Building a New Business During a Pandemic

By Sarah Owembabazi, Co-Founder – NJOZA Solutions

Firstly, this virus didn’t alert us that it was coming. When it did, the news and information were very confusing with some saying Coronavirus didn’t affect Africans. Worst of all, it seemed very okay here in Uganda since our Ministry of Health appeared very prepared for this shock. I had confidence in the ministry since it has handled outbreaks such as Ebola. In all my stay in Uganda, Ebola has always been contained in the districts it surfaces, especially in Kasese district of Western Uganda, attributed to the strong community-based Surveillance system right from District Health Officers (DHOs), Village Health Teams (VHTs) up to Ministry of Health.

Our good story ended on 22nd March when we registered our first case. All things started falling apart including my new start-up enterprise; NJOZA Solutions, a mobile domestic Laundry and Housekeeping Company. Together with my partner a month before the occurrence, we had started testing our service in the market and registered good market response that indeed our dream of providing employment to fellow youth and women was going to come through until COVID-19 occurred.

Covid-19 government response first saw a hike in public transport which definitely had an impact on our business. Eventually, there was a ban on public transport which made our movement difficult. The total lockdown was enforced which meant no movement and no activities.

This season was frustrating; we were joining the market as professionals and we had to obey the presidential guidelines, and this meant putting on hold our activities. This was a very big challenge since we had targets for the first 3 months. The most efficient means of transport for our business – Boda Bodas –  to-date, aren’t allowed to carry passengers due to the higher risk they pose. The Boda Bodas make it easier to traverse through the condensed traffic in Kampala for timely pickups and deliveries. Even with the easing of the lockdown, it is still difficult to get clients because our nature of services involves direct contact with the clients, their property and homes, sometimes. Therefore this virus has greatly affected our operations, targets, and dreams.

On a positive note, we used the lockdown to re-think our business strategy, start on business registration with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), share our business plan with potential investors, share our business with friends and the general public using online tools, social media, and ordinary phone calls as we hope for the situation to normalize.

To the Leaders;

We don’t seem to know when the spread of the virus ends. I have attended a number of leadership and entrepreneurship webinars in which many people have stressed the desire of adapting to the new normal and learning to co-exist with the virus. At the end of the day, we can’t keep locked down without any solutions to the economic shutdown yet we need to meet our  basic and other needs. Otherwise, this will yield increased crime and at worst even war can erupt.

The impact of the virus on the macro and micro economy is very clear and therefore tax waivers, provision of grants, loans, incentives for businesses to be able to catch up, replication of more job opportunities especially in the informal sector; since many have been laid off from their jobs, especially those in the formal sector. Therefore, the informal sector needs a lot of boasting to support the economy and players to catch up with the new modus operandi.

The shift to the adaption of technology alternatives in doing business is here whether we want it or not but here we are still paying OTT (Tax for social media usage) at the time social media is the cheapest mode of marketing, selling among others. Internet in Uganda today remains expensive and for me it is a necessity. I would be the happiest if our government offered us free internet for more opportunities to engage, transact, and learn online as well lookout for new opportunities.