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Rollo Business Simulation to better guide interventions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on African enterprises

Rollo Africa is a business simulation program dedicated to inspiring and supporting small African enterprises facing challenges after the COVID-19 outbreak. Driven by AfriLabs member hubs Kmt house (District Spaces) in Egypt, Savannah Hub in Sudan, Jokkolabs in Senegal, Activspaces in Cameroon and iZone Hub in Zimbabwe, the program provided a platform for African entrepreneurs to create ideas and test new strategies in a simulated and risk-free environment. 

This translated into understanding the responses and behaviors of African businesses to existing policies during COVID-19 and allowed the participating entrepreneurs to learn best practices to harness these policies in the real world. The AU and UNDP documented these lessons to provide evidence-based policy recommendations to governments on business stimulus packages. 

“The growth of the African economy is mostly reliant on small and medium enterprises and a good number of these businesses were driven to survival mode during the recent lockdowns, with many letting go of staff and some even closing up,” said Anna Ekeledo, Executive Director of AfriLabs in her opening remarks at the Rollo Africa Masters. “We need to understand how businesses across the continent make decisions in peculiar situations such as during a pandemic and we need to empower them to make better ones. Rollo is first a learning opportunity for every stakeholder and then a support system for the entrepreneurs affected by the pandemic.” 

The call for applications for the program received 490 submissions from African enterprises in the 5 pilot countries and 360 entrepreneurs from 120 enterprises participated in more than 1500 hours of simulation in the bootcamps that took place in December 2020 and January 2021,  with the top 5 participants from each bootcamp advancing to the Rollo Africa Masters. 

Presentations from the 5 finalists – Mycelium from Egypt, Feith from Zimbabwe, Exousia-com from Senegal, Agrona from Egypt and Save from Cameroon – were assessed by an esteemed panel of judges from the private sector, development partners and innovation hubs across Africa. 

“Evaluating the ideas and lessons shared during the Rollo Africa bootcamps and demo day, was a beacon of hope in these rather unusual times. This was a great opportunity to understand the ecosystems of informal and formal businesses in different economies in Africa. Choosing the top participants was a rather tough exercise for the judges but they did their jobs thoroughly. We look forward to expanding this program to empower more enterprises and learn even more about the SMEs sector in more African countries” Moetaz Helmy, Executive Director of Rollo Africa said on the impact of the program.

After the judging exercise, Exousia-com, Senegal, emerged as the Rollo Masters Africa Champion and went home with a prize of 5,000 USD among several other benefits. Feith Hub from Zimbabwe was the first runner up winning a cash prize of 3,000 USD and Mycelium from Egypt as the second runner up with a cash prize of 2,000 USD.

The data from the simulation exercise will help policymakers and other stakeholders to better understand and monitor the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses, especially in the informal sector, and help in the modelling of African SMEs. It will also help stakeholders identify the level of competitiveness of African businesses.

“The learnings from the simulation to a norm-setting organization like the AU is tremendous. In addition to understanding the strength and weaknesses of the MSMEs and the ecosystem at large, it also helped identify the sectors of interest for the MSMEs in Africa.” Eiman Kheir, Head of Diaspora Division, African Union said about the insights gained from the program. “While the top two sectors of interest were Agriculture and Manufacturing, it is Agriculture and Digital Solutions that outperformed the rest when simulating COVID and Post COVID policies”

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