The Clean Cooking Alliance, Sustainable Energy for All, ENERGIA, and members of the People-Centered Accelerator hosted a webinar featuring five women entrepreneurs and facilitated by Dr. Amanda Elam of Babson College. Representing business models ranging from solar lighting distribution to biodigester programs, the participants offered insights into how their roles as industry leaders are shifting as a result of COVID-19, and how they are devising innovative ways to remain operational during these unprecedented times.
Neha Juneja is one of the co-founders of Greenway Appliances, the largest clean cooking company in India, with recently expanded operations in Zambia.
India’s response to COVID19 has had profound impacts on Greenway. With India having the fourth-largest number of COVID cases at the time, the country went into a strict lockdown in March, giving citizens only four hours’ notice. During this period, no supplies, production, or sales were possible, while meetings and demonstrations were discouraged. “We have experienced shocks before, in terms of market shocks or just internal supply shocks,” Neha said. “This is the worst shock that we have seen.”
Greenway currently employs some 110 people and works with approximately 400 sales agents, most of whom are women who earn a small commission on the sale of cookstoves. However, with the lockdown and the pause in sales activities, none of the sales agents have been compensated since the pandemic started. In addition, fewer of Greenway’s current and potential customers – most of whom are based in rural areas, and might typically migrate seasonally to urban centers in search of work – are now seeking employment closer to home.
“I’ve spent most of my time talking to our customers,” said Neha. “What I am hearing…is anxiety around income and livelihoods. One of the things we’ve decided to do is to spread our supply chain and take it closer to clusters of consumers so that the same communities who currently help distribute our stoves can now partake in making them as well.”
In essence, Greenway is adapting its business model by shifting jobs to rural areas, and instead of automating operations, the company is hiring.
“While during normal times this may not be the best thing to do from a cost-benefit perspective, because of the situation right now, this is the best thing to do,” Neha affirmed.