Key lessons for business coalitions to tackle COVID-19 in Kenya

By Judy Njino

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption, damage and loss in the lives of millions around the world. For Kenya, the situation is no different and is further hampered by inadequate and constrained healthcare systems, densely populated urban centres and insufficient infrastructure.

Since the first cases across Africa were reported, governments took decisive action via sweeping measures to close schools, businesses, limit public gathering and enforcing lockdowns and running massive public health campaigns.

The business community also heeded the call and stepped up to the challenge by forming coalitions that are mobilizing resources to support efforts by governments to fight the pandemic. With so many stakeholders working towards the same goal of managing the crisis, business can come together in an unprecedented fashion and respond to COVID-19 with effective solutions to support those most in need.

Across Africa, companies are joining business coalitions and donating millions to support the COVID-19 response and deliver to those most vulnerable in the region. However, it is important that companies look beyond simple financial contributions and take an active role in ensuring that these business coalitions are doing the needful in addressing the greatest impacts of the crisis and reaching the most vulnerable.

To ensure this is done effectively in Kenya, a responsible business coalition on COVID-19 must incorporate the following key measures to ensure an inclusive and sustainable response to the crisis.

First, it is important for business coalitions to recognize that those in the informal economy are more devastated by the measures to combat COVID-19 than the virus itself. The coalitions should create makeshift social safety nets for these workers by directing coalition funding to the provision of free access to basic healthcare and hygiene, food and nutrition; and personal protective equipment to out of work informal employees and those still forced to work during this time in order to survive.

Secondly, business coalitions should ensure that a portion of funding is directed to provide healthcare and hygiene support to those most vulnerable which will directly impact women who are disproportionately represented in these sectors and take on these responsibilities in the household. The funding can also be used to offset the disproportionate financial burden women face in health emergencies by creating sub-funds specific to supporting women-owned businesses, entrepreneurs and funds to go towards in-kind childcare contributions.

Thirdly, all companies as part of any successful and responsible business coalition should commit to and apply the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact to their actions and ensure a principles-based approach to the crisis which provide ideas and inspiration during these uncertain times of how to respond. 

Fourthly, no business coalition should just be for business only but rather inclusive of other stakeholders, particularly those that can ensure that the coalition is identifying and prioritizing the most vulnerable and in need of support. Beyond the government and civil society, coalitions should look towards more innovative approaches and invite others to join that business may not normally engage with. 

 Lastly, a responsible business coalition builds trust with the community through consistent and transparent communications and policies. Especially when mobilizing resources, it is important for coalitions to be proactive in their response to accountability inquiries, ensuring effective management of resources and transparent communications and accounting as to how those in need are benefitting from their efforts.

To tackle the pandemic in Kenya, business can connect and jointly address the human, health and economic costs of COVID-19. A responsible business coalition offers us the potential to lay the foundation for a safer, healthier and more resilient Kenya setting a precedent for how we as a nation manage such emergencies in the future. If they recognize that humanity’s values and business values are one in the same, business coalitions have the human, financial and technological capital to come out stronger than before the crisis.

Now is the time for companies across Kenya to step up and show true leadership in the face of a previously unimaginable crisis

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