Throughout 2020, support from the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) assisted organizations across Africa to cope with the additional burdens of maintaining small enterprises during Covid-19.
The mechanism was the USADF C.A.R.E.S COVID-19 Program, launched on 20 April 2020. Its purpose is "to build resilience among African enterprises and entrepreneurs while combating COVID-19 in Africa, with a focus on the Sahel, Great Lakes, and the Horn regions."
AllAfrica was also a recipient of USADF C.A.R.E.S. support, in the form of a $5000 grant to help defer the mounting costs of moving staff to work-from-home operations. Those moves entailed added hours for the technology team to quickly set up Internet access for those who did not have adequate access at home, including data cards. Inevitable challenges in those changes were complicated by South Africa's power shortages – caused, in part, by extended drought that lowered water levels, therefore reducing hydroelectric sources, and, in part, from longstanding lack of investing by the previous South African government in vital infrastructure.
Providing the technical support necessary, as well as visits to the office to retrieve and then distribute computers and other equipment for staff, required securing a permit from the government that classified AllAfrica as an 'essential service'. This and other adaptive work to support reporters and editors took considerable administrative time.
When it became possible for a small, rotating group of staff to do limited amounts of work in Cape Town, home to the largest AllAfrica editorial office, managers arranged for, supervised and participated in necessary deep cleaning and in re-arranging desks, screens and other furniture to provide for appropriate physical distancing. Preparations were made to allow doors and windows to remain open when any staff were in the office and to shut down climate control units that would have re-circulated air in unsafe ways.
As part of its C.A.R.E.S. programme, USADF has distributed approximately U.S.$3.5 million in relief funding to around 300 grantees in 21 African countries.
The USADF describes the program as having a dual purpose:
- To immediately disburse working capital to approximately 300 agricultural cooperatives, youth entrepreneurs, and off-grid energy enterprises, that USADF currently supports across USADF's 21 countries of operation.
- To increase the capacity of USADF's 100%, African owned and managed local implementing partner organizations to provide effective solutions to grassroots organizations facing severe socioeconomic uncertainties.
Though AllAfrica's year of reporting on some of those enterprises, we were able to see and to communicate to our African and global audiences the resilience of African organizations and community leaders facing even greater challenges during the pandemic.
One was Joyce Kamande, co-founder and chief operating officer of Safi Organics in rural Kenya. In an article called Safi Organics Turns Farm Waste into Black Gold and Poor Farmers into Entrepreneurs, Kamande told reporter Nancy Onyango that years of struggle on the land of her parents, who were peasant farmers, convinced her that all farmers deserved profits from their hard labour in the fields. She was determined to help make that happen through Safi, which takes rice husks – formerly considered a waste product of processing rice harvests – and converting them from a nuisance to a useful organic fertilizer. The nutrient-rich material is readily available from rice growers, who otherwise would have to spend money disposing of it.
Support from USADF, and the attention to Safi Organics provided by AllAfrica's reporting, resulted in additional fertilizer sales, Kamande later told Onyango. This was of particular help at a time when Safi managers were worried that Covid would interrupt sales completely.
AllAfrica reporter David Njagi reported on Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), founded by Kennedy Odede, who grew up in Kibera, the city's largest informal settlement. Shofco provides educations to girls in the poorest areas across the Kenyan capital Nairobi. One of Njagi's reports, Shining Light on Slums to Unlock Girls' Talents, recounts how Shofco is continuing to provide educational services, despite the pandemic. "The adaptations for Covid build upon years of work in the communities," Njagi explains.
After the Covid lockdown, Shofco schools adopted curricula to incorporate content shared by Kenya's Teachers Service Commission. "Immediately the government came up with the idea [of remote schooling] and released protocols that were to be observed during community learning, we decided to roll it out," said Hecky Odera, Shofco's director of education.
In addition to schools, Odera pointed to Shofco's health centers in the communities, with medical services, and an adult literacy programme and skills training for entrepreneurs and those seeking employment. All the services are offered free of charge, although parents and other service recipients are expected to participate in helping others.
In another report, on 14 November 2020, David Njagi recounted how Small Batches of Rwandan Coffee Pack Big Punch in World Market. The article tells the story of the Rwanda Small Holder Specialty Coffee Company.
The enterprise has branches in five provinces of Rwanda, which work through export and roasting departments. The cooperative also has coffee washing stations, warehouses and a coffee capping laboratory.
Rwandan coffee producers may be from the smallest country in eastern Africa, the company's managing director Angelique Karekezi told Njagi, but coffee farmers in Rwanda can still compete in the international market with giant coffee exporters like Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. They 'punch above their weight', she said, by ensuring that they export high quality coffee, while remaining united through their cooperative movements.
"Our farmers do not export much coffee produce," Karekezi said, "but the little that reaches the international market is of very high quality. This has enabled their products to remain competitive amid price fluctuations, which keep changing every second."
She expects exports to expand, now that the company has acquired certifications needed for the international market, and she has other ambitious goals for Rwanda's coffee cooperatives. "We want to remove middlemen from the coffee value chain, because they have been fleecing farmers. This way farmers' incomes will increase, because they are directly linked with their coffee consumers in Europe and other export destinations," says Karekezi.
In addition to supporting the coffee producers, USADF has some 28 active projects in Rwanda, where the agency is working to promote a new initiative, the Academy for Women Enterprenuers.
The funding AllAfrica received through the USADF C.A.R.E.S. programme contributed to the ability to produce the coffee story and other reporting about African ingenuity and progress, despite the odds.