SA BUSINESSES MUST STAND TOGETHER IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES
Businesses all over South Africa and globally are in a big mess! Closures and downsizing seem now to be part of the “new normal”, a trending phrase since lockdowns went into full mode.
My lens tells me we are in for a long haul with the pandemic, as experts keep predicting no end being in sight. Though the development of vaccines is being accelerated and discoveries of new drugs such as dexamethasone have been identified in South Africa, there is still no proven cure available, and so far, only a reduction in the severity of the infection has been achieved in about 30% of the cases.
However, the availability of the drug is just one step towards the treatment of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). There is a need for more drug regimens to be on the market to successfully combat the pandemic.
None the less, I can see the proverbial light at the end of a very long tunnel when businesses will return to what we knew before, an environment without so many health restrictions, although we are all health-conscious businesses, whether small or large operations.
At the moment, we must sustain our prayers and adhere to the required regulations such as religiously wearing our masks, maintaining social distancing, sanitizing our business environments, and so forth. We also have to forgo our African habits of wanting to congregate, being physically close to each other, or taking lightly a pandemic that we are daily seeing, reading and hearing about, in our media, taking out human lives in the thousands. Let’s stop dismissing what could jeopardize our own lives; our lives are not replaceable.
Staying safe also translates to maintaining our businesses’ financial health. The financial virus perpetuated by this pandemic has potentially far more short-term and long-term consequences on livelihoods.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO STAY FINANCIALLY ‘SAFE’?
The whole point is that we as businesses in South Africa need to seriously start considering helping ourselves or other businesses out of this crisis. This is the time that businesses need to find each other without looking into skin colour, religion, race, tribe or whether a business is a foreign-owned operation or not. What is key is the fact that our businesses offer employment. There is a greater need than ever before to extend that much-needed help to other businesses that are in need.
Large corporates can look at what else they can do beyond dealing with those companies they already have business contractual agreements with. I am talking of large businesses such as supermarket chains, advertising companies, pharmaceuticals, and mobile telecoms operations, because of their long-established profiles and brands. They are mostly still in good positions and are able to still run relatively sound businesses during these trying times and therefore should be considerate to offer those companies or businesses that are facing closure some lifeline.
I have in mind the kind of help that’s not huge in terms of contracts, but ad-hoc arrangements that can help small businesses that tend to suffer more in these tough times like these, survive the pandemic.
What I am advocating for reminds me of Gavin Bird, when he quipped that “Helping others, without expecting anything in return is what true self-worth is all about”. It’s as if he was referring to the current Covid-19 pandemic and the suffering of small businesses that need a helping hand.
Surely, during these uncertain times, when millions of citizens are faced with unemployment and most families go to bed with nothing in their stomachs, we should all be only too glad to see businesses rise up to this challenge and demonstrate Ubuntu as South Africans. I would like to see a positive impact from this call in the reduction of businesses in distress and especially small businesses.
Interventions at the private business level also will demonstrate that South African businesses do not have to wait to be pushed by government to take action in situations as presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our government would surely welcome such timely assistance happening between private businesses.
Contrary to what another famous quote says “The more I help others to succeed, the more I succeed” (Ray Kroc), I am of a different view. Given the current situation, there may be no room for many businesses to succeed in the short term, but just to stay afloat, based on the way the disease is escalating and as Businesstech.co.za recently reported: “South Africa’s top brands could lose over R65 billion from Covid-19”.
The “new normal” may persist and who knows for how long. Therefore, help to other businesses should be genuine help through small contracts to make small businesses or other businesses last a bit longer, until such time that the flattened curve warrants the return to the good old days.
For big businesses, helping other small businesses is not only good for their PR, but it adds a lot of goodwill to the country. Besides being a good thing to do, it brings gratification through happiness and health for those extending the help. It is by helping others that the nation of South Africa can also connect with itself, in other words reminding itself that it’s born out of Ubuntu and must never ignore what makes its communities revered around the world – unity of purpose and progress.
So, I am humbly calling on big corporates, multinationals and other large industry players to come to the table and lend their help to smaller businesses, so that we all unite in creating a stronger, healthier business community and above all, start the process of recovering all lost jobs.
While I understand that businesses exist to make a profit and become/stay sustainable, this is not a call for large companies to make money, it’s about them extending their businesses beyond their existing contractual agreements primarily to avoid a humanitarian crisis, while contributing to making South Africans equal citizens.
A NEW CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
This time around, there is a need for a new corporate social responsibility, which is businesses helping other businesses to help avoid massive job losses. Down the line, those businesses receiving help in the form of business can keep their staff on the payroll.
In the past, the norm has been for a corporate to give back to a community that has supported an enterprise to succeed or achieve its vision. However, in this current Covid-19 scenario, there is a need for businesses to think ahead and anticipate negative buying behaviours that may arise in society as a result of poverty.
Doing business with small businesses can help to stem a further loss of jobs, spiralling unemployment and resultant anti-social behaviours that may be bred due to lack of income/poverty. Therefore, stabilizing the social environment is vital, since an unbalanced social environment is unconducive to economic development.
As the continent grapples with the increase of new cases, let South Africa lead in showing the rest of the other African countries the way to help smaller businesses. Ubuntu was born in South Africa, and it has spread and is celebrated beyond the country’s borders. Ubuntu must shine brightly from this country into the greater African region, and the action by businesses to help others must begin now.
We also have to be alert to the fact that many people across the continent look at our South African economy to perform at a global scale and what a better way to help maintain its top position in Africa than to set an example how to support each other. For that to happen, businesses must roll up their sleeves, and move into action in answer to this call.
On behalf of my company CreativeMagic Group, it is my sincere hope that there are one or two businesses that will be moved to swing into action. Perhaps more importantly, I trust I will see others pick up from where I left and proffer something even more progressive.
All the best!