When the lockdown came in and many businesses closed, the Women Chamber for Commerce at Private Sector Federation took a wise decision to conduct a study on how deep members’ businesses have been affected and the possible solutions to help them recover.
Women Chamber for Commerce is a department which coordinates all activities to promote women entrepreneurs and investors in Rwanda. During COVID-19, these women have been hit heavily.
The Child Focus talked to Agnes Samputu, The Executive Director of the Rwanda Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs at Private Sector Federation on various Issues on how they are helping their members recover from psychological trauma and restart their businesses again.
Journalist: How did you think about Business Clinic?
Samputu: We have been surprised with COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, we have been announced that we don’t have to go out, it was the total lockdown. After few days, we thought it was in our responsibilities as the chamber, to think how things would be after of COVID-19, to help our members recover from the effects.
We immediately started to call one by one asking how they are with their businesses. Most of them were hardly hit by the lockdown and they were psychologically traumatized. Some told us that they endured heavy losses, others said they were using their turnover to care about their families, unfinished tenders, closed bars and hotels…after gathering all data, we compiled them into a quick mini assessment which we presented to different donors and they appreciated our speed to mitigating covid-19 effects.
Some have been touched with women’s stories and they gave us a task to think about what could be done to limit the pandemic effects on women’s businesses. Firstly, we thought about emotional counseling because before being businesswomen, they are human. That is the way we thought about business clinic with two main wings of psychological support to help them gain hope and confidence to be ready to face COVID-19 effects.
The second component consists of business advisory that aims at helping them to brainstorm on what can be done to recover their businesses where it is possible or shift to other type of activities. We hired business experts who help them to think the future of their businesses. It has to be done in six months since the end of June.
Journalist: How many women have you reached on so far?
Samputu: When we started, we didn’t have means except UN Women which accepted to give us small fund. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding and we agreed to start with a pilot phase of 30 women. However, at the end we will continue with other hundred because the reports have shown that the program is achieving the expected results and the UN Women told us to train 300 more women including those from rural areas.
Journalist: When you talk with these women entrepreneurs, which sector do you find the most affected?
Samputu: Generally, women in businesses, in all sectors have been hit. However, those with big investment, endured big losses too. Usually, big investors earn big, but under negative external factors like COVID-19, they also face deep losses. Besides, women in tourism sector have been affected than others. Some own hotels, bars and restaurants which most of them are still locked or partially operating. We have them across the country. Fortunately, they are getting up slowly with advices from our experts.
Journalist: How do you advise these women in tourism sector, whose some activities are still closed?
Samputu: The first advice we give them consists of not being shaken by what happened because it was general. We show them all government measures to help private sector recover, and we ask them to follow all COVID-19 preventive measures when they are given right to open. Even if the clients are still very few, it helps them to maintain their buildings and gain mental recovery.
Journalist: How do you help them in terms of difficulty to pay bank loans during this pandemic period?
Samputu: It is in our responsibility to Lobby for them at banks when they ask us for help. We did it for many members. We help them to review their loan agreements especially those following our coaching program. We wish every member continue her activities as it was before and even prosper than before.
Journalist After lockdown, government of Rwanda has launched Business recovery fund, how is the women access on it?
Samputu: Recently, we organized an online meeting and we invited vice governor of Rwanda National Bank and the Business Development Fund Boss to talk to our members about the available opportunities including Business Recovery Fund. The information they got from these officials have been crucial to them and I’m sure they are applying for it. We always do advocacy for them so that they develop themselves and recover from COVID-19 effects.
Journalist: Are you on the right track?
Samputu: We have chances there is government will and the banks are ready to work with us in this process. When people are ready to talk and reach on common ground, all things are possible with dialogues.
Journalist: Are these women getting their hope?
Samputu: Of course yes. We are planning to meet again and hear from their ideas and testimonies. Those in business clinic are very happy of the services they receive and the progress they make with us. COVID-19 showed us that we have to shift to technology. Some are being trained in E-commerce, others in taxes. We are learning to live with the pandemic and slowly we will get used to it.
Journalist: Let’s say that COVID-19 does not end soon, what is your way forward?
Samputu: We have to learn to live with COVID-19 and remain unshaken. We have to follow preventive measures set by the government, work hard and develop ourselves. Our main goal is to help our members recover from the pandemic effects and adopt new ways of working including online services and time management. They have to know that smart phones are not only for WhatsApp, there are other more applications which are more professional and useful in their daily activities.
Journalist: Thank you for your time and will to respond to our questions.
Samputu: Thank you too for getting interested in our work and advocate for women in business
By Marie Anne Dushimimana