THRIVING AND INNOVATING THROUGH A CRISIS

“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy

A number of people are threatened by a crisis because we all imagine and believe that it comes with calamity and catastrophe. Several individuals around the world are looking at the year 2020 as one “for the books”, the one with many crises happening back to back. The biggest crisis 2020 has presented is the Coronavirus pandemic. It has taken a toll on businesses, economies, people’s livelihoods, Education, Real Estate, sports, etc. A number of people have lost their jobs which has rendered them unemployed. It has upended nearly every aspect of life, from personal (how people work) to professional (how companies interact with their customers). 

According to a new report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), 90% workers and companies have experienced salary cuts or job losses since March 2020. Households have reported an 87% reduction in income or no earnings at all from their sources of livelihood. Additionally, the pandemic has also left the Tourism sector struggling as the number of foreign tourists to Uganda reduced from 47.3% to 0% in April and June according to the World Tourism Organization leaving 99% of the workforce in the hospitality sector unemployed. Clearly, the dent left by this crisis can not be ignored. 

A great deal of people and companies have testified that they were not able to manage the intensity of this crisis. Many companies are now concentrating on pursuing known opportunities, conserving money, and minimizing risk while putting innovation on hold. They are waiting until there’s a lot of money in circulation to ably innovate and take bold risks. But, we can not afford to live life or operate without risk. If anything, we should grab and seize the opportunities presented by the pandemic. 

Crises should  trigger us to think differently. They may not necessarily give us a turning point, but most definitely give us a change in direction. Psychology indicates that when a person is told or faces a crisis, it can provide a useful trigger. The same goes for organizations; change in operations is triggered during a crisis to be adaptable . In fact, you will find that sometimes creativity does not flourish in comfortable resourceful environments but can thrive under challenging circumstances, “Innovation loves constraint” – Marissa Ann Mayer 

This Pandemic has influenced a new and innovative way of thinking. With no physical meetings, we have utilized zoom, with limited movements, everything has moved online. It is safe to say that crises prompt us to move out of the normal trajectory and to a diversion, it forces us to think differently and find means and ways of survival which has led to crisis driven innovations (CDI).These are innovations that have risen out of a combination of widespread and often urgent need and severe resource limitations. Case in point, Xente and Famunera in Uganda have utilized this crisis and have made a fortune out of it. Xente has enabled companies and businesses in any industry to successfully launch, manage, and transform to the use of digital and cashless options seamlessly. The pandemic has boosted a cashless economy as we seek to limit the use of physical money to curb the spread of the virus. Famunera on the other hand has made mobile agribusiness possible. It has linked farmers to agricultural inputs, and service providers online which has made life easier for the farmers. Restaurants like CafeJavas have also become innovative with QR Code generated menus and cashless payments. All these innovations were adapted to suit  the new normal. 

The question of identifying and utilizing crisis innovation is now at the forefront more than ever. We need to reframe the way we do things. By reframing, we create  a valuable perspective in identifying an opportunity and turning it into a great idea. You have to look beyond what worked and think of what will work going forward. Secondly, reuse the elements that are in place to create a different normal, something Innovators and entrepreneurs have adapted during crises. Lastly, experiment and fail, innovations are built on the culture of experiment, it is all about try and error. It is okay to fail and keep trying until you get it right.  

The Innovation Village, through its investment arm The 97 Fund recently launched a $1 million dollar COVID-19 Relief fund  targeting solutions(Innovations) addressing the challenges affected  by the pandemic and solutions to counter those challenges. The Village has also partnered with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Uganda to launch the NINJA Startup competition meant to provide different kinds of support such as working contracts, opportunities for further investments, and capital to startups and organizations set up to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating that several organizations are willing to support crisis driven Innovations.  

Therefore, It is understandable that we would all rather avoid crises because of all the challenges they present, but the fact is, they are unavoidable and innovation ideally should  flourish in such situations. It might be a smart move to practice skills on how to thrive and innovate through a crisis.

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