Our operating environment changed overnight on March 13th, when Kenya recorded its first known case on COVID-19. As so many other governments around the world, the Kenyan government has since balanced between containing the spread of the virus and maintaining people’s livelihoods. At the moment, the main measures that impact life here in Kenya are the closure of schools and universities, a nationwide 7 pm to 5 am curfew, a prohibition on movement of people in and out of Nairobi and some coastal counties, a requirement to wear masks in public spaces, and the closure of international borders.
Pawame also took early action, focusing on practical steps to ensure the welfare of our staff, agents, technicians and customers. For example, most Pawame HQ staff have been working from home since March 16, with only operationally essential personnel like Logistics & Inventory Management staff and a handful of others that cannot physically work from home permitted to come to the office. We miss our sunny office where we can all mix and mingle, but thankfully we have managed to move our happy hours and coffee mornings to a virtual environment and continue to connect with each other.
For those who continue to come to our office, we have arranged the office in a way that allows all workstations to be far enough from each other and demarcated the floors to help us remember to keep ourselves 1.5 meters apart. This is in addition to other health and safety measures put in place, including increased cleaning at the office and new transport provisions to avoid crowded public transport.
What about our field operations? The heart of our operations relies on the dedicated work of our direct field sales agents and technicians, and we continue to work hard to keep them safe, healthy and informed. Our county shops have been equipped with running water, cleaning materials and hand sanitizer, and we have instituted formal cleanliness protocols to minimize the risk of infection to staff and customers.
Our field staff, agents and technicians have been issued face masks and hand sanitizer and have been instructed on how to interact with customers safely and respectfully. Pawame is fortunate that one of our staff members, Davis Okoth from Customer Experience, is a talented cloth designer. Davis ramped up production of cloth masks quickly, which we have now distributed to our staff, agents and technicians across our 14 counties of operation.
Continuing to serve our customers
At the same time, we do not know how long the COVID-19 crisis will last. Therefore, we are also looking at the longer-term impacts on our customers and business and the steps we need to take beyond these initial actions. Our response to different risks and issues is guided by a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan with the objective of “Keeping our business, our people, and our customers healthy”.
As part of our longer-term approach, we are trying to anticipate how COVID-19 will impact our primarily rural customers and where we need to focus our efforts to support them in these uncertain times. One observation we have seen so far is that the preferences of our rural customers are changing. For example, possibly as a result of the current government mandated curfew of 7 pm to 5 am, we have seen sales of our PawaHome TV bundle increase. This demonstrates a need for our rural customers to access digital platforms that keep them up-to-date, as well as entertained while spending more time at home. TVs are also important for sharing educational programming from the Kenyan Ministry of Education while schools remain closed and children are at home.
We have also seen instances where customers call our toll-free line to simply ask our Customer Care Representatives questions related to COVID-19, showing the trust that our customers place in us. Indeed,with so much misinformation and rumors spreading around COVID-19, Pawame has an important role to play in sharing correct, reliable information with our customers and staff. This is why all Pawame county shops now have informative displays that provide guidance on preventative measures that Pawame staff and customers can take in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. We’ve also recorded an automated message with information about COVID-19 that customers can choose to listen to when they call us, and we have trained all of our customer service staff on how to handle customer questions about COVID-19.
Although we still cannot estimate what the future holds with the current COVID-19 global pandemic, we know for certain that Pawame will continue to remain guided by one of our core values of Community. We will continue to act and think as a team and aim to keep our customers and employees alike informed, healthy and safe. We will also continue to collaborate with our broader community through the Kenyan Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) and GOGLA to engage with the Kenyan government and do our part to continue providing the essential service of modern, clean, and affordable energy. Together, we can weather this storm and come out even stronger.