Leading through Challenging Times

This post was written by Wema Patience, who serves as Water4’s Enterprise Development Manager in Kenya, providing support and capacity development to our enterprise partners in the areas of enterprise development and financial stewardship.

Ever since COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization, Water4, like everyone else, has had a lot to navigate when it comes to combating the crisis and adjusting operations to respond to the ever-changing environment. Thankfully, the majority of Water4’s partner enterprises are considered essential businesses, and therefore have not been subject to some of the governmental regulations that affected many private businesses. However, given the uncertainty of this outbreak and the evolving needs, Water4 partner enterprises have gone back to the drawing board to adjust their respective business models in order to sustain their operations during these times. Water4 Core Competency Managers, including me, have played a significant role in supporting the enterprises throughout this process. We’ve been given freedom to practice creative problem solving, and we’ve stepped up to the task. Through this support and collaboration, Water4 enterprise partners have been able to achieve the following:

Offering Complimentary Services 
As essential businesses providing access to safe water during a crisis that requires hand washing, safe water enterprises have proven to be critical in the fight against COVID-19, especially in places where the government might not have the resources to meet the population’s needs. Freedom Water Solutions in Kenya, for example, has complemented the government’s COVID-19 efforts by responding to this pandemic on the front lines. They have not only provided over 30 handwashing stations to vulnerable communities, but they have also liaised with the local government to raise awareness of COVID-19 related hygiene practices through their existing water, sanitation and hygiene program. This has positioned them for future strategic alliance with the local government in Kwale County.

Maintaining Transparent Relationships
The COVID-19 response has required high levels of communication and collaboration with various stakeholders in order to sustain operations. For example, Water4’s partner enterprises have navigated these challenging times through regular contact with suppliers and, in some cases, have requested flexibility on payment dates due to revenue loss some have been experiencing. Enterprises have also had to adjust the timing on certain deliverables and have been clear with their partners about why these changes are necessary. On the flip side, through conversations at the community level, our enterprise partners recognize the ways that COVID-19 has negatively affected their customers. In response, they have prepared a client service plan to engage communities, and some have opted to reduce monthly maintenance fees and offer discounted prices for projects executed during this unprecedented time to ensure customers can still benefit from safe water.

Promoting Flexibility and Creativity 
With the current ban on travel, Water4 staff and consultants have had to get creative with how we engage our partner enterprises in the areas of capacity building and training. This has resulted in an environment of innovative thinking and independent problem solving that has encouraged our leaders to lead boldly. We have been able to leverage virtual collaboration tools that enable continued cross-continental communication and learning.  For example, Water4 Core Competency Managers have been offering virtual coaching sessions and training to strengthen skill sets and increase in higher level knowledge. This has allowed unhindered progress during this time and has opened up possibilities for creative learning in the future. 

Expanding Staff Capacity
This has proven to be an important time for leadership growth and staff development within Water4 and our partner enterprises. Enterprises, such as Mighty Men in Tanzania, are taking this opportunity to assess their operations and determine what changes they can make that will set them up for future success. Part of this process includes assessing staff capacity and skills, identifying gaps, and intentionally re-assigning staff to different functions. The shifting of responsibilities and increase in staff capacity will result in more efficient business operations even beyond the crisis as they focus on long-term growth and sustainability.

COVID-19 has been an eye-opener for Water4 and our partners, and we recognize that there could be even more crises in the future. I am thankful that Water4 is using this time not to shrink back from our mission, but rather to strategically position our enterprise partners to be able to survive even the most difficult of circumstances.  This has looked like enterprises revisiting and adjusting their business operations and developing plans to respond to challenges in the future. Our ultimate goal is that these safe water enterprises will become financially sustainable and will be able to meet the safe water needs of their customers for years to come. 


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