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Short Stories of African Businesses who Persevered Through 2020

By Erin O'connor | Tue Jan 05 2021
2020 was a challenging year for businesses all around the world. But in Africa, where the government safety net is extremely fragile and companies are already faced with insurmountable challenges like frequent power outages, months of waiting for critical imports, broken supply chains, internet outages and political instability, the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought much of the world to its knees, could have been the straw that broke Africa’s private sector’s back...but it didn’t.
Below are some short stories on how some of RENEW’s portfolio companies [1] weathered the storm.
  • Desta
    - Western markets all but shut down in 2020; very few people ventured to malls to shop for the season’s new line of clothes which had a ripple effect around the world and especially on the textile supply chain. In countries like Ethiopia, which are desperately trying to develop a textile industry, the ripple effect was felt hard. Desta, which the IAN made an investment into in 2015, was no exception to this. In addition to orders being delayed, they also had to protect over 1,300 workers and educated and safeguarded the local community where they worked to ensure COVID did not spread. Not only did the company adopt safety measures for their staff, but they also produced and distributed face masks to organizations that serve their community and donated more than 5,000 face masks to the community at large. Desta’s management used a slow few months to invest in more infrastructure, which paid off when the West began to reopen and supply chains restarted. They hired and trained 470 new employees at their Butajira factory and have become one of the largest employers in that region. You can read more about their recent expansion in their blog post.
  • dVentus
    - In collaboration with RENEW, engineers from dVentus developed a ventilator prototype based on locally sourced materials in Ethiopia. Although the machine wasn’t needed due to a surprisingly low number of hospitalizations in Africa from COVID, the team demonstrated how adaptable and creative the private sector can be when the need presents itself.
  • Kijani Baby
    - This year, despite the harsh lockdown measures undertaken by the Ugandan government, Kijani Baby, our reusable cloth diaper company, was able to develop new products such as training pants for toddlers and quick-dry swimming diapers. They also started selling their products in Kenya and continued to focus on the U.S. and U.K. markets.
    - The coffee company opened their new state-of-the-art coffee processing facility in February 2020, employing 52 permanent employees and 225 temporary and contract workers. The METAD team had a record-breaking volume from their 6,800+ out-growers, which was about 3x what they've been processing for the last six years. METAD continues to develop projects with leaders and elders in order to continually give back to their local community. Read more about the new factory here.
  • Roadrunner | Deliver Addis
    - Ethiopia’s premier online food delivery company had a banner year. Thanks to the creativity, skill and speed of Feleg Tsegaye and the Deliver Addis team, the company quickly scaled up services, expanded their online store to include groceries and other consumer products, weathered an internet blackout for an entire month, and still came out hitting daily records for deliveries. The IAN saw the growing demand for e-commerce in Ethiopia sparked by COVID and made two investments to help the company scale up.
  • Queen of Sheba | Travel Ethiopia
    - The tourism industry was hit hard by COVID-19, but Travel Ethiopia wasted little time to pivot and repurpose their vehicles to support government and other private sector clients. As part of those measures, Travel Ethiopia secured a contract with the FDRE Ministry of Health to rent four of its idle vehicles to the Ministry in its effort to fight COVID-19.
We are proud that as of June 30, 2020, through the investments made by the Impact Angel Network with support from Global Affairs Canada and USAID, we have created 2,114 jobs, helped support 2,936 jobs, supported 7,700 smallholder farmers, and attracted $45 M USD ($57.1M CAD) to companies through our work in East Africa. We’re extremely proud of all the hard work and the resiliency of our companies that went into 2020. We are cautiously optimistic about the accomplishments we’ll see in 2021!
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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