We are all living witnesses to the global fallouts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. This is the most frightening public health threat in modern history with significantly negative socio-economic impacts across the world including global economic contraction, national economic recessions (and depressions likely in some cases), risk of massive unemployment, increased pressure on health care facilities, apprehension, fear and even more fear.
The socio-economic engines in our world are meant to be rolling all the time as we situate ourselves therein and make our own living. This system was not designed to lock down. That economic engine stopped for the last two months or so and the consequences have been catastrophic. What did we learn? A business cliché reinforced from the 2008 economic crisis in the United States (U.S) is that you must never waste a good crisis. Yes, crisis can be good because it is a learning and growth opportunity. We have the opportunity for an objective diagnosis of the root cause of the problem underlying the crisis so as to consciously extract key learnings critical to better manage the future or better still, create a new progressive future. What are we learning from this crisis at an individual, business, country and global level?
- Most of us have been wired to think that our lives all revolve around our work, career or business while all other areas (spiritual, family, social, physical) are secondary. Hopefully, COVID-19 should have changed all that. While hunkered in at home mostly with family and friends, we should have had the time and presence of mind to reflect. We are reminded of our responsibilities as fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, friends, mentors and confidants. Strangely, COVID-19 has created an opportunity to bond with the people who matter to us the most away from the frenetic pace of modern living. We are reminded that we can achieve a healthy balance in our lives such that those closest to us still get the benefit of our physical and emotional presence.
- In the US, the World’s largest economy, at least 40 million people had filed for unemployment benefits as at the time of writing this. Sharp income inequality and levels of dependency has been amplified at this difficult time across the World. How did you fare?. Where you one of those giving or receiving?. The fact that you were giving does not mean you are better, it means you are privileged. Also, the fact that you were receiving does not mean you are worse, it challenges you to be better. COVID-19 has literally brought the whole World to its knees without exception, rich or poor, black or white or hispanic, developed or developing Nations. COVID-19 has reminded us of our humanity, that life does not begin and end with you. COVID-19 has reminded us of our mortality, that we are all living at the mercy of God Almighty. Empathy should be the new currency of interaction. Social distancing should not be emotional distancing. Surviving a pandemic is not a license to living without limits, it is a challenge to giving. You cannot give if you are not producing. Giving requires being more productive in anything you are fortunate to be engaged in. COVID-19 challenges us even further to bring out the best in us and be the most productive YOU.
- Obviously, several industries, businesses (and related careers) are threatened by COVID-19. While this is so humbling, we must remember that risks to our businesses and careers always existed even before COVID-19. Such risks include business model innovation, automation, geo-politics and changing consumer realities. Health risks like COVID-19 should be seen as another such risk which will have transformative implications on businesses. While some sectors will be worse affected than others, it does not in most cases mean that such sectors will disappear. It now calls for reinvention in the business model with a new way of operating. COVID-19 is throwing up new opportunities, business models and amplifying new skill sets. We are challenged to pivot our business models and or talent/skill sets to take advantage of these new emerging opportunities to ensure we are not disintermediated or disrupted in the market place. We need to have a much more future-ready and adaptive mindset in our business and careers. We can unleash more productivity in a much more digital World created by COVID-19. The present is overrated when we are ill-prepared for the future. COVID-19 is not telling us anything new in this context, it is merely reinforcing that message.
- COVID-19 is a stark reminder that our careers or businesses are intricately tied to what is happening in our economy. There is a growing consensus on the new concept of stakeholder capitalism which emphasizes that the purpose of the company should be to engage all its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large – to understand and harmonize their divergent interests through a shared commitment to sustained value creation that strengthens the long-term prosperity of the company as well as achieving social good. This challenges businesses to think beyond the singular purpose of delivering only shareholder returns. Most large companies subscribe to this thinking. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to test the sincerity of this rhetoric. How shallow or deep was the commitment exemplified by your companies’ actions at this time with the pandemic?. How does this challenge big businesses to think and act differently going forward?. Businesses cannot fully thrive in economies or societies that are failing. Food for thought.
- COVID-19 has reminded us that health is intricately tied to the economy. COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses in health care systems in many countries even in the developed world. How much did the world learn from other similar (admittedly, less global) health pandemics (e.g. Avian Flu, Zika, Ebola) that have happened in the recent past? Health experts have warned consistently of a health risk of such a pandemic like COVID-19. So how can we explain the level of relative global unpreparedness to address this health risk. It is particularly worse in Africa when some of its largest economies still spend less than 1% of their GDP on healthcare or worse still, spend three to four times of their healthcare budgets on debt repayments. COVID-19 is a rude wake-up call that this is not a sustainable model. COVID-19 is a reminder that Governments must make public health a National priority area. Public Policy and budgets must be refocused towards primary health care management, health research and innovation. This must include health care professionals. We cannot applaud healthcare workers in this period of the pandemic only to forget them once it is under control.
- One thing that is clear from the COVID-19 challenge is the sheer absence of global leadership in co-ordinating a global response to this pandemic, quite unlike what we saw in the management of the Ebola crisis. It does seem like COVID-19 will entrench the recent trends towards a less globalized, multi-lateral world as the developed world becomes more in-ward looking and pre-occupied with rebuilding their economies. This could also mean less global capital for investment in African markets at least in the short-term. More like social distancing of sorts among nations in this new World Order?. This is a good time for deep introspection for Africa. With a youthful population and good economic growth fundamentals, Africa still represents a frontier of growth but our economic management models are generally speaking, not working. COVID-19 has again, exposed the vulnerability of several of our mono commodity-dependent economies and Government’s sheer incapacity to protect its citizens with effective social and economic safety nets in a global crisis. This is a good time for Africa to reappraise its position in the emerging World order. Strong calls have already been made for debt cancellation and/or relief. That will be helpful but we must go way beyond that. This crisis presents an opportunity to completely re-imagine and change our African economic management model to refocus Government towards becoming an investor-friendly enabler of private capital/enterprise rather than a concentration of raw power and politics. We cannot grow our economies without a thriving private sector unleashing large innovative African companies, Africa-centric start-ups and a robust SMME environment that rewards entrepreneurship rather than rent-seeking. We need to adopt more creative ways of attracting and translating more intra-African capital into increased productive output, wealth creation, employment generation, tax generation and an improved quality of life for more people in Africa. The implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement will promote increased intra-African trade and shared prosperity. We can create the most effective economic management models relevant to the unique challenges we face in Africa. Governments can work actively with the African private sector to shape this future. To instill some accountability, this economic management model which must include a rigorous peer-review mechanism amongst Governments in Africa. It is time for Governments to return to its original purpose of serving the people and be held accountable to those expectations. We need to give hope to our people that even as we navigate the tough economic challenges worsened by COVID-19 in the short-term, there is a path to enduring progress in the medium to long-term. A crisis like COVID-19 gives us all the tonic to be bold to do new tough things we would ordinarily not consider in normal times.
As we continue to contend with this COVID-19 challenge, it represents such a unique opportunity to RESET our lives, businesses and economies in a fundamentally new way. The old normal was not good so it will be tragic to return to how we used to be once COVID-19 is brought under control. Whatever we do, we must never waste this crisis.