The Covid-19 ‘reset’ has sparked a new urgency in terms of evaluating the need for businesses to drive change and progress, both in SA and on the continent at large. In South Africa, in particular, the ongoing socioeconomic and political dynamics require that businesses look beyond the conventional.

Context-driven purpose is becoming increasingly important. Business solutions that enhance a company’s competitiveness and profitability – while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate – is key to the long-term success and sustainability of the business sector.

Adapting a business’ purpose in the context of the recent socio-economic upheaval will be essential to drive its recovery. Why context driven purpose is more important now than ever was the topic under discussion in the third episode of the Business Day SME Matters in partnership with Johannesburg Business School. Mummy Mtembu-Fawkes, the founder of Earthy, moderated the recent digitised conversation.

Ritesh Doshi, the CEO of Spring Valley Coffee in Kenya, explained that he was initially interested in the business as it balances profit with purpose. Spring Valley adheres to fair trade principles by purchasing coffee from Kenyan suppliers for fair value.  He acquired Spring Valley Coffee, Kenya’s oldest artisanal coffee roaster two years ago. The company mainly supplies coffee to restaurants and hotels, in Kenya and worldwide, and previously only had a small retail presence in a few coffee cafes.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a 90% loss of their turnover as the hospitality industry ground to a standstill. With staff members to support, it was essential that the business pivoted its offering to remain sustainable. The intention of the pivot was to focus more on retail than on hospitality. Retraining and upskilling staff to become baristas, and coffee roasters, and opening coffee shops selling their high quality artisanal coffee allowed Spring Valley to trade in new, profitable and purpose-driven ways.

Back in SA, Nando’s primary concern was to take care of its staff during the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown. Once this was achieved, the focus extended to the communities in which it operates, explained Mike Cathie, CEO of Nando’s South Africa. The Covid-19 crisis, he said, has emphasised Nandos’ purpose: adding value to people’s lives. Nando’s has mastered the art of understanding its customers, throughout its 33 years of operation, by establishing a deep and meaningful level of engagement. “Once you have managed to blend a meeting of minds around values, integrity and understanding you can confidently operate in any environment”, said Cathie.

The role of purpose has evolved significantly since the 1970s, said Professor Lyal White, Senior Director of the Johannesburg Business School (JBS). Purpose in a business context builds a more cohesive community. A business that builds a strong community will, in turn, enjoy more sustainable profits. However, in Africa, business purpose must be contextually relevant, particularly when one considers the high levels of inequality found on the continent. To achieve purpose-driven community building, an understanding of the context and markets in which businesses operate is essential. “It’s never too early – or too late – for a business to develop a context driven purpose”, concluded White.

To watch the full online discussion, click here

The next digital conversation on “The role of big tech and SMEs in South Africa’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery” will take place on October 14 at 9am. To register, click here