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How to future proof your business for survival

The dawn of new year ushers renewed hope for citizens across the world notwithstanding the challenges presented by the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. 

Added to this, rising inequalities, a deepening climate crisis, a growing trust deficit in key institutions, to name a few, you know this is not an ordinary time to be alive. 

On top of all the social, economic, and environmental issues that businesses have encountered, Kenya is also fast approaching the national elections.  

For a country still maturing in its democracy, the election season is often unpredictable and polarizing.

During this season, investors have a propensity to take a wait-and-see strategy, owing to the uncertainty of transitioning to a new administration as well as the risk of political instability and unrest after contested elections. 

Often, business leaders and entrepreneurs are pushed to survival mode, putting more emphasis on self-interest than humanity.

Yet this natural response towards self-preservation is in direct conflict with the long-term interests of the business as an important member of society.  As the adage goes, a business cannot thrive in a society that is failing. 

So, what does this mean for business today? And more importantly, how can business future proof to be greatly equipped for what comes next? 

Regardless of the political outcome in August, companies will need to learn how to navigate an increasingly complex and demanding operating environment.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unveiled in 2015 remains the world’s best business plan to steady the ship and set us back on the path of prosperity. 

What is evident is that business as usual is no longer a viable paradigm for today’s society.

Traditional business models do not have what it takes to meet the needs of the millions of Kenyan citizens who face the challenges presented daily by societal issues such as increased poverty, widening inequality and limited access to education. 

Yet, there is demand from the public, civil society, and government for business to contribute to a transformative and resilient future. 

As a start to future-proofing business, responsible firms are called to uphold key values covering the respect of human and labour rights, protection of the environment and working to counter corruption which remains central to the sustainability of business, people, and planet.    

Secondly, instead of playing defense, companies must go on the offense by turning risks into opportunities through a business model shift. Through the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact, participating companies are supported and encouraged to take effective measures necessary to address risks that undermine business purpose. 

Thirdly, leadership commitment and engagement from the board and executive teams will be essential to promote accountability and support businesses to become risk resilient and risk ready. 

In Kenya, it is estimated by the International Labour Organization that about 83% of the workforce is employed in the informal economy which is characterised by non-compliance of labour laws including wage violations. 

Modern-day crises have demonstrated the need to create, reinvest and upskill talents for the labour market. According to a study by McKinsey, companies that regularly reallocate staff to high-value initiatives are more than twice as likely to exceed their peers on overall returns to shareholders. 

Lastly, businesses with the potential to succeed are those that are already exploring innovative new strategies and solutions that meet the “new normal”.

The time has come to start making bold investments that push the boundaries of what is feasible and cut through bureaucracy to drive the breakthrough innovation required to create solutions that eliminate the trade-off between profitability and sustainability. 

Now is the time for the private sector to come out strongly to disrupt the old ways of doing business, identify new solutions and solve our greatest challenges to build more resilient and sustainable systems for the future. 

The writer is Executive Director, Global Compact Network Kenya. [email protected] 

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