The ongoing pandemic affects companies of all sizes and across different sectors. The challenges they face are manifold. In order to build resilient organisations, companies must adapt to the needs and demands of the business environment. With this in mind, the Alliance for Integrity in partnership with the UN Global Compact Network India – Centre for Excellence for Governance, Ethics and Transparency has carried out an International Panel Series on “Shaping a Sustainable Business Post Covid-19”. The four-part event series aimed at discussing relevant issues in the context of the current crisis and exchanging best practices, learnings and experiences between the regions. Speakers from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America joined the panels and highlighted the perspective of the private and public sectors as well as civil society. The great response with more than 600 participants from 12 countries reflected the relevance of the discussed topics.
Kicking off the event series, emphasis was placed on the topic of “Business Resilience”. Experts from different countries and sectors, including the UN Global Compact Network, Mahindra Group, the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce and the Plus Approach Foundation, discussed the main challenges that companies are facing due to the ongoing health crisis. They agreed that it is crucial to react quickly and adapt flexibly to the new circumstances in order to build resilient businesses. However, the crisis is also a wake-up call to take responsibility for a fair and sustainable business environment. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shown that in a connected world, disruptions on a global scale can occur at any time. For this reason, the speakers stressed the need for innovative business models in the areas of social justice and social inclusion, as well as the importance of collective action between all relevant actors. In this context, Ms. Olajobi Makinwa, Chief of Intergovernmental Relations & Africa at the UN Global Compact Network, stated: “We should not only survive but thrive in this new normality.”
Following the results of the first session, the second panel addressed the topic of “Supply Chain Disruption”. Ms. Roselyn Awotwi Pratt, Supply Chain Governance and Compliance Manager at Diageo – Guinness Ghana Breweries Limited, started the discussion emphasising the need to build trust not only in the company but also within the entire supply chain. This trust and mutual support are the key to minimising supply chain disruptions. Ms. Shahamin Zaman, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Bangladesh, added that it is also crucial to adapt the principle business concept to the new situation in order to remain relevant. Based on her experiences in Bangladesh, she stressed that the serious effects of the pandemic can only be addressed building on a global strategy and collective action. Mr. Suraj Prakash, Director of Finance BEML Ltd., confirmed her view from the Indian perspective, pointing out that the effects of such a crisis are not coherent across sectors and countries. He concluded that there is no "one fits all" solution, but rather a tailored approach across sectors and countries. Following his statement, Ms. Shubha Shekhar, Director of Human and Workplace Rights in Eurasia and North Africa at The Coca-Cola Company, underlined that the pandemic has made the world aware of the importance of compliance with human rights throughout the supply chains and the responsibility of multinational companies.
As already highlighted in the previous sessions, the pandemic is forcing companies to adapt to the new circumstances, to develop new business areas and to build new capacities. Thus, the third panel put emphasis on the topic of “Reskilling and Digitalisation”. Ms. Aditee Rele, Director of Cloud Solutions and Tech Strategy – ISV and Services Partners at Microsoft India, particularly emphasised the personnel aspect and spoke about the four leading questions that must be kept in mind for adapting to the new normality: How do we respond to the pandemic ensuring the safety of our employees? How can we help companies to return to business after the pandemic has subsided? How can we prepare for such a situation in the future? How can we adapt our business model and the skills of our employees to the new normality? Mr. Jeffrey Cheung, Deputy Chairman at the Indonesia-Hong Kong Business Association, replied to these questions emphasising the importance of “Learning how to learn”. He stated: “It is essential to focus on three main aspects: What is the best time, the best way and the best thing to learn?" The panellists further discussed the importance for companies to go digital and talked about the fear that digitalisation might lead to a loss of jobs in many industries. Ms. Aditee Rele argued for a positive approach, saying: “We will not lose jobs; we will rather have to transform our skills and develop new jobs.” Mr. Suhas Tuljapurkar, Founder of Legasis Services and moderator of the discussion, added that there is no universal solution for all companies when it comes to digitalisation.
The final panel of the series focused on the highly relevant topic of “Supporting SMEs”. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are most affected by the pandemic. In a first step the discussion aimed at identifying the main challenges that SMEs are currently facing in order to later present possible solutions and best practice examples. Mr. Ashwini Saxena, Chief Executive Officer at JSW Foundation, opened the panel stressing the importance of SMEs: “SMEs are the engine of global economic growth. I am absolutely convinced that, with the appropriate support, they will also make a significant contribution to the recovery and resilience of the economy once the pandemic is over.” Mr. Vineet Aggarwal, Executive Director (SCM) of Engineers India Limited, drew further attention on the fact that SMEs are the biggest employers and that everything that affects them will also affect the economy, politics and society of a nation. In line with this, Ms. Ayotola Jagun, Chief Compliance Officer and Company Secretary at Oando Plc, stressed that coordinated efforts are needed to ensure the sustainability of SMEs as vehicles for innovation, competition, job creation and economic development. Closing the panel Mr. Thorsten Kötschau, Chief Executive Officer of the German-Colombian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, referred to the important role of national governments, which now have to establish fast and unbureaucratic support programmes that are the basis for a sustainable economic recovery.
The main takeaways of the international panel series can be downloaded here.
Author: Seema Choudhary