March 20

James Militzer

Enterprise in the Time of Coronavirus: How NextBillion and the Businesses We Cover Are Responding to the Pandemic

Last Wednesday, the NextBillion team packed up our computers and personal effects and vacated our offices on the University of Michigan campus. The state’s first documented cases of coronavirus had been reported the night before, and the university had just announced the cancellation of classes. A crisis that had been growing in the background of our lives was suddenly very real. 

As we said our farewells to our colleagues in the office, none of us knew what to expect. But I for one was optimistic: I thought that after a few weeks of working from home – strictly as a precautionary measure – we’d get back to business as usual.

Those days – and that mentality – seem like a lifetime away. It’s now clear that we’re facing a long-term crisis of such magnitude that predictions are impossible to make, and worst case scenarios seem shockingly plausible. It’s no longer clear when life will get back to normal – or what “normal” will even look like after the pandemic ends.

And yet, life does go on: Teachers adjust their curricula so children can continue learning from home. Workers – or at least those who have that luxury – find ways to shift their interactions to the internet and the phone. Businesses – especially those that serve low-income customers – brace themselves for unpredictable changes that may reshape their supply chains, business models, communities and entire economies. And those of us in the communications business reorient ourselves to a news environment where the top story of the day was largely invisible a few months ago – and where each week brings enough new developments to fuel a month’s worth of coverage.

That’s why we wanted to take a moment to explain how NextBillion will be responding to these extraordinary times. We’re instituting a number of measures that will impact our coverage in the coming months (or, though it’s alarming to contemplate, longer).

First: As an open platform driven by guest-written articles, we’re expecting (and already seeing) a significant influx of coronavirus-focused content. And the repercussions of this pandemic – both for low-income communities and the businesses that serve them – are likely to be especially acute in the emerging markets NextBillion primarily covers. So expect to see regular coverage of the issue, from multiple angles, in the coming months. And if you have insights or stories to share about your experiences – either addressing the virus directly, or responding to its impact on your community, customers or business – contact our editors to discuss a potential guest article

Second: To organize our rapidly growing amount of coronavirus coverage, we’re launching:

Third: Since our staff will be working from home for the foreseeable future, we won’t be responding to direct phone calls to our office. If you want to reach us, email is the best way. If you need something urgently, please tag it as URGENT in the subject line of your email, and send it to all three members of our editorial staff. We’ll do our best to respond promptly, especially to urgent queries. But it might take us a bit longer than usual to respond to emails – so don’t be shy about sending a follow-up if necessary. We appreciate your patience.

Fourth: We’ll do our best to maintain our usual frequency of coverage, publishing one original article and several excerpted news stories each day, updating our events calendar regularly, and sending out our e-newsletter each Wednesday. But like many of our readers, we have family and personal concerns of our own, and we’re a small team. So there may be weeks when we’re unable to publish our usual amount of content. We appreciate your understanding if that proves necessary.

Finally: It seems important to recognize – both for the purposes of NextBillion’s coverage and the world’s collective sanity – that coronavirus is not suddenly the only thing that matters. Yes, it will be a large and unwelcome part of our lives for an unpredictable amount of time. But other issues are still relevant and deserving of discussion. The things we all cared about before this started are still important – and they’ll still be important after the crisis ends. 

So we’ll strive to keep this in perspective even as the pandemic drives much of the daily news agenda. In other words, NextBillion won’t be “all coronavirus, all the time” – we’ll continue to publish insights on a wide variety of topics, from entrepreneurs, researchers and others working in emerging markets around the world. And we’ll look toward a future in which this crisis is seen as an extraordinary challenge which tested – but did not break – our communities, our businesses or our resolve to build a better world.


James Militzer is an editor at NextBillion.


Photo courtesy of Elijah Hiett.




Coronavirus, Health Care, Social Enterprise
COVID-19, global development, infectious diseases, public health, social enterprise