Therapy groups on this subject have been running via Whatsapp, since March.
HAVANA TIMES – Businesses closing down, loss of revenue and jobs and shortages, are some of the current pandemic’s main impacts on Cuba’s private sector, which go hand-in-hand with stress and other psychological effects.
In order to deal with these effects, Psi Orienta Emprendedores is one of the 15 WhatApp groups that the Cuban Society of Psychology is running, providing counsel during this pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2.
“It’s a space for business owners to find guidance,” where they can channel their emotions relating to the consequences of COVID-19, share their strategies and learning, as well as receive support with new takes on their ideas and concerns, psychologist Jose Martinez said, the project coordinator.
The group started off with 257 members and has been swaying between 185 and 210 members, with some 20 members coming and going between one session and the next. Today’s 186 members come from all over Cuba, as well as 10 members from Italy, Spain and the US. While some 50 members are online during each session, more than 20 never interact.
Impact on the private sector
In the “Private Enterprise in Cuba” report, a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19, from Auge consultancy agency, which since 2014 has provided consultancy services for over 60 businesses, in terms of strategy, regulations, marketing, communications and design, etc., has been listing the pandemic’s impact on this sector.
Some of the most widespread include a drop or absolute disruption of revenue, exacerbated shortages, investments pulling out of new businesses, reducing the number of employees on payroll.
The report points out that, once the current situation is history, business owners will fall under pressure for outstanding payments, as well as the need to inject capital in order to pick up operations again.
According to Daybel Panellas, a psychology professor at Havana University, most private businesses have closed down, lost clients (revenue) in the present and short-term (at least), and this means unemployment, employees are at a disadvantage and so are employers of small businesses, with low revenue.
She believes that this leads to personal and family insecurity, not only because they are unable to satisfy their needs financially, but also because of other imbalances in everyday life.
According to figures released by the minister of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil, some 250,000 self-employment licenses out of a total of 640,000 (before the pandemic), were suspended in the country as a result of the pandemic.
[Since non-State businesses are not recognized as such in Cuba, the owners and employees are all lumped together with trades people to tin can collectors as “self employed”.]
“It’s important to accompany them and also, try and guide business owners who aren’t only interested in profits, but also wellbeing, not only as individuals but as a group, community, territory and society,” Panellas weighed in.
The group coordinator also believes these sessions become necessary because of other characteristics of the business sector: ambivalence, as it is the target of national and international criticism; to become legitimate and implement practices that aren’t coherent with government discourse; because they are heterogenous, with members that are more prosocial or others who are more individualistic.
She even highlights the fact that the government media is associating them more with hoarders and resellers during this time of COVID-19, instead of people who are providing services that support actions to fight the pandemic.
Grabbing onto anything they can
From their conversations on WhatsApp, they have deduced that members attending the sessions run apartment rentals, taxis, design, filmmaking, online travel agency, restaurants, translation and interpretation, web services and cosmetology businesses.
In addition to those who already run their own private businesses, there are also some students and employees from state-run institutions.
The WhatsApp group meets every Wednesday, from 11 AM onwards. Martinez says that one of the main concerns is anxiety, but they aren’t alone.
“We see a resilience within the group. Business owners at the end of the day, their vision of the crisis is tinted with optimism, developing their own strategies to try and make the most of this time to do renovation and maintenance work, seek out new markets and apply temporary changes to their services,” she pointed out.
According to Panellas, the main concerns have been concrete, factual, in fact, not psychological: how am I going to keep my business going, what is going to happen, how do I reinvent myself, how do I take care of my workers and hold onto my customer base if my services are limited because of shortages.
She also added that they are wondering what to do now and how they can provide collaborative, altruistic services and earn money at the same time.
Talking about this, “a spontaneous collaboration among group members was born, and a clear manifestation that they need to create alliances between them. From a psychological point of view, the presence of stress and uncertainty and the need to be creative.”
The psychologist points out that, in these group therapy sessions, we have legitimized their feelings and demands, we have framed them – in the face of the therapy group’s peculiar situation – letting relations among members flow, and more recently, we have focused on the role of the business owner, boosting their personal relationships with others and their environment.
According to the psychologist, unlike other therapy groups, this one demands a lot more answers in terms of business than their own position, “which is something that escapes us and it’s a challenge to get them to center and focus on themselves and how they are also a key element to developing and restructuring their business.”
Panellas believes this isn’t a coincidence. “While COVID-19 has put them, and everyone, in a particular position, the rest of their demands already existed, they are only updated within this new situation and take on certain ways of being communicated and met. In any case, the importance of this population group is reinforced.”