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Companies in SA respond to Covid-19 pandemic

By nature, South Africans are resilient people, long accustomed to adapting their lives and livelihoods in light of political, social and economic shifts. Faced with this new, invisible enemy that has already wrought untold economic tumult and human suffering in other regions, we must once again find innovative and creative solutions as we acclimate to this new reality.

Theo Sibiya MD-Africa of Global Management Consulting Firm, Kearney, believes that the survival of many companies is going to depend on their capacity to build resilience in order to remain sustainable.

“Already South African businesses and its citizens are demonstrating that they are up to the challenge – displaying resilience, resourcefulness, dynamism, and social solidarity. As a result of this, they are able to offer services that have new-found value in the current reality,” he said.

Among these are two Cape Town-based textile manufacturing companies who have teamed up to convert their factory to produce facemasks for public use. In doing so, the companies can contribute to the national coronavirus pandemic response, while maintaining solvency and preserving jobs.

Other local companies have been plunged squarely into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and both government and business have demonstrated remarkable foresight in establishing electronic platforms that communicate complex epidemiological data in user-friendly and engaging ways.

For South Africa, this shift towards the fourth industrial revolution lays bare the stark reality of the digital divide where huge swathes of society’s most vulnerable are at risk of being left behind. Sibiya believes that this presents an opportunity for forward thinking enterprises, including government, to roll out new social development programmes that ensure every South African has access to telecommunications technology for learning and working.

Government is also calling for industry collaboration to meet the demands of the current moment. For example, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has issued a call for proposals to assist in the national ventilator project to produce 10 000 ventilators by the end of June. This project will see key SOEs and heavyweight industry players working in partnership to design a non-invasive ventilator solution that does not require electricity, amidst a global shortage of ventilation equipment.

Realistically a seismic shock like this is bound to transform how we think and work. Sibiya points out that, from the insights they have gathered from overseas partners, businesses will need to embody the following key attributes in a post-Covid economy:

Resilience: The need for resilience over maximal efficiency will shape how value chains are constructed and measured.

Sentience: We comfort ourselves by thinking of COVID-19 as a “black swan” event—it isn’t! It was easily predictable given the Ebola, SARS, MERS, and avian flu epidemics. Some agencies such as the World Health Organization had playbooks to deal with such situations. So why did most Fortune 500 companies not?

Distribution of Information: Telecommuting was well on its way to becoming the norm for many digital workforces but has been relatively new for the rest. Microsoft Teams, for example, has seen a 500 percent increase in usage in March—is here to stay. The second-order implications for the majority of the workforce being remote could be more significant.

Purpose: Perhaps the most significant change is a hope more than a prediction. COVID-19 has laid bare our mutual dependency on each other as individuals and countries. A more compassionate work culture coupled with greater corporate investment and accountability for the environment and society would be an incredible positive to emerge.

“While we might have hoped that the disruptions wrought by COVID-19 would be a once-in-a-life-time cataclysm, it is increasingly clear that the effects of environmental changes on our health and our economy will mean that our ability to respond and adapt to seismic shifts will stand us in good stead,” concludes Sibiya.

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