This Monday I was invited by Kampala Early Bird Rotary Club to their virtual fellowship to talk about the “Evolving needs of business in the post Covid-19 era”. They were right on time and after the introductions we shared ideas about the way the economy is moving and what business people need to be doing in order to survive in the next normal.
But as things evolve, I too continue to wonder if we have a grip on this thing. Just that Monday, the Ministry of Health had reported 66 new cases of infection – the highest since we began testing and quarantining. By the look of things, we seem to be losing our grip despite a strategy that had worked very well. That strategy, was first to prevent, prevent, prevent. Hence the lock down. The second phase of that strategy was to prepare, prepare, prepare. After we felt that these two objectives had been achieved, we moved to manage, manage, manage. So it was with some shock that we received the new number of 66, many of whom are Kampalans. Going by the way our people wear their masks on the chin rather than over their mouths and noses, I am not sure we still have a handle on this problem.
Therefore my first point to the fellowship to was to emphasize the fact that Covid-19, was part of a family of corona viruses that have been with us for a while. Depending on how virulent the strain we had in these climes, our first need as businesses was going to be adequate healthcare for our employees. It was therefore incumbent upon businesses to provide for preventive and curative care for their core employees if they still had nay businesses at the end of this pandemic. In any case, as things stand, we will all probably end up catching some form of the disease. How good are our health care systems?
My second point was to do with the disruption we were all experiencing in our businesses. Social distancing had become the norm and lockdowns were probably going to become more common that we wished. Work therefore was no longer a place where you went but what you did from wherever you were. Therefore for us in developing countries, the digital divide only served to slow us down given our poor internet speeds. What businesses needed was to develop platforms on which they could access their records, serve their customers and manage all other inter company processes. ‘Platformization’ is the new norm. Cloud computing was the way to go and if these things did not make sense to your mom and pop business, you were indeed in real trouble.
The third point is business continuity planning and affordable refinancing. Many of our businesses have clearly consumed much of their working capital in the lockdown, or failed to service the bank debt they had acquired. Businesses therefore need to work with their financiers to reschedule or refinance this debt. My own take here is that a lot of rescheduling or restructuring, which is what is taking place, is only serving to kick the can down the road, as in some kind of officially sanctioned ponzi scheme. At what point will we attain breaking point? The alternative would have been some kind of debt forgiveness, but many disagree.
The fourth issue was networks. Businesses now need stronger and more trustworthy networks in order to do business. Long gone are the days when you walked to a travel agent, bought an air ticket and flew off to Dubai, Guangzhou or Istanbul. Either you have a robust supply chain or you are going to be stiffed. Business is about to go completely virtual and we can’t escape from that. All these four points seem to favour the large corporate businesses. How ready are we for the trust economy? The one where you see me but then you don’t? That is the next normal, and it is going to be based on trust.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka