her children with nutritious food. She was able to send them to the doctor when they fell sick and pay for their school fees.

However, COVID-19 struck. Grace began to see reduced foot traffic at her store. Her income fell drastically.

What did Grace do?

She started baking donuts and delivering them to her customers. Any parent stuck with children at home can testify to the power of donuts in maintaining calm. With this pivot, Grace has managed to keep her family afloat, send her children to school and keep them healthy.

2. Make definite plans for the future

There’s a song by John Lennon where he says: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. There’s truth to that statement. Our lives rarely proceed in the directions we have planned.

However, it still helps to make plans all the same.

All of the women entrepreneurs I work with have a clear set of objectives. They want to save money to feed their children and send them to school. They want to put food on the table. They want to become owners of even larger businesses. When the times are tough, this vision of the future keeps them going. The remember why they started a business. They stay focused on the end goal – which is building a better future for themselves and their children.

 

A clear vision of their children studying at school motivates women entrepreneurs to stay resilient.

How can you plan for the future at a practical level? One of the best things you can do is put money away in a savings account. The very act of saving forces you to think about the future in a positive way. The act of saving builds resilience.

3. Lean on your friends, colleagues and family

Women I mentor typically start businesses in groups of three. Women in Northern Kenya – as is the case for women around the world—have many demands on their time from running a business to household work and taking care of children. Leaning on each other help our women entrepreneurs manage time better. For example, women in a group can take turns going to the market to buy inventory from wholesalers, which frees up time for personal and family responsibilities.

Group members also help each other in times of need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we see that women are also loaning money to each other to help them get through tough times.

Financial capital is important. But don’t discount the value of social capital. Your friends, families and colleagues at work can help you get through the worst of times.

To see a person tap into their inner resilience and achieve their potential in times of crisis is a thing of joy. I hope you find these tips useful as you connect with your own inner resilience and experience this happiness for yourselves.

Aziza Isaack Godana is a resident of Northern Kenya and a Field Officer with The BOMA Project. The BOMA Project works in the drylands of Africa to empower women impacted by climate change to start new businesses, build a better future for their children, and evolve into respected leaders within their communities.

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