In this blog series, we explore how some of our epNetwork members have dealt with/been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in their work and in their communities. Next in the series is Hippo Roller.
Siemens Stiftung: How have you and your team been able to manage the uncertainties and challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic so far? Both personally and from a business angle.
Grant: We have been very fortunate and have continued to do business during this difficult time – in fact we have had our best year out of the last 4 years. Some of the actions we took were cost and overhead reduction as much as possible. Some staff members either left or changed to an outsourced basis – only invoicing for time spent. Personally, we are fortunate to live on a large property with a separate cottage for our sons. We’ve been able to exercise outdoors every day and, quite honestly, really enjoyed the lockdowns and peace and quiet that comes with it. Financially it has been challenging but we are still operating and looking forward to a good year.
Siemens Stiftung: Have you been able to continue operating like you were prior to the pandemic? If so, could you elaborate on reasons for your steady success throughout this time? If not, what changes have you made in order to remain in operation?
Grant: The key is to always keep overhead costs to a minimum and cut back wherever possible. All the small savings add up. We are also fortunate that much of our interaction with clients can be done online which helps reduce travel expenses. As I mentioned earlier, many staff converted to an outsourced format and so we only pay for time and services rendered rather than a fixed salary. We also managed to register our business as an essential service and secured permits to allow us to travel to manufacturing facilities and deliver to clients.
Siemens Stiftung: Has there been a need to pivot and completely work on a new product to support the COVID-19 relief efforts? If so, what have you developed and how has this helped people in need?
Grant: We have recognized the worldwide economic downturn and, for that reason, are developing a smaller (60L) Hippo Roller. We anticipate we will be able to offer about a 30% reduced price for increased affordability and hopefully increased sales. Secondly, we are developing a dual-action hand pump that screws onto the large screw-cap with a straw that reaches the bottom of the drum. This will allow users to easily pump water out of the drum and into a variety of containers, water storage tanks and irrigation of food gardens. Only one hand will be required to operate the pump which means the hose can be directed where the water is needed with the other hand. Even the elderly can manage with ease. It pumps water at a rate of 10L per minute. The same pump will be able to be used without Hippo Rollers, potentially expanding our market base. Also, we have also developed an “advertising banner” that allows sponsors to advertise their products and services on a fairly large banner that is attached to the steel handle. It is printed double-sided for increased visibility. We are trialing a “water distributor” concept. The idea being that child-headed homes and unemployed youth be given a Hippo Roller to not only resolve their own water needs but to give them the opportunity to deliver water to other people’s homes in exchange for a small fee. This way they can generate some income for survival. Early indications are that this will be very successful.
Siemens Stiftung: How has the pandemic affected your local community?
Grant: I think we have been quite fortunate in South Africa regarding the Covid outbreaks and most people take proper precautions. Of course, the informal sector is very negatively impacted and requires much more assistance as jobs are being cut wherever possible.
Siemens Stiftung: Do you expect there to be any long-term changes for your social business because of the pandemic? If so/not, how do you see it benefiting your work in the long run?
Grant: Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for us, the need for Hippo Roller is even greater than before and many sponsors (corporate CSI, donors, and NGOs) are more aware of the difficulty people are facing in rural and urban communities. One of our major challenges has been the shortage of steel in South Africa – almost all of the major suppliers have either gone bust or have stopped producing steel tubing. We now have to rely on sporadic imports which has also resulted in higher costs and erratic lead times.