This global disaster is playing out in different ways and speeds across our world. No one should doubt that first and foremost this is a human crisis. As investors, we are responsible not only for keeping the lights on in the countries, cities, and communities in which we operate, but we have a moral duty to protect the welfare of our 120,000 portfolio company employees. We have been able to make positive complementary interventions which mitigate the risk for the local community, whilst safeguarding the interests of those employees and other stakeholders who have entrusted us with their capital.
Actis has for many years had a standing committee, invoked in response to crises of this type. Actis re-constituted this committee in February 2020 as the Coronavirus Committee to coordinate our response. We have previously successfully operated this committee structure, most recently during the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
The committee is chaired by our CFO Susan Wilkins, and includes senior representatives from each asset class and business function including IDG, Responsible Investing, Communications, Operations and Facilities, IT and Human Resources. The members of the Committee are cross functional, and they each receive ongoing specialised crisis management training to ensure up-to-date approaches are employed.
The Coronavirus Committee has been following guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), CDC, national governments and our local teams to ensure offices and investment teams are responding appropriately.
Various initiatives were implemented from an early stage and are ongoing to ensure coordination, collaboration and knowledge sharing within and across asset classes, some examples of which include:
- Supporting all our companies with the development and implementation of their own crisis management and business continuity plans
- Facilitating a series of calls between alll ESG Heads and COOs to discuss responses
- Common guiding principles for ‘COVID-19 at construction sites’ formulated jointly by Real Estate and Energy Infrastructure teams.
We have also created communication channels for the CEOs of our investee companies to share best practice amongst each other and to offer our support on issues including:
- Cash flow forecasting / scenario planning;
- Disaster recovery / crisis management planning;
- Funding / banking (including covenant concerns, advice on drawing down under RCF and other facilities, FX hedging strategies);
- HR policy and procedures; &
- Stakeholder communications.
At Actis, we have always had a very practical and hands-on approach of working in partnership with our businesses.
This has never been more true as the pandemic continues its global march across our markets. Today, we are in the trenches with our businesses, bringing our operational expertise and a singular focus on ensuring business continuity in the face of the virus.
We are leveraging the entirety of the Actis platform to:
- Bring best practice in business continuity and disaster management – including ensuring each investment has fit for purpose business continuity and crisis management plans, and is benefitting from long term scenarios
- Create opportunities for direct exchange of knowledge between our companies, and across asset classes (eg protocols for construction sites are equally relevant to a Real Estate site as they are to an Energy Infrastructure site)
- Share lessons learned from our investments which bring valuable insights on resilience and how to plan for recovery
Actis is privileged to own and operate almost 100 businesses in 28 countries globally, including in China, one of which is based in Wuhan itself. Through this unique network, we have been able to receive and to share early warning signals and best-practice responses in near real-time.
Between 26 February and 3 March, we ran a survey to gauge thoughts on the outbreak before it was assessed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11 March.
The survey showed that while concern levels were growing, more than half (51%) of respondents were either neutral or not concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. While 30% of portfolio companies had a crisis management plan in place that was updated for COVID-19, 40% were either in the early stages of forming a plan or had no plan at that stage.
We re-ran the survey between 7 April and 15 April. You can read about the absolute findings, but also the shift in sentiment in our Street View publication.
So what are our businesses doing and how is Actis supporting?
We have mobilised ESG Heads, COOs and CEOs across our businesses to ensure we are sharing approaches to COVID-19, and we will continue to do so. Our businesses are implementing a range of measures to support communities and combat the virus:
Liaised with authorities from an early stage (healthcare, education etc) to direct support to the most acute needs in the community – eg PPE and medical supplies for frontline healthcare workers in the nearest clinics/hospitals
Supporting local businesses to re-purpose (eg tailors/seamstresses make masks)
Collaborating with industry associations to coordinate responses and ensure efforts are additive not duplicative
Information campaigns in communities and schools – via physical and online channels – to help combat misinformation, deliver key facts in simple language and via WhatsApp videos from trusted Community Liaison Officers
Supporting Women - communications aimed at women can be impactful given their role as carers of children, elderly, and regarding hygiene measures
Liaising with community leaders, faith leaders, NGOs and others who are trusted sources of advice, and who safeguard the vulnerable (heads of care homes)
Click on the map below to view examples of the work we have been doing with the management teams of our investee companies.
Supplying communities in water-scare areas with additional water supplies (eg water tankers), as well as soap and hand gel to ensure hand-washing can continue
Purchasing staple foods and non-perishables to support foodbanks and food parcel deliveries to the most vulnerable
Post-pandemic: efforts will pivot towards livelihoods and upskilling and also psychological and mental health needs of the communities
Beyond business continuity objectives alone, this is a moment which provides our companies the chance to demonstrate their social responsibility and to live their values – in doing so, they deepen their license to operate and can emerge with enhanced relationships with employees, communities, authorities and regulators in a post-pandemic world.
We talk to senior members of our Operations, Responsible Investing, and Value Creation Group teams to explain how the investment teams are supporting our portfolio companies.
Food Lovers Market
Honoris United Universities: Innovation
Honoris United Universities: Message from the CEO
Operational challenges in Real Estate, China
Operational challenges in Real Estate, India
Responsible Investing team
Street View: Cairo
Street View: Seoul