Restart it All women – Lighting the Last Mile in Asia, Africa and Latin America
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It is estimated that 840 million people worldwide are still in off-grid place, the vast majority in relatively poor and remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and South Asia. Many people have lived in complete darkness during night, some families with high income have chosen to buy kerosene lamps and candles.
Li Xia and her company based in Shenzhen ,are dedicated to providing a safer, brighter and affordable clean energy lighting to the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) people in Asia, Africa and Latin America who are in lack of a stable electricity supply. The brightness of kerosene lamps are too dim ,they have also released a ton of carbon dioxide in five years, polluting the environment and causing fires. Even no epidemic,BOP are difficult to pay.When it’s under the epidemic,their purchasing power has down sharply.Li Xia and her team have reconstructed their mind to explore a new mode of foreign trade under such tough situation.They have stick to the original aim- Lighting The Last Kilometer of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In the beginning of the epidemic, I was concerned about the business and also worried that if workers have been infected ,the factory would be sequestered.I was pregnant with my third baby at the time, and as a nearly 40-year-old pregnant woman, only a few hours were for sleeping. ‘Would I get infected ?Would my baby be affected if I was always in much pressure ?’
The resumption of work was repeatedly delayed because of the epidemic. One of the necessary conditions requested by the government to resume work is the enterprise should have disinfectant, alcohol, masks, hand sanitizer and other essential epidemic prevention items. The truth was all epidemic prevention materials were short of stock and pretty high price. What happened often was once we learned the places selling epidemic prevention supplies and came to buy,all had been sold out. We searched for different channels to purchase disinfectant, masks and other essential items for the resumption of work.Finally we had prepared enough of these items after spending much cost,then completed the review and inspection of documents as soon as possible, and we became one of the first batch enterprises who had been identified to qualified for resuming business.
On the first day of work I said to all the staff, our most valuable wealth, a group of good employees and regular buying clients with fully trust in us,has made Power-Solution has been here for fifteen years. With the unity of our will, we can survive.
The real difficulty came up one by one after starting work: the shortage of workers in the production workshop, 28 orders waiting to be completed, the original 60 people in the production workshop then only 9 workers returned to work in time; price of raw materials increased pretty much due to temporary suspension; some clients canceled orders,some of them delayed the shipment;a batch of goods, worthy RMB 400,000 is also backlogged in the company’s warehouse.
In the following days,order canceled, no cash flow, I began worrying that if the workers’ wages could not be paid as scheduled.Power-Solution is a production-oriented enterprises, the front-line workers are hand stop mouth stop state.We all have the pressure of life, some workers have to feed their whole family with their salary.Our clients are abroad,it means I should handle the jet lag.I followed up several main customers myself every day, they all persuaded me to rest more.
Looking at the piles of products in the warehouse, I just had one idea: Survive. no matter what it takes,I must keep the cash flow going smoothly and keep everyone moved.
We actively searched for alternative domestic suppliers of raw materials as more options, contacted foundries to organize production and tightly control quality.Meanwhile ,Power-Solution was also trying to apply for loans from banks. However, the loan applications were eventually rejected .On one hand,there are large numbers of applications, on the other hand most of our clients are from high-risk developing countries, although they are all long-term partners who have always paid on time . At that tough time, the capital chain relied on self-production completely. Once there were clients with non-payment behavior due to the epidemic, the company’s capital chain and cash flow would also face a huge challenge.
The 127th Canton Fair had been our turnaround. This year, abroad development plan had been canceled, the 127th Canton Fair had changed to be online, we used this opportunity to do a series of preliminary preparations, not only expanded channels to reach clients, the development of new types of multinational customers, but also had got the supplier qualification of some well-known large enterprises and successfully got their order around RMB 1 million ,this powered us a lot.During the short supply of masks and other PPEs, we also contracted a mask production line. The first was to increase the market supply of masks, the second was to alleviate the imminent interruption of the cash flow emergency.
The Black Swan incident also made us aware of some problems that existing in the company.We had optimized our internal processes and systems, broadened our product lines, developed new products with antibacterial and antiviral functions specifically for the epidemic during the period of resuming business;all stuff were forced to work from home remotely and started experiencing digital empowerment journey.All of those were unimaginable for a traditional manufacturing company.
Business women have faced even tougher challenges in this outbreak, and I admire their resilience. Many of the female employees are already mothers, and it’s not easy for them to juggle work and family. Many mothers were forced to leave their jobs to return to their families during the epidemic; those who did not return to their families were also exhausted every day. So I really hope that society and families will give more support and recognition to women.
Despite the challenges, Shenzhen Power-Solution,as one female-led company,had finished a tough but positively restart.We have no layoffs, no pay cuts or shutdowns,but with a number of new hires and new customers. I also successfully gave birth to a healthy baby. My girl has been over 50 days old and still under exclusively breastfed.
This era should give more support to women. If they are given a fair chance, women can also achieve great performance with their own efforts and strengths.
As CEO of Shenzhen Power-Solution Ind Co.,Ltd, Li Xia signed the UN Women Empowerment Principles during the epidemic and pledged, “I would like to take the new clean energy as an opportunity to give equal rights to women in developing countries, so that more women can live a decent and dignified life.”
In 《How to Change the World》, David Bernstein said that “social entrepreneurs” are creative individuals driven by ideals who question the status, open up new opportunities, refuse giving up, and ultimately rebuild a better world. The United Nations’ goal in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable and sustainable modern energy for all”.
Bearing the same goal between employees and clients is an important competitive edge of Shenzhen Power-Solution Ind Co., Ltd. While adhering to the original passion and enthusiasm of serving BOP and helping bring them up, continuously creating affordable products that meet the needs of end users is the driving force for the survival and sustainable development of the company. Since a soar lamp is not only lighting up a book in front of them or the way home after finishing farm work, but also their life and future.
Financial support for women-owned enterprises and industries with a high proportion of female employment
Women-owned enterprises are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks. The greater reliance of women-owned businesses on their own capital also puts them at a higher risk of closure when they face a sharp drop in revenue or no revenue. Discriminatory gender norms further limit the ability of women-owned businesses and women employees to access the services and capital of financial institutions. As the NCRP response and measures to support business recovery are phased in, there is a high risk that women-owned SMEs will be overlooked in the process and thus not be able to access the credit necessary for business survival.
Integrating a gender perspective into business recovery strategies can improve resilience to future risks. After the difficult phase of the epidemic is over, financial support should be provided to the services, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism sectors to accelerate the recovery process. Supportive policies would also encourage banks, venture capitalists, social investors, etc. to provide more credit to these enterprises, as financial institutions understand that once the epidemic is over, these enterprises will restart their rebound and earn higher incomes. Past experience has shown the economic and other benefits of integrating gender equality into the workplace, marketplace and community of business operations and enterprises.
In the fight against the epidemic and in the recovery from the epidemic, our attention is not only focused on the front line workers, but also on the socio-economic development issues. The epidemic crisis is not only on the front lines of medical care, but also in the post-epidemic recovery period and in all aspects of life. When women’s leadership and participation is at the center of crisis response and recovery, communities recover faster and the process of building resilience accelerates. To showcase women SME owners and make their voices heard in the world, UN Women has launched #Restart It All Women#She Bounces Back online campaign will feature female SME owners telling their own stories of economic resilience and witnessing their passion, beginnings, perseverance and journey to reboot. You are also invited to interact with the campaign via Weibo by adding the hash-tag #She Bounces Back and @UNW to share your reboot story with us.