The impact that COVID-19 is having on African businesses

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The impact that COVID-19 is having on African businesses is particularly devastating to the sector the continent relies on most for employment – small and micro enterprises (SMEs). Employing millions across the continent, the SME sector – many owned and operated by young entrepreneurs – feeds and sustains a significant portion of the population. The continent’s private sector is playing a leading role in large-scale social relief efforts, prominent among these the work to keep SMEs afloat.

Given the need for accelerated efforts to address the poverty escalation being caused by the pandemic, social impact consultancy Shift Impact Africa has announced a virtual summit from 2 – 5 June 2020 at which business leaders from across Africa will discuss relief efforts, including those to support small business, At the summit, leaders will discuss their companies’ responses, identify approaches that are working, and share some COVID-19 initiatives that are already having a positive impact in our region.

With a focus on the health and safety of delegates but given the urgency of relief efforts, the virtual summit will motivate companies and individuals to take action and to contribute to Africa’s economic recovery.

“It is through businesses sharing what they are doing, the challenges they face and the solutions they are finding that the private sector will be able grow its impact during this time,” says Shift Impact Africa founder Tiekie Barnard. “We know how important SMEs are for Africa’s economies and that they should be supported given the economic side-effects of COVID-19. At Beyond Borders: 2020 Africa Shared Value Leadership eSummit, purpose-led companies will discuss what is needed and potential solutions.”

This focus will include a discussion about financial inclusion after COVID-19, during which panellists will explore new growth opportunities across the continent. How does the COVID-19 pandemic pave the way for greater financial inclusion, including the need for improved access to finance and support for vulnerable SMEs? How can financial institutions use technology better to bridge the gap between business and society? How does the African business community respond to ensure vulnerable SMEs recover?

Delegates at the eSummit will also be able to interact with a range of Africa’s young entrepreneurs, who will share their experiences as young leaders and how they see the business after COVID-19. Barnard says this is a key element of the programme, given Africa’s young population. The eSummit will also feature young business leaders discussing their roles as entrepreneurs and young business leaders in African economies and unlocking the potential for a brighter future. “Young leaders could transform the continent for the better. But how real is this opportunity amidst persistent realities associated with education, governance, job creation and more?”

In a discussion titled ‘Life After COVID-19 – How the Younger Generation Can Secure Our Future’, panellists discuss the investments young people are making and the policies and programmes needed to unlock Africa’s youth dividend. What actions should young Africans take today that not only have an immediate impact, but will also determine the future of the continent for decades to come? What does a post-pandemic world mean for upcoming business leaders? And what changes are needed to bring about better access to finance, business networks and other factors for young millennials?

Linked to this topic is that of how African businesses are welcoming and supporting innovation in contributing to the continent’s recovery. The eSummit will feature panellists reflecting on inspiring innovations during a time of crisis and explore the role of innovation in COVID-19 response. Says Barnard: “During the pandemic, there has been a huge upsurge of innovation, as solutions are sought. Why have we had to wait for a crisis like this? This is a question we are looking to answer.”

eSummit sponsors UAP Old Mutual, KCB Group and Abbott are showing the way in this. The companies have launched comprehensive responses during the pandemic. For example, KCB Group has contributed funds towards interventions to cushion citizens from the economic hardship brought by COVID-19. UAP Old Mutual’s set of initiatives includes assistance for business and individual clients, as well as work with partners to provide funding for healthcare workers. Abbott has moved rapidly to launch a rapid test kit for the virus.

Nobody can argue with the fact that this is a time like no other, says Barnard. We need to act, and we need to act fast.

The Shared Value Africa Initiative

The Shared Value Africa Initiative (SVAI) is the pan-African partner of the global shared value initiative. Operated by Shift, a shared value consultancy, advocacy and training firm based in Johannesburg, the SVAI’s purpose is to build a shared value business network to accelerate sustainable change in Africa. Its mission is to shift Africa from being the poorest continent to the most economically viable. It focuses on establishing and growing partnerships among various stakeholder groups, including regional and national corporations, governments, non-profit organisations, and multilateral and bilateral development agencies and foundations.

Further information on the SVAI and shared value is available at, with further information about the summit at

Shift Impact Africa

Shift Impact Africa is a Shared Value advocacy, training and purposeful branding consultancy that assists businesses to find the Shared Value strategy that works for them. was born out of the need to assist business to transform strategy and accelerate change to address inequalities in society. Shift Impact Africa assists clients to identify social challenges relevant to the business, and to implement the Shared Value enterprise where growth opportunities lie. It is a women-owned organization with majority-black shareholding.