Lockdown: Women-owned small businesses use technology to stay afloat

The Herald

Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health and Society Editor 
• Her group now has more than 150 members and she is getting at least eight orders per week making about US$80 in sales

• Lockdown has made her appreciate the importance of moving with technological advancements, especially now that Covid-19 has changed the way people live and do business

• Previous epidemics like HIV and Aids have taught women enough lessons and toughened them up to be innovative in the face of challenges

Small women- owned businesses affected by the Covid-19 induced Level 4 lockdown are increasingly using digital platforms to stay afloat. With Covid-19 induced lockdown in Zimbabwe impacting sales, supply-chains disrupted, and many basic operations suspended, women affected by the lockdown, especially in high density areas and the central business district (CBD) are using platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to market their products.

Female cross border traders, too, are using Whatsapp groups to place orders through middlemen truck drivers known as “runners”.
A survey by The Herald over the past two weeks revealed how the women are staying afloat and also maintaining their customer base.

Caroline Bakasa (35) of Sunningdale 2 in Harare, who sells blankets, household accessories and clothes at Copacabana flea market in Harare’s CBD said since creating the WhatsApp group, in January this year, she has maintained her existing clients and is also getting new ones.“I sell clothes in town, but because of the lockdown I am working from home. I am not an essential worker and was worried when the lockdown was announced at the beginning of the year. I was used to walk- in customers and never bothered to create a WhatsApp group.  I am now getting many orders through the WhatsApp group,” she said.

Bakasa said her group now has more than 150 members and she is getting at least eight orders per week making about US$80 in sales.“I noticed many women are ordering household accessories like cushion covers and curtaining and also fleece bed covers during the lockdown. The reason could be the women have enough time to spruce up their homes during the lockdown,” she said.

Bakasa added that she also joined a WhatsApp group where middleman offer services to bring stuff from South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.

“I cannot go to Botswana where I get stuff from since borders are closed to ordinary travellers. But my blankets, bedcovers and cushion covers are being delivered by middlemen I pay and I am satisfying my clients,” she said.Another small business owner Mercy Marimo (40) of Norton said when her clients place an order through WhatsApp, it usually takes two weeks to have the stuff delivered if she does not have the goods in stock. She sells women’s and men’s clothes she orders from Zambia.

“But when I have the goods in stock, I immediately drive where the client stays. This has helped me stay afloat during the lockdown. I am able to feed my family,” she added.She also said the lockdown has made her appreciate the importance of moving with technological advancements, especially now that Covid-19 has changed the way people live and do business.“I used to avoid online marketing, I thought it was a waste of time. I believed in face to face interactions, but Covid-19 lockdown has changed the way I view this,” she said.Marimo said when she delivers goods to her clients, she goes alone and also adheres to Covid-19 prevention methods.

“When I deliver goods to my clients, I make sure that I will be wearing my face mask. I also move around with my sanitiser so that I maintain hand hygiene,” she added. Precious Gura of Chitungwiza, whose WhatsApp group specialises in baking ingredients, said her shop is closed.However, she has been getting many orders which she delivers to clients, depending on quantity.

“I had several of my regular clients’ numbers and when the lockdown was announced I immediately created a WhatsApp group. I gave them the group link, which others can use to join and now I have 200 active members,” she said.She said through the WhatsApp group, she gets orders daily and sometimes cannot keep up with the demand as stock runs out.

“With Valentine’s Day approaching, many bakers are looking for ingredients and the demand is quite high. I now ask them to place orders two days in advance so that I keep up with the demand,” she said.She said technology has helped her during the lockdown period.Previous epidemics like HIV and Aids have taught women enough lessons and toughened them up to be innovative in the face of challenges.As expected Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted women and girls, as they are generally subjected to more economic and socially vulnerable situations.Yet, the above group of women have refused to let Covid-19 affect their livelihoods. Each day the members on their WhatsApp groups continue to increase, and their income stable.

The Herald