25 May 2020

by The Switchers

Navigating the pandemic: Switchers offer advice on how to flourish amidst COVID-19

“Out of adversity comes opportunity.” These optimistic words are attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the 18th century American statesman, inventor and aphorist. Franklin knew how to turn unfavorable conditions on their head — in 1752, he used a violent lightning storm to fly a kite and capture electricity. 268 years on, Franklin’s can-do attitude defined The Switchers’ “Webinar on Adaptation Strategies during COVID-19” held on Wednesday, 20 May 2020.

The webinar featured four Switchers explaining their reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, from handling movement restrictions to re-assuring customers. In doing so, each business has carefully responded to its own, individual circumstances. Yet the presenters did have one, unanimous message: COVID-19 has dramatically illustrated the importance of sustainability, which will only reinforce the long-term market position of green enterprises.

 

An impressive number of Switchers tuned in from five different countries to participate in the webinar, moderated by Ananda Alonso and Khalil Ellouze (SCP/RAC). Below are the key insights that emerged from the discussion.

Temporarily change to fit the times:

Inevitably, many businesses will need to make short-term changes to their corporate strategy amid the unprecedented disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. One such business is Carmine, a car sharing service based in Casablanca, Morocco.

In simpler times, Carmine became a popular alternative to car ownership, allowing registered members to access vehicles dotted around Casablanca and rent them for a short period. The government’s COVID-19 restrictions have temporarily slashed Carmine’s customer base by restricting travel to essential workers like medical staff.

Carmine has continued to make its fleet of cars available to essential workers, even offering them discount rates. The company also upgraded its car cleaning activities to reassure customers that they can continue to use shared cars safely, despite the pandemic. These changes include cleaning cars more frequently and providing free sanitisers and disinfectant sprays.

Importantly, Carmine has made its clients aware of these changes through a focused social media campaign. “We need to show to our customers that we are responsible and understand the risks of COVID-19,” said Mohammed Mrani, founder of Carmine.

 

Secure finances to maintain core business:

While Carmine has made some changes in the COVID-19 context, Mrani stressed that companies should try to maintain their core, long-term vision. Mrani is confident that car sharing will return to its former popularity in Casablanca when the virus is more under control.

For now, Carmine has used favorable government loans to cover fixed costs and deferred some other financial obligations by consent. “By taking these steps, we have tried not to impact our business plan,” said Mrani. Carmine’s steady finances will position the business to resume full operations as soon as restrictions are lifted.

 

Navigating the pandemic: Switchers offer advice on how to flourish amidst COVID-19 | The Switchers

Carmine has made its clients aware of these changes through a focused social media campaign

Mrani’s Moroccan countrywoman, Khaoula Remmal, followed a similar approach with ENRD2_Engrais Bio, which provides consultancy services in sustainable agriculture. ENRD2 took advantage of state support to weather the economic downturn, while also re-organising the company’s finances to cope with future emergency situations.

 

Develop internal capacity during downtime:

When Morocco first imposed restrictions in mid-March, ENRD2 matched the company’s drop in outward-facing services with growth from within. The reforms at ENRD2 did not stop with creating a “rainy day fund” —  Remmal developed a new corporate strategy, took courses in financial restructuring with her management team, and arranged online training for her staff.

“We saw the reduction in projects as an opportunity to improve internally,” said Remmal. These various initiatives, which will increase the company’s efficiency for years to come, may have proved too time-consuming during busier work periods.

 

Capitalise on market advantages:

Not all businesses have struggled to attract customers under COVID-19, a trend that holds true for plenty of eco-friendly businesses. Indeed, 46% of surveyed Switchers reported that, during the pandemic, they had received more business than before (31%) or the same amount (15%).

Just as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made $24 billion from March to April, Imane Chaabane has enjoyed her own e-commerce boom with Little Jenaina, an online retailer for Tunisian sustainable goods. “People didn’t want to go to supermarkets, so they came to us,” said Chaabane.

Such was the flood of new business that Little Jenaina did not need a dedicated marketing campaign. Instead, Chaabane and her sole employee scrambled throughout April to complete the many customer orders flowing in.

Chaabane now faces a remarkable, welcome dilemma amidst COVID-19 —  how to retain Little Jenaina’s surge of clients. She is already considering promotional vouchers, which would reward loyal customers with discount prices.

Over in Lebanon, George Kassab reports that Tirevolution, his sustainable rubber manufacturer, has a newfound market edge due to the COVID-19 restrictions and the country’s economic crisis. Lebanese factories once imported rubber from other countries, which could offer lower prices than Tirevolution’s recycled products.

Now, as imported goods have become prohibitively expensive, manufacturers are turning to Lebanese suppliers like Tirevolution. “Companies cannot import, so we are able to supply the raw materials that they need from garbage,” said Kassab. “Our products can allow them just to cope, just to survive the pandemic.”

 

Staying ahead of the curve

COVID-19 has challenged the very existence of small businesses around the globe. The pandemic has also forced people to reflect on the importance of sustainability. As economic activity has slowed down, everyone has captured a glimpse of a more eco-friendly world — from Venice’s canals becoming clear again to blue skies over Beijing and Delhi.

Green enterprises are perfectly positioned to flourish in a world that places more value on environmentally responsible commerce. “Today, more than ever, we are convinced of our values,” said Mrani of Carmine. This suggests that, with some resourceful thinking in the meantime, our Switchers can look forward to an exciting 2021 and beyond.

You can listen to the webinar recording here.

 

The Switchers will continue to hold webinars on topics related to COVID-19. Please check The Switchers’ website and Facebook group for more information.

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