Why getting small businesses back on their feet will take more than just donations.

17 March 2020

Australia has seen a run of disasters over the past few months. Bushfires the size of the whole of South Korea swept across the landscape. Koalas were announced functionally extinct due to habitat loss. Countless people fled or were evacuated from their homes – and businesses.

The charitable response to this all-too-close-to-home disaster was a torrent of donations. People were donating hand-sewn pouches for baby kangaroos and koalas. People were cooking meals for the volunteer firefighters and donating clothing and household items to the people.

Roy Morgan’s Chief Executive Officer Michele Levine differentiates between the “short-term impacts created by staff missing work to fight the fires and potential longer-term impacts such as a sustained drop in tourism to directly affected areas and even Australia as a whole.”

Livelihoods cannot be restored on donations of clothing and food. Nor can donations sustain impacted communities indefinitely, and these people are still trying to rebuild long after the media attention dies down and donor fatigue sets in.

As a culture, we’re constantly and instantly connected to news about what’s happening around the world, which means Australian organisations are competing with international charities (and international crises) too. Considering Australia alone has 600,000 registered NFPs as well as 54,000 charities, it’s no surprise the competition is high for donations, and donor fatigue is very real.

The importance of shopping locally and supporting small business is more apparent when examined through the lens of the current COVID-19 panic. 28% of Australian businesses reported being impacted by the bushfires. Despite there being few recorded cases in Australia at the moment, 15% of Australian businesses already report being impacted by the COVID-19 scare, however, this draws no outpouring of sympathy or rush of donation.

Businesses impacted by the bushfires are predominantly in the Food and Accommodation sectors, understandably suffering due to the drastic drop in tourism dollars during what should be the peak season. Businesses impacted by the outbreak are mostly in the Manufacturing, Education, and Training industries, however, the flow-on effects of these impacts are felt by small local businesses.

Sydney University’s student population is almost a quarter international, predominantly Chinese. As the health scare drags on and students are hindered in their returns to study, the chances of parents choosing to send them to school in the Northern Hemisphere (where the school year starts in August) becomes more likely. Without the influx of international students, the accommodation, hospitality, and speciality shops around Camperdown and Chinatown will suffer.

With the fires extinguished and the economy reeling from COVID-19, the best way Australians can help is shopping small and local. Regarding the bushfires, there are a number of initiatives dedicated to helping people do so.

The Empty Esky Bushfire Recovery is a movement encouraging travellers to go on holidays and road trips through areas impacted by fires with an empty esky. They create accountability by encouraging people to take a pledge and provide listings and a map where impacted businesses can register. Check out their Instagram for heartwarming updates and messages from grateful businesses. Another well-known effort is the Spend With Them Instagram account, which showcases impacted businesses and their products.

Suggestions made by the government to minimise the impact of the fires hold true for the COVID-19 too:

  • Buy products and services from local businesses or those in bushfire affected communities.
  • Hold your next business event or meeting in an area that has been affected by the fires.
  • Avoid cancelling events due to bushfire or health scare. Postpone instead.
  • Plan your next holiday in a region that has been affected.

Getting small businesses back on their feet will be critical to rebuilding communities affected by drought, bushfires, flood, outbreak, panic about a potential outbreak, and other natural disasters. Instilling this mentality is particularly important to become as self-reliant as possible and avoid this instability when an economic partner as significant as China faces trouble.

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