The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health of individuals and society is profound and unnerving. Similarly, the sheer magnitude of COVID-19 as a disruptor will likely be unprecedented.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has required us to connect in different ways and to come up with imaginative ways to find connections, even when we are not together in the same physical space. The FMOxChange COVID-19 Webinar Series “Listening to our Clients” is one example.

Although the pandemic feels like a bad science-fiction movie, staying resilient, agile, and optimistic are being mentioned as key priorities by many participants in our webinar series. In conversations with our Agribusiness and Financial Institutions clients, company leaders shared stories of how they have already started moving away from the immediate crisis response to carefully thinking about ways to recover and build resilience.

Valuable lessons for the future

For businesses, COVID-19 emerged as a profound disruptor, requiring company leaders to take exceptional steps to sustain the health of their businesses and the well-being of their employees. With the spread of the virus, new challenges continue to evolve and emerge. But without minimizing the seriousness of the situation we are in, it seems that there have been some potential opportunities for growth or business model innovation.

Although it has become clear that our agribusiness clients will most likely face operational challenges–from labour shortages to travel bans to disrupted supply chains—quite a few clients shared their view on why they see the crisis as a driver for innovation and digitalization.

“The need for innovation is bigger than ever!” said Siraj Chaudhry, CEO of the Indian agricultural commodities storage company NCML and FMO client. Chaudhry is looking to introduce an e-market platform for farmers to reverse food supply chain fragilities in India. “Amidst lockdown, it will be difficult for farmers to bring their produce to the market. Our idea is to allow warehouses to act as markets and use an online E-market platform for connecting with buyers. This can help normalize the supply of essential commodities during the lockdown period. An SMS based pre-registration system can be implemented to regulate the arrival and manage logistics, in line with the protocols for social distancing, and help avoid crowding at the warehouse.” Most participants in our webinar series acknowledge the need to innovate quickly and, just like Chaudhry, observed a more helpful stance from governments at this point in time.

“The need for innovation is bigger than ever!”

Another industry where COVID-19 is already acting as disruptor, is in the West-African financial sector. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), West-Africans are being urged to switch to digital payments to reduce the spreading risks associated with exchanging cash. In the region, these services are still only used by about one in four adults. Mobile money providers across Africa have reduced or waived transaction fees and governments are encouraging digital payments to reduce person-to-person contact and potentially slow the spread of the virus. Applying the same reasoning as the CEO of NCML, industry experts stress that the outbreak could be an opportunity to increase usage and include more people in the digital economy. In this way, COVID-19 could be seen as an opportunity to drive financial inclusion. Mobile money has been hailed as a way for people excluded from the formal financial system — including women, youth and the rural poor — to access services such as savings and loans, start businesses and receive payments.

As these (and many more) examples show, the current situation provides opportunities to establish more sustainable, resilient and robust supply chains while creating an additional positive impact for communities and the environment. Digitization seems to be a tool contributing to this and is therefore top of mind for most.

Listening to our clients: together apart

It has become clear now, more than ever, that having a company and employees that are equipped to navigate this new remote, digital-centric way of working is not only beneficial, but rather essential. During the the COVID-19 outbreak, FMO was forced to think of new ways to bring a large group of clients together. Hence, we created the FMOxChange Webinar Series and are hosting weekly digital sessions to facilitate peer-learning, and to listen and learn from our clients’ concerns, so we can better support them in weathering the crisis.

If staying at home to “flatten the curve” has taught us anything, it is that we crave connection. As we are “together apart,” listening to our clients to hear their experiences remains critical. This hasn’t changed just because of the current travel ban and the fact that we cannot be together in person for the time being. If anything, the lack of physical togetherness with our clients across Africa, Asia, and Latin America means that human connection is even more important now. Our webinars so far have been a unique experience. They have enabled us to come together in new ways and personally hear stories from our clients about how remote working has created better relationships and even camaraderie between colleagues and employees. As the process of adapting to COVID-19 is just beginning, we look forward to this opportunity to come together in new ways and keep listening to our clients.

Supporting businesses in emerging markets

The COVID-19 pandemic poses substantial risks to FMO customers and investees. We try to help our clients ensure business continuity, and increase their economic resilience. We do this by providing a combination of financial and non-financial assistance. In terms of financial support we aim to provide liquidity support, capital and guarantees. To ensure the longevity and impact of FMO’s financial support, we are preparing a strategic response package with non-financial support. Our non-financial COVID-19 response package, encompasses three pillars:

  • Remote advisory services, covering crisis management, business continuity counseling and leadership coaching;
  • A learning & exchange platform to bring together clients in webinars;
  • Emergency grants

Future-minded is a special publication of FMO, the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank, to mark its 50th anniversary. Editors | FMO N.V. Creation & design | Studio Duel Photography | Opmeer Contact | For questions please contact This email address is not for acquisition purposes.

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