Navigating Business During Crisis: Community Engagement, COVID-19, and Socio-Political Challenges

Researchers from the University of Oslo engaged RIWI to conduct a global study in several cities across the world about the challenges and experiences of owning and working for Small and Mid-size Enterprises (SMEs). The assessment was conducted in three waves, the first wave took place in Caracas, Venezuela, San Salvador, El Salvador, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The second wave took place in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia. The third and final wave took place in Cape Town, South Africa and Beirut, Lebanon. The study collected data on the experiences of 500 individuals in each city who own or work for SMEs about the impact of COVID-19 on business, violence and extortion, and community efforts. RIWI also engaged over 1,800 others from each city who do not work for small and medium enterprises who shared their perspective on the impact of businesses, experiences of violence and extortion, and the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. A total of 2,895 respondents across various demographic groups from these seven cities completed the survey. Data were collected from November 2020 to January 2021.

The data informed the subsequent field work that researchers conducted in these cities and provided key insights into the impact of COVID-19 on these communities when traditional forms of data collection would not have been able to.The data underscored important and valuable information about owning or working at SMEs. For instance, 19% of respondents in Honduras reported that their businesses have closed as a result of COVID, in comparison to only 14% in Venezuela. Accordingly, the data revealed that 7% of respondents in both Honduras and Venezuela answered that violence has “significantly worsened” and affected their business since the start of the pandemic. Moreover, based on the data provided by RIWI, the researchers reported in the Harvard Business Review “many of the biggest challenges that firms face under crisis are socio-political in nature, not financial. As such, these challenges are complex, systemic, and hard to quantify.” More importantly, RIWI data highlighted that SME managers and business owners who were more responsive to their community’s well-being throughout the pandemic were “nine times more likely to survive the pandemic than those who did not”. Ultimately, RIWI data helped provide insight on the conditions of SMEs in the respective countries during COVID-19.


chart on how to help businesses in crisis