During Covid-19, Nairobi-based Aminata Meite is ensuring her portfolio of African financial institutions plan ahead for the months to come - and exploring new ways to recharge her batteries.
How is Covid-19 impacting your work with African financial institutions serving low-income populations and SMEs?
The biggest change is obviously that all interactions are remote. With all travel being suspended, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time in phone and video conferences, keeping in touch with our portfolio and trying to forecast the impact of the pandemic on their operations. While much of new business development has come to a standstill, we continue to work on the more advanced projects. A couple of weeks ago we did the bit of due diligence testing that can be done remotely on one of them, asking a lot of questions. With all this preliminary work done, we will be able to follow up with the onsite checks as soon as travel becomes possible, losing as little time as possible in the process.
Have you seen a lot of requests for restructuring because of the pandemic?
We work closely with our portfolio companies and want to support them going through this crisis. With several countries in Southern and Eastern Africa under lockdown, some of our clients serving women micro-entrepreneurs or transportation companies have been negatively impacted with the slowdown of the economies. So far, only two of our portfolio companies have requested an extension of their loans since they had to temporarily suspend their lending and collection activities in order to protect both their staff and clients. Whenever a request for deferred payment or loan restructuring occurs, we actively reach out to other lenders to ensure a coordinated approach. The recently agreed guidelines for a coordinated approach among international lenders are very helpful in this context. Other than that, we are carefully monitoring the situation, encouraging portfolio companies to plan ahead and share their plans. This will allow us to remain flexible, in a reasonably cautious way. After all, we do want to support them also during and after this pandemic.
"To prepare for the lockdown I went and bought a piano. This and exercising on my Nairobi rooftop has done wonders for my mental health."
On a personal level, how have you been dealing with the prolonged lockdown and home office?
I feel very privileged to be able to continue to work remotely and be part of a team and a company that function very well in this new setting. On a personal level I have been dealing surprisingly well with lockdown thanks to a lucky strike of intuition. The day before all of responsAbility went for a company-wide home office day – which has since turned into a semi-permanent home office arrangement for all staff – I had a premonition that I should prepare. Much to my own surprise, rather than go out and buy unreasonable amounts of pasta, I decided to go shopping for a piano! I have been practicing ever since, coming to terms with the basics via the internet and playing Bach’s Prelude in C major, BWV 846. This and exercising on my Nairobi building’s rooftop has done wonders for my mental health.