As we approach level 3 of the national lockdown, reports have been circulating that some major South African companies are either hanging on for dear life or running aground completely. And we’re all thinking it: If the top dogs and fat cats are suffering, just imagine how the little guys must be doing. The reality of this crisis, now more so from a financial perspective, has painfully hit home. The lockdown is contributing to an economic shutdown – we can no longer overlook this.
It might be a bit out of our budget to try support the bigger companies, but South African small businesses constitute 98% of our national economy, and we can help them. How? Niklas Böckmann and Gordana McNamara who work at Briisk, an international digital insurance and financial services provider, came up with an idea to help us called UbuntuCorona: a collection of companies who were thriving in the pre-pandemic period and who are now having to change the way they do business to survive. The platform aims to assist businesses to reach people who would like to support them. Companies such as Inkanyiso Perfume have signed on, and the project is looking to get the word out so that they can help other small businesses.
We spoke to Niklas about this inspiring new initiative.
What gave you the idea for UbuntuCorona?
We could see [the effect of the virus] all over Europe already and it was just a matter of time before it came to Cape Town. Gordana and I thought of a way to help or make the situation a little better because we knew that all the restaurants and bars and cafes would have to close. And they play a really important part here in CT, they give the city some life quality and a really cool atmosphere. Without the hospitality business, CT would be quite a different city.
“The cafe where we met up in the mornings closed. That was when we said, ‘OK, we have to do this’.”
So yeah, we love that and we wanted to support these businesses and the workers who will lose their jobs and who won’t have anything to live from during the crisis. The main idea behind it was to keep the economy going in some way – which means through financing businesses rather than individuals. Obviously we knew we can’t do that with just a small initiative, we won’t be able to save the world, but a lot of small initiatives might still have an impact. So that was the main idea.
Although the government has also launched a fund to help businesses receive support, we know these processes usually take a long time. It’s really great that the government is supporting businesses and absolutely necessary, but some businesses just need help instantly, and that’s usually not feasible through these government initiatives, so we’re just trying to add on to that to help.
Tell us about the name?
We find the term ‘Ubuntu’ really empowering and significant. It’s a great principle, or philosophy: ‘I am, because you are’. I think that makes South Africa quite unique, to have such a term that is so widely used.
How can people support their favourite local business through UbuntuCorona?
Supporting your local coffee shop or bar around the corner is super easy. Just go on to the website, click ‘Campaigns’ (or you’ll find them listed directly on the home page). You click on their campaign, read their initiative, and then – if they collect donations – open SnapScan, scan the code or click on it directly and donate.
“We want to support companies in finding other ways of doing business during the crisis.”
It’s basically like you pay for your coffee or your beer or whatever, as usual, via SnapScan. It’s just online and you don’t receive a coffee or beer [but it’ll be so rewarding in a different way!].
Other campaigns that are on the website for reasons other than donations just publish their details for product orders, for example, such as their email, website and social media channels.
What does a small business owner need to do to create a campaign on your website and get people to donate?
Creating a campaign is super easy and you don’t need a lot of stuff. You just need to enter your name, email, the province/city where you are situated, name of your business and a description of your campaign: how the lockdown has affected you, why you need support and what is special about your cause. Then you upload a picture of your business and send us your SnapScan URL so we can integrate it on the website. That’s it. Super easy and, obviously, completely free.
What have been the challenges so far in getting the ball rolling?
The main challenge was in reaching the people that need help and with that I mean businesses who want support. Because, I think at least some business owners don’t believe that people would donate to them. Which is quite sad. Of course we also want to support companies in finding other ways of doing business during the crisis because a lot of the time donations are not enough to actually maintain these companies in the long-term.
With this interview hopefully we can reach people who’d want to publish their campaign on UbuntuCorona.
When the day comes that this is over and we all joyously head to our nearest pub for a round of victory beers, or our local hair salon to tame our wild lockdown locks, it would be a tragedy to get there only to find it closed with the windows shuttered. Let’s avoid this by getting the word out there about UbuntuCorona and doing what South Africans do best – spreading ubuntu.
Visit the website + donate or sign up now here!
Words: Lauren Endrody
Feature image: Geoff McFetridge