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Angaza partner: Business leaders’ action now will determine the survival rate of firms

The COVID-19 crisis that has been rattling our world in the past few weeks reminds us that no matter what we do, we are part of a worldwide biological ecosystem. Despite the tremendous technological developments of our time, we are still vulnerable; and a microscopic virus is enough to infect hundreds of thousands of people, shake economies, leaving us all with an uncertainty of the future ahead. As humans, our actions derive from basic behavioral mechanisms that evolved over millions of years.

One of the most famous and basic behavioral mechanisms is “fight or flight”, which determines how each of us will respond to danger (for example, when we encounter a tiger): Will we try to run away (“flight”), deal with it (“fight”). While this mechanism has individual responses, it seems to be relevant collectively: all of us as a society are now required to deal with an unexpected and unknown danger, and we must choose whether to flight or fight.

The leaders of the business sector are required to deal with a lot these days. While the responsibility for dealing with the crisis lies on the shoulders of government officials in each country and the World Health Organization, CEOs and sector leaders are now required to demonstrate leadership, navigating the entire sector in a turbulent sea of global crisis and uncertainty.

For executives, the “flight” option is irrelevant (and not because of the prohibition on flights enforced worldwide); Managers and leaders cannot run away, as they are not only responsible for themselves, but also for their employees and customers. If the sector managers freeze in their place, they will suffer unprecedented damage, and take on their responsibilities towards employees, customers, and the entire economy.

The only option for them is to fight: to act and deal with the situation. Of course, my intention is not to continue acting normally, ignoring the changing reality: the opposite is true. Leaders must change the nature of operations, make adjustments, innovate, and act continuously to continue and lead companies forward. The employees, customers, and all residents look up to them, especially during these difficult days.

We at Ignite Power believe that in times of crisis, continuing to provide solar energy to remote communities is not enough - as we must accelerate the pace of installation to support more people in need. Having electricity in the home prevents residents in those communities from crowding together to charge cellular devices or listen to the radio, allowing people to stay in their homes.

Electricity also improves every aspect of daily living: children can learn and read after dark; the family is connected to media (such as radio) and can follow the changing government instructions; solar pumps allow farmers to increase the growth rate precisely now, and more. Therefore, over the past few weeks, we have accelerated the pace of installation in the most remote communities in Rwanda, reaching over of 5,000 installations (30,000 people), in the new pricing program we launched in the beginning of the year, providing customers with electricity for less than a dollar a month).

A changing reality requires resilience

Despite the strategic decision to increase the rate of installation, employee and customer safety is always our top priority. Therefore, we had to make numerous adjustments and changes, such as total cancellation of organized field sales, market days, but move to door to door sale activities. Business executives who choose to adapt their company’s operations to the new reality must prepare for a new regimen - not for a limited time. No one knows how long this new reality will last.

In addition, managers must listen to voices coming from the field. Especially in a confusing time, full of disinformation coming from various channels, end-customers and field employees have particularly important insights and ideas: Listen to them, initiate meetings and ask questions about their changing needs. You will be amazed by the amount of breakthrough information and ideas that will come up in the conversation.

And one more, final, advice. These challenging days ahead of us bring tremendous opportunities for change, innovation, and creative thinking: Every manager must ask every morning: What else can be done? How can I ensure my employee and customer safety? What new services and products can be provided? These are the needs and the challenges that provide the ultimate fertile ground for impact on a huge scale.

Business managers and executives cannot afford to stagnate, nor to run away. It is our responsibility to respond, deal and “fight” the Corona crisis and its various effects: It is our responsibility to lead employees, companies, customers and the entire economy towards a better future.

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