KIZITO OKECHUKWU | JANUARY 1, 2021
As we enter the second wave of the pandemic, even the great prophets, sangomas and crystal ball predictors could not foresee or decipher the life changing conundrums of the past year.
For some, the harsh reality is only kicking in now, in terms of emotional loss, income loss and the loss of family members, be it through death, divorce or some other kind of heart-breaking episode. For others, their reality came much sooner, with lay-offs, business closures and bankruptcies, while for many, it’s a tedious day by day “wait and see” approach to discover what our unpredictable future holds.
In this grim and dim light, we are forced to reflect on what sort of future we want for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our country. So we must decide what kind of societal legacy do we want to create and leave behind? Most will agree that it’s one with simple, yet life-enhancing ingredients, such as employment opportunities, equality for all, good education, reliable, trustworthy and benevolent leadership and economic prosperity. A world where all live together in harmony with the focus less on conflict and more on improving the lives of every citizen.
In 2021, this is what to expect and how we could do better:
1. With the new US President soon to sworn in, taking the mantle as leader of the free world, we can expect to see more policy stability among nations and a good sense of direction, with increased collegiality and collaboration. Yet the President-elect has a mammoth task ahead to undo some globally- alienating policies of the outgoing administration. The US-China trade war has little chance of changing, yet expect more diplomatic engagement. Also expect Africa-US trade relations to increase.
2. More pandemic uncertainty: In Biden’s own words, “the darkest days are not behind us, they lie ahead”, a sentiment strongly echoed by Dr Anthony Fauci. So, expect more pandemic uncertainty, with less, late or no vaccines reaching the underdeveloped parts of the world, causing infection surges due to the new variant, more uncertainty, more name-calling and blame games. We can however, expect more affordable vaccines to be rolled out, including more testing capacities and capabilities. Yet it’s all about reaching all people, in all parts of the world. It is likely that majority of the world’s population will still not be vaccinated by end of the year.
3. More remote working: Many businesses’ employees will continue to work remotely due to the surges and the new pandemic variant. Yet this can be a double-edged sword, as for some it can lead to less human interaction, lowering productivity levels and causing lack of job enrichment and an imbalanced work/life environment – which could cause job losses. On the other hand, more remote working for some actually increases productivity.
4. Reality check for businesses: Most businesses of all sizes have, or are beginning to feel, the severe pinch of the pandemic and its new variant, causing harsher lockdowns globally. Expect tough decisions to be made in the near future, such as more retrenchments and closures. This dramatically affects many low-tier workers and could even cause more social unrest from the youth populace in many countries, which are demanding that governments do more to empower them.
5. Cybersecurity threats: The recent cyber hack on various US state departments (which use the most secure systems in the world) is overwhelming scary, proving nothing is as safe as we think. On a lesser scale, and with remote working on the rise, fraudsters are easily taking advantage of the vulnerable cyberspace in which we all work, live and play. Financially-based companies could also now expect to pay more for cyber security.
6. Gig Economy: By now, we’re probably all familiar with the term gig economy – coined by musicians many years ago to describe a once-off show. But now it’s a total economy unto its own, involving millions of people in various industries across the world, doing on-demand work, such as Uber drivers and food delivery services. Yet many of these gig workers are feeling the impact of the pandemic, seeing their rates being cut or determined by unreliable algorithms, particularly by the big-name drive/delivery industry players. However, we can also expect an increase in gig work as many sectors would rather employ a gig worker on an ad hoc basis, than a full time worker, in order to cut costs.
7. Innovation: This is the ideal time to invest in innovation. Expect to see a rise in disruptive startups and companies investing more to ensure that they are at the forefront of great ideation. AI-driven solutions will also help businesses increase productivity and the adoption of new technologies will allow tech companies to collect even more data on businesses and individuals.
In closing, it’s truly been a year of total turmoil, adversely affecting nearly everyone, everywhere. Let’s give thanks that we’ve made it this far, and pray for those that lost their lives, loved ones and livelihoods. Here’s hoping we can expect that 2021 should be a year in which we do better, care better, think better and collaborate better.
Kizito Okechukwu is the Executive Head of 22 on Sloane and Co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa.
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