The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of society, where all companies, big or small have felt the impact on their businesses. At PESITHO we have been confronted with challenges that we have not yet faced, as have so many other organizations globally. Yet, as a team, we managed to keep business operations running and were able to bring PESITHO, as a company forward, despite the obstacles faced.
The following article intends to give a transparent insight into a young start-up’s experience under the extra-ordinary circumstances over the past six months, working to provide access to the ECOCA solar powered cookstove, to vulnerable and marginalized communities.
We want to share the concerns and successes which we have experienced during this time, as well as an update and timestamp in our company’s history.
“We should always commit ourselves and time to work, no matter the situation.” (Gloria Adongo, ECOCA tracking coordinator, Uganda),
“This is only one kind of catastrophe that can happen.” (Marco Tingaard, CTO, Herning),
“Flexibility is key.” (Simon la Cour, COO, Herning).
These are only an extract of the learnings during COVID-19. After our operations had been interrupted in three locations during the pandemic (first during production and logistics in China, second during nation-wide lockdown in Denmark, and third during nation-wide lockdown in Uganda), we had to be creative and adaptive given the unprecedent situation.
Nevertheless, we can proudly announce a success of over a hundred new potential customers who have shown interest in purchasing ECOCA’s.
How was this achieved? There are two main measures that helped us succeed in the light of the current situation.
- Strong partnerships with local organizations and coordinators
As COO Simon la Cour indicated in an internal interview, there has always been a very good communication between PESITHO and our partners Caritas Denmark and Caritas Uganda. Since PESITHO could not be physcially present at the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement (based in Northern Uganda), it has been crucial to receive all the informative updates and correspondence from our Caritas Partners throughout the lock down period, regarding the status of the residents and the functioning of the ECOCA stoves.
Furthermore, the acquisition of new potential customers for our product would not have been possible without the great work of our ECOCA tracking coordinator, Ms. Gloria Adongo. Despite several obstacles such as transportation to the settlement, Ms Adongo, created awareness among the local community of our product using different methods such as video and audio recordings as to how the ECOCA functions for cooking, lighting and electrical item charging.
These connections have proven to be the most valuable asset to rely on, and we are proud and thankful to be working with such strong and reliable partners since the beginning and to continue to do so in the future.
- Extensive focus on usage of digital possibilities
Practically, a major change in daily business has taken place in terms of internal and external communication methods, as most of our office operations were moved online.
Internally that meant shifting from the whole team being physically present in the office spaces to moving all team-meetings and appointments online.
As CTO Marco Tingaard explained, this required a more efficient scheduling of meetings to get everyone “to the table”, on the other hand it provided valuable insights and advantages such as time-flexibility, and less travelling for business meetings as a huge environmental benefit.
On the external level, we have made use of all digital options available to shift the training of locals in Uganda on how to assemble and use the ECOCA to online methods such as WhatsApp, video calls and pre-recorded assembly videos. This has shown us the possibilities of remote working that we already had and how to efficiently use them, a major learning that we will build upon in the future.
Still, we are facing concerns that go beyond our actual product facing logistical challenges and business operations being slowed down.
Residents at the Bidibidi Settlement as well as our Caritas Uganda partners are in need of better protection in terms of masks and sanitizers. 5 deaths due to COVID-19 have been registered in Yumbe, the city closest to Bidibidi settlement, and infection numbers both in and outside the refugee camp area are rising.
During this time, access to clean cookstoves is more essential than ever. Already facing various illnesses from exposure to smoke and household air pollution from everyday cooking with solid biomass, may make these communities more susceptible to COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, according to the Clean Cooking Alliance.
In relation to business operations, dealing with the uncertainty of potential further lockdowns is a serious source of concern, as we are not able to scale and plan ahead in the way we would like to.
Nevertheless, we are positive to what the future holds for PESITHO and we are looking towards the new year with a curiosity and an open mindset to stay flexible and well-connected as a company internally and externally to keep promoting our goal of making clean cooking available for more people worldwide.
Make sure to follow us on our social media channels to stay up to date and follow along on our company’s journey.