From the CEO’s Desk: March 2020

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The Covid-19 pandemic feels unprecedented. But we have faced global pandemics before and we will face similar, and worse, crises in the future. I say that not to shock or alarm, but to marvel at our collective resilience.

However, it’s not a resilience that can be taken for granted. The only thing we can say about the future is that it is uncertain. However, while we cannot plan for every eventuality, we can work together to ensure we have robust institutions and effective systems of care.

As the novel coronavirus has swept across borders, we have seen how rapidly business-as-usual turns into uncertainty and lockdown.

For now, we need to deal with the current moment. Understandably – and correctly – the public have turned to governments and official agencies, such as the WHO, to provide guidance and assistance.

As with the 2008 financial crisis, there is popular demand for state action to preserve economic vitality. And as with 2008, political leaders have recognised the need for government intervention to stave off the worst economic effects of the pandemic.

However, there is an important difference. In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, popular anger was directed at banks, even at the capitalist system as such.

The current crisis is different. There is a clear realisation that we urgently need the kinds of rapid and innovative solutions that only businesses can provide. And already, we are seeing impressive examples of businesses harnessing their R&D teams or data analysis capacities to help communities and medical staff.

But business can’t afford to be complacent, especially in light of the economic turbulence that will inevitably accompany the public health crisis.

Businesses are uniquely capable of driving the economic recovery that will urgently be needed as the public health element of this current crisis finally subsides.

But if businesses fail to take the lead and produce real value for everyone who needs it, governments will need to step in to fill the gaps. The inevitable result would be heavy regulation and a significant transfer of private capacities to state institutions.That would mean less competition, tepid growth, and, ultimately, a slower economic recovery.

But what would the most effective business response look like, especially in an African context?

We are looking forward to charting a way ahead at our annual Shared Value Leadership Summit, a gathering of the continent’s brightest minds and boldest business leaders, which this year is scheduled to be held in Kigali.

We are in daily communication with our partners in Rwanda, and in consultation with authorities, to determine whether the Summit dates will need to be rescheduled. Of course, everyone’s paramount and we will keep you closely updated.

Whenever it is held, this year’s summit will have a special poignancy, as we reflect on how we have managed to deal with the enormous challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and analyse and debate the best ways that businesses can lead us forward to even greater collective wellbeing and prosperity.

We can build a more resilient Shared Value future, but we can only do it together.