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YPO Community Builds Support Systems as Pandemic Spreads in South Africa

While Africa has yet to feel the full impact of COVID-19, given the continent’s vulnerable health, economic and security sectors, a growing YPO community has sought to minimize its impact on public health and local businesses.

In mid-April, YPO Africa business leaders announced the creation of the Lead COVID-19 Response to create tangible, concrete solutions to community, health care and business challenges that will ultimately impact millions of Africans across the continent in a scalable way. Other leaders outside Africa with ties to the continent, including Shabir Randeree CBE, Chairman at DCD London & Mutual plc and a London-based YPO member, have also joined in these efforts.

“Unlike Europe and America, in Africa and the developing world in general, food shortage continues to be, in my view, the biggest threat,” says Randeree, who was born in South Africa and moved to the U.K. at the age of 15.

His concern for food security amid South Africa’s fragile economy was reinforced by conversations he had with fellow YPO Cape Town member Paul Berman and his wife, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman. By mid-March, he used his position as Deputy Chairman of Al Baraka Bank South Africa, one of South Africa’s largest community banks, to help create a fund that acts as an immediate lifeline for those most in need as the crisis was unfolding in South Africa.

A priority to Feed the Nation 

One of the first initiatives driving food security across South Africa was led by Ackerman-Berman, Transformation Director at Pick n Pay, a major supermarket chain in South Africa. “Suzanne had the foresight to plan for this initiative early on, before the official lockdown began, and the scale of the operation since then has been simply astounding,” says Randeree.

One of the first initiatives driving food security across South Africa was led by Ackerman-Berman, Transformation Director at Pick n Pay, a major supermarket chain in South Africa. “Suzanne had the foresight to plan for this initiative early on, before the official lockdown began, and the scale of the operation since then has been simply astounding,” says Randeree.

For Ackerman-Berman, the need was obvious from the start of the pandemic. “School closures have meant that many school children who were dependent on school feeding schemes for their main — sometimes only — meal of the day, have been left without food. Shelters for the homeless and orphanages, who depend on public generosity, are now also without aid,” says Ackerman-Berman.

Over USD255,000 has been donated by the public at the company’s supermarket checkout points through Pick n Pay’s Feed the Nation campaign. This is in addition to the initial USD250,000 that Pick n Pay donated, together with the Ackerman family, and funds from several Pick n Pay executives.

“One of the biggest takeaways of the COVID-19 experience so far was how quickly the business community was able to rise to the challenge.” — Shabir Randeree CBE, Chairman DCD London & Mutual 

From these donations, the Feed the Nation campaign has worked with over 120 local organizations to provide more than five million meals and distribute food and basic hygiene essentials to individuals and communities during the lockdown period across the nation.

Ackerman-Berman adds, “Many beneficiary organizations are wanting to do so much good but are battling to buy and transport food because of travel restrictions during lock down. We are making good use of our supply chain to help facilitate this and working with other YPO led public benefit organizations like AFRIKA TIKKUN who assist Early Childhood development centres in poorest regions of South Africa, led by Marc Lubner YPO JHB, and JAM, Joint Aid Management International humanitarian relief that attempts to empower Africans to create better lives for themselves, led by Isak Pretorius YPO Pan Africa.”

Galvanizing the SMEs 

Randeree witnessed the ominous impact of the situation on the economies of Italy and Spain and felt there was a similar need arising in South Africa to assist small and micro businesses who have been deeply affected by the impact of COVID-19.

By the end of March, he began to direct the fund to support the SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) in South Africa. “My worry was if businesses were not able to pay their employees, and the government is unable to help with furlough, we needed to make sure people get paid something,” he says. “A fund with the equivalent of USD5 million was launched in a week and is still growing. One family alone gave double what the bank donated.”

Businesses rising to the challenge

“One of the biggest takeaways of the COVID-19 experience so far was how quickly the business community was able to rise to the challenge,” says Randeree who is optimistic about the role of business in filling the void and meeting their local community needs post-COVID-19.

In addition to meeting immediate needs, he also urges business leaders to consider funding smaller research initiatives. “You never know who is going to find an antidote.” He points to one such programme at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and Kings College London, testing if an HIV-AIDS drug can protect frontline health workers. “While this sort of research is hard to fund, it can make a big difference locally.”

Randeree adds, “We are all in this together. COVID is here for the foreseeable future, and we have to play our part. A bakery in London supplying local food banks and the elderly is every bit as crucial as the Gates Foundation.”

For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.

Rola Tassabehji began her career as a marketing trainee in Unilever Arabia and from there moved into several management roles within the marketing and communications function in Unilever global and regional teams, including brand development manager, Dove, Unilever Africa, Middle East, and Turkey and communications manager, Unilever North Africa and Middle East. Following ten years with Unilever, she relocated to Abu Dhabi, U.A.E and joined the team that launched INSEAD campus in the Middle East as external relations director. Rola completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Canada, has a Masters degree from the American University of Beirut and a post graduate degree in journalism from London School of Journalism.