Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya and member of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community, shares how the business has adapted to the coronavirus crisis, bouncing back stronger from the shock.
“My first thought was, ‘How will we survive?’” says Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya, an e-payment solution company based in Dakar, Senegal.
The date was 23 March and the country’s president, Macky Sall, had just declared a nationwide state of emergency to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus in the west African country.
Within a week, 70% of the company’s clients had ceased their business activities.
“As a startup in a fast-moving, competitive market, we had overcome many challenges,” she says, “but nothing prepares you for something like this.”
Since opening in 2016, PayDunya had enjoyed steady growth. The company’s employees increased from zero to more than 50 in less than four years, and its portfolio of clients spread beyond Senegal’s borders, into Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.
But many clients were in the tourism industry – one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – and no longer required the company’s web and mobile payment solutions.
“I had never imagined such a scenario,” she says. “It was like watching a movie. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
New doors open
Just as some doors closed, others began to open as social distancing and heightened concerns over hygiene restricted cash transactions and pushed more business operations online.
“We started receiving phone calls from businesses desperately in need of digital payment solutions,” she says. Many were from new sectors, such as agribusinesses and pharmacies. Others had been wary before.
In recent weeks, the company has picked up a record number of new clients. Ms. Fall and her team are helping west African businesses limit financial loss from the crisis and advance financial inclusion in a region where more people have mobile money accounts than bank accounts.
“Our goal is to simplify the digitalization of sales, payments and management for all African companies regardless of size or field of activity,” she says, “knowing that they are all operating on a continent were more than 60% of the population is unbanked.”
The company has not only faced major business challenges but has also had to overcome the difficulties of confinement and telecommuting – a new way of working for most employees.
“Working from home isn’t common in Dakar or other areas where we operate,” she says, adding that the company is providing internet credit on employees’ work phones to help ensure they have a reliable connection outside the office.
Lessons from the crisis
PayDunya’s experience offers lessons that could help businesses in the region mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic, which could cost Africa about 20 million jobs, according to a study by the African Union.
“The crisis is creating many challenges but also opportunities for those who can work digitally,” Ms. Fall says.
When the crisis hit, PayDunya quickly put in place measures to ensure business continuity and staff safety.
- Strengthen hygiene measures
- Prioritize teleworking
- Be a compassionate leader
- Step up client support
Besides applying the hygiene measures recommended by the World Health Organization, the company limited exposure at work by having all employees shift to teleworking and stopped face-to-face sales meetings, unless absolutely necessary.
“We also prescribed for all employees a number of health measures to observe while working at home or for when they absolutely must meet with clients in person,” Ms. Fall says.
Importantly, she says, the management team took such decisions proactively, before the government’s measures, allowing PayDunya time to test teleworking before the country was put in partial lockdown.
Ms. Fall adds that in a remote working scenario, discipline and leadership become even more essential as team members juggle work with new responsibilities at home and cope with isolation.
“There’s now no one around to see what you’re doing,” she says. “And managers can’t rely on spontaneous discussions or office visits to check on their team.”
She recommends holding daily calls and debriefs to make sure everyone understands the priorities and tasks a hand, and to quickly identify potential setbacks.
It also helps keep team morale up and allows managers to make sure staff are adjusting, professionally and personally.
Ms. Fall says PayDunya knows it must take care of its employees if they are going to in turn watch after the clients during these difficult times.
“We strive for our clients, especially in times of crisis,” she says. “We’ve established a financial and logistical support plan for those most affected.”
eTrade for Women community
Ms. Fall is part of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community in Francophone Africa.
She participated in the masterclass held in Abidjan in February, which allowed her to build new business relationships with other women digital entrepreneurs across the region, such as Elodie Atekossode from Benin, whose software development company has since agreed on a revenue sharing arrangement with PayDunya.
The UNCTAD eTrade for Women initiative aims to harness the promise of digital technologies and the power of female entrepreneurship to accelerate wealth creation and poverty reduction in developing countries. It's part of the eTrade for All initiative and supported by the Netherlands.