Overcoming and Economic Dilemma
Pesh Ahumuza, a digital communications consultant in Uganda, has had to maneuver many barriers while at the same time giving small businesses a platform to stay afloat
I spend a lot of time online since I’m a digital communications consultant. So, the natural option became – how do I earn from the internet? As the year 2020 unfolded, many of the clients I influenced had become victims of the economic dilemma that the pandemic had caused.
COVID-19 had hit close to home and the headlines that were making rounds on local and international news channels about the pandemic’s disruption of the supply chains, were slowly making sense to me.
Traders in downtown Kampala from whom I got my stock were no longer reliable for steady supply since they were no longer importing stock or even traveling to go replenish.
Having endured the thorny phase (starting) that every small business must endure, I chose to celebrate my birthday by giving back. The idea being – giving a platform for small and informal businesses a platform to market their products. The spirit of giving back was also a gesture of appreciation for people who supported the business through a tough period.
That’s how UOT (Ugandans on Twitter) Market Day began. #UOTMarketDay is a hashtag that people looking to sell use to showcase to potential customers on Twitter. It sort of aggregates the different vendors and what they sell. I retweeted these posts, bringing them to the attention of my over 16,000 followers. On Facebook, the model is a bit different. There, we created a Group named UOT MarketPlace.
The feedback from these businesses has been humbling since.
For most businesses, COVID-19 has meant adjusting their model by prioritizing the online ecosystem. To safeguard myself from disease, I have been doing a lot of online shopping myself. And I know there are many others like me.
This period has also revealed to digital marketers and their clients alike that the internet is as much an enabler as it is risky. One bad review on social media can destroy a brand. If you don’t have the financial muscle to put out a PR campaign to redeem yourself, you will go under.
At the same time, the internet presents an opportunity for businesses as long as one puts in the time to educate themselves about the different online tools available to market their products. The internet is a cheaper place for small businesses that don’t have the resources to run Ads on TV, print or radio.
In Uganda, COVID-19 coincided with general elections, a period that proved murky for businesses. Authorities shut down the internet for weeks and Facebook remains inaccessible without Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
New taxes were slapped on the internet in July this year, further choking people like me who rely on the internet to earn a living. Today, a digital marketer designing a Facebook campaign must contend with a lot of uncertainty because you can’t tell your client for certain how the short-term projections will look like. Many users have lost interest in the platform because of the barriers associated with access.
It has not been easy to stay sane amidst this economic crisis. The toll that this period had on my mental health has made it even more difficult. Naturally, I get very anxious about many things including the economic ventures I undertake.
Loss of loved ones was another psychological trial for me. My grandmother has been sick and I was sick and worried each time I received a phone call from her. I didn’t know what to expect.
But I have been seeing a counsellor. Though expensive, it is worth it.
Some take care of their mental health by taking a social media break. Unfortunately for me, I can’t afford this luxury given the kind of work I do. I have to be online. I manage social media pages for different clients. Part of the projects that I did in this period was to track COVID-19 cases in different countries. It is a dicey choice I have to make – to pay my bills or to have some sanity.