This Too Shall Pass

By the early 1800’s, large cities such as New York & London were drowning in horse manure. Urbanization was proving a blessing & a curse equally. As employment opportunities increased within urban areas, rural to urban migration was at its peak. In order to find your way around the urban centers, transport was entirely dependent on horse travel. Thousands of horses were needed to move people and supplies within the cites.

This form of transportation however had its flaws. For example, 11,000 pulled carriages were required for transportation in cities such as London. Additionally, there were several thousand horse-drawn buses, each needing 12 horses per day, making a total of over 50,000 horses in the streets of London 100,000 horses in New York daily. Each horse produced 12 Kgs of manure and 1 litre of urine daily and to make things worse, the lifespan of a working horse was roughly 3–4 years.

As a result, urbanization led to a pile up of manure in various cities around the world. New York produced on average, 1.3 M kilograms of manure every day. Cities were full of flies followed by a bad stench. Horse carcasses would pile up in the streets before they would be sawn and disposed. Consequently, the streets started poisoning its inhabitants. There was a spike in cholera, typhoid and other diseases.

At the end of the 1800’s The Times newspaper predicted that in 50 years, every London street will be buried under 9 feet of manure. It was the end of urban civilization as we know it. The first urban planning conference was held in New York, where world leaders met to discuss possible solutions to mitigate this crisis; no solution was found.

With necessity being the mother of innovation, in the early 1900’s, Henry Ford developed a process of making motor vehicles affordable. This led to the birth of motor buses and vehicles which eventually replaced horse transportation. By 1912, this seemingly insurmountable problem had been resolved overnight and the world woke up once more.

Today, we face a problem with a seemingly no apparent solution. As the Corona Virus is ravishing through cities, towns and villages, human interaction is literally crawling to a standstill. Civilization is currently in the ‘emergency room’ with world leaders instituting every possible effort towards solving the pandemic. With growing infections and sadly, deaths around the world, we are all scared and panicking. Humanity is simply watching with nothing but hope.

Businesses are equally hurting. With reduced movement and human interactions, entrepreneurs in Kenya are suffering now more than ever. Most SMEs have already started feeling the pinch. Imports are becoming difficult to come by, with reduced output from China, raw materials are getting increasingly expensive, employee productivity hampered, customers are shying away from spending and the economy is almost on its deathbed.

In this period of uncertainty, the ISBI Institute would like to draw some optimism from previous situations that humanity was able to pull through, even though wounded. We have in the past demonstrated resilience and fortitude through global economic recessions, world wars and pandemics such as SARS, Ebola & Influenza. These were difficult times that our fathers, mothers and forefathers were able to unite, speak in one language, find a solution and eventually pulled through.

We all have a part to play. Even though the future seems bleak, even though there seems to be no answer to the COVID-19 problem, as nations are coming to a halt and businesses hurting, as the news headlines keep reading “Corona Virus”, we can still derive some inspiration from the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894. This too will pass, and we will emerge stronger, more cautious and wiser. It’s time to unite and put in the shift. We all have a part to play so that future generations will look back and appreciate each individuals’ efforts towards protecting the future.

After this pandemic is all over, the ISBI Institute at Strathmore University Business School will be here to provide training, coaching, consulting & mentoring to ensure that Kenyan SMEs rebuild from the ground up once more.

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