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2020 - THE YEAR OF THE GREAT LOCKDOWN


What a start to the decade? I am sure we all experienced numerous challenges during the course of the year as we managed our new way of life. As the second wave of the corona virus in the United Kingdom, Europe and the US is spreading with increased infections and deaths it is clear that normality will only resume once we have a vaccine.


I am not going to mention all the challenges or highlight the blunders during the Great Lockdown . What I want to share are what I believe are the positive changes and some of the opportunities.


1. THE GREAT RESET


I witnessed a real change in human behaviour during the lockdown. People started caring more about the wellbeing and plight of the impoverished. There was and is a massive display of resilience as we faced the challenges – loss of friends and family due to the novel coronavirus, working from home, loss of jobs and income. Corporate SA despite their own economic challenges, actively participated in feeding programs, providing shelter and warm clothes during the cold winter months. This was a true sign of what makes us South African whether we agreed with the lockdown rule or not. Humans working together to address the challenges – not government but individuals. That said we do have a long way to go to resolve our challenges. Conscious Capitalism. I firmly believe that in order to build trusted corporate brands in future, broad stakeholder experience will be a key measure. This will further align and address our challenges. Stakeholder experience defined as staff, clients, society, shareholders and the environment.


2. CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM


What the lockdown has highlighted is the impact of carbon emissions on the environment. As the world went into lockdown there was a significant reduction in the carbon footprint. In SA, the approval of the IPPs and municipalities producing their own power is a massive positive step. But more importantly it emphasised the need for investment in cohesive social projects. Now more than ever we need to work together to save our environment through reduced carbon emissions; investment in cohesive and inclusive social projects and continue to engage corporate SA on governance issues.


3. DIVERSITY & INCLUSIVITY


This is always a thorny topic with differing views across the spectrum. A topic that leads to much heated and emotional outpouring. The Clicks Hair Campaign is a case in point. Their hair product advertising campaign was completely inappropriate and deserved the backlash, but not the vandalism. What transpired was extremely positive. Clicks took immediate corrective action (internal and external). The shampoo producer, Unilever took decisive steps, issued a public apology denouncing the advertisement, stated that they would accelerate its efforts to support transformation, represent all communities and promote inclusion in South Africa. They also announced an investment in training programmes for black hair stylists and small professional salons. All of this after positive engagement with key stakeholders. The horrendous error resulted in a positive outcome and the future for marginalised individuals.


We also had cricketing stars speak up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and their own challenges while representing the National team. This caused a twitter storm – yes, I know it doesn’t take much to cause a twitter storm nowadays. But what transpired was beautiful and exceptionally positive. The respective individuals had a constructive meeting where they shared their experiences, had an open and respectful conversation and spoke about the learnings and the way forward. This open dialogue and respectful feedback is how we as a nation will move forward and overcome our unconscious bias. Diversity and inclusivity is a global imperative and requires real action as is the case in corporate SA right now. Our future can only be brighter for it.


4. TECHNOLOGY & NEW SKILLS


We all know that technology is the future with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). What we didn’t foresee is the pace of this change and that it was going to arrive in 2020. Remote working fast tracked the use of new technologies – Microsoft Teams, Zoom, online meetings, webinars replaced live events, and the role of digital platforms in the new environment. These new skills are going to be an essential part of our lives going forward. The one downside is fatigue. I found exercise, structuring one’s day and learning new skills helped manage the fatigue. Personally, I started learning to produce electronic music which has been great fun as I have included my kids in the arrangements.


5. SA s NEW MEDICATION


Having listened to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Mid-Term Budget speech on 27 October, it is clear that SA needs new medication. We need a new TABBLET, which I view as transformational initiatives for our economy and society. There is a dire need to focus on what our competitive advantages are going to be in a future driven by 4IR. Mining and manufacturing are no longer our competitive advantages. To address the critical challenges, namely unemployment, poverty, housing and education we need to start thinking and investing in our future.


6. WHAT IS THE NEW TABBLET?


Technology – lets provide a platform for technology start-ups to flourish. SA have some of the brightest technological minds in the world. Ask Jeff Bezos. Let’s give technology start-ups that address social challenges reduced tax rates or even tax breaks and less red tape. Sweep South, one of the most admired tech start-ups in the world has organised the domestic worker sector in a way that no labour union could ever have attempted. I urge you to use their services. To achieve this, we need to speed up the release of additional spectrum for cheaper, faster and more inclusive 5G networks. I firmly believe that innovation is required to solve our socio-economic challenges and we need our politicians to enable the innovation.


Agriculture - One of our biggest competitive advantages that requires significant investment and policy clarity is agri-tech. The agricultural sector can become the breadbasket of the world. Let’s engage with the sector, let’s have a plan for how we become globally competitive and what is required to be the bread basket of the world.


BPOs – Call centres should be thriving is SA. Our geographic location and command of the English language should make us the go to destination for business process outsourcing (BPO). Ask my friend Jeff Bezos. We should create an environment for global technology companies to set up data centres and BPOs in SA. We have the resources, the skills and the capacity.


Banking – South African banking infrastructure is one of the most highly rated in the world. We can leverage this by creating Special Economic Zone and attract international banks to headquarter their Middle East and African operations in Sandton.


Land – As alluded to above, government owns vast amounts of land that is ideal for productive use namely, renewable energy, data warehousing and agriculture. It was encouraging to see that government announced the release of 700 000 hectares of state-owned land earmarked for farming.


Engineering – We have phenomenal engineering skills geared to provide economic value add to the economy. There is a dire need to industrialise these skills in order to provide a secondary market for our commodities. Instead of exporting the primary raw commodities we should create a secondary industry for producing products. E.g. Platinum is exported to Japan to make catalytic converters, Toyota SA then imports catalytic converters from Japan. This destroys the economic value add and detracts from economic growth. If we were to mould platinum in a form that is used in the catalytic converters then export it, it will go a long way in creating jobs, growing the economy, and skills development. Thereby industrialising the first stage of beneficiation.


Tourism – one of our biggest assets is our natural heritage, fauna, flora, climate, diverse cultures and world class hospitality industry. Post-covid we need to do more to capitalise on our natural competitive advantages.


7. A MUCH NEEDED COMPETENT STATE


Some of the TABBLET above has been discussed and actioned by government but more needs to be done from a policy perspective and most importantly urgent execution. The respective Government ministers responsible should have performance-based criteria to ensure policy implementation.


President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted his 3rd Annual South African Investment Conference where 50 companies pledge R109.6bn of investment, taking the total investment commitment over the past 3 years to R 773 bn. The president is targeting R 1.2 trillion investment to the end of 2023. I have no doubt that in order to achieve this audacious target the SA government needs to ensure that it has the necessary skills and resources to implement and work with the private sector.


CONCLUSION


South Africans have shown great determination and resilience to overcome what seemed like intractable political and economic difficulties. We showed as a nation that we could achieve the outcomes we imagined for so long in a sustainable way. That same strength is what we require now.


The great economic issues of our time, climate change and economic inequality, requires our ability to channel our collective imagination to solve it. This provides an economic opportunity for our country unlike anything we have seen in the past. It will require that we utilise our natural creativity and drive to succeed to ensure that we overcome the economic difficulties we face. We have done so before. Now, more than ever before, we must use our imagination to do so again.


ENDS


The article was written by Quaniet Richards in his personal capacity and is a reflection of his personal thoughts, perspectives and insights during the Covid 19 lockdown.

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