Business Fights Poverty Global Summit 2020 was packed full of insights – with 70+ speakers across nearly 40 sessions and 5 themes – and free learning content from our event partner Pearson. It was great to be joined live by over 1,000 participants from all around the world. Our community also contributed 5 How-To Videos and 6 Seminars. So, it’s hard to pick out my favourite insights, but here goes. And if you missed any of the sessions, you can access the highlights here.
1 This crisis presents an opportunity to demonstrate and embed purpose into business
In the speed and breadth of their response to the pandemic, companies have revealed the depth of their purpose (or lack thereof). As we start to think about rebuilding better, there will be increasing demand from employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders for companies to more actively articulate and demonstrate their wider societal purpose beyond profits (recognising that firms with purpose also do better financially). This means, for example, tackling inequality, protecting human rights, supporting climate action, and across all of that being better at, and more transparent about, measuring impact.
A number of sessions explored this and suggested practical ways this can be done, such as Boards issuing “Statements of Purpose” committing to bringing a positive return for their communities and stakeholders not just shareholders; businesses becoming B Corps that embed social, environmental and ethical values; companies adhering to existing standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and all of us adopting new standardised frameworks for monitoring impact, such as those developed by the Global Reporting Initiative, the World Benchmarking Alliance and The Impact Project.
2 Business has a key role to play in helping the most vulnerable across their value chains survive and thrive
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing fragilities in global value chains – whether that is micro, small and medium enterprises without the cash flow reserves to endure the economic impact of lockdowns, or hourly workers without access to sick pay or social protection. Many companies, before COVID-19, had been working on tackling wage inequality within their workforces and strengthening the resilience of small-scale suppliers and distributors. COVID-19 has added a new level of urgency to these efforts.
Panelists and participants discussed these themes from a number of different angles, and shared advice on what needs to be done: companies going beyond legal requirements to provide benefits and decent work opportunities across their workforce or stepping up to support small businesses with cash support or improved payment terms; taking an ecosystem-level approach that brings together a variety of partners from government, business and civil society to tackle the root challenges; helping small businesses and workers make the transition to a more digitised economy; providing capacity support to strengthen the financial health of enterprises and individuals; and understanding the interconnectivity between livelihoods, nature and food systems.
3 Now is the moment to invest in building future skills and personal resilience
COVID-19 has been hugely disruptive to the world of work and learning, accelerating existing trends such as automation and new technology. 100s of millions of jobs are at risk, and for many more physical distancing restrictions have imposed new ways of working. All of this points to an urgent need for upskilling and reskilling workers – both with technical skills, but especially the soft skills that are increasingly demanded by employers.
Our panellists gave examples of new digital learning platforms, including UK Learns, a new platform from Pearson, our conference partner. Reflecting the fact that it was World Youth Skills Day, we also focused on the interventions needed to help young people. A key theme in the conversation was the shift to tailored learning and self-learning, where an individual can shape their own unique learning experience to reflect the constantly changing employment environment. The topics of building resilience and purpose also came out strongly in our daily coaching sessions.
4 Rebuilding better must involve action on equity
The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact by gender, race and income level. Women have been more exposed to infection, making up the majority of front-line health workers, are in the most vulnerable positions in workforces and value chains, have faced a surge in domestic violence, take on the burden of unpaid care and have been under-represented in decision making. In many respects, this reflects and has exacerbated deeper issues around gender inequality. At the same time, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have all recently highlighted the urgent need for action against racism.
Through several sessions we explored these issues and practical actions. One of our panels focused on the fact that the digital economy represents a significant opportunity for women’s economic empowerment in the form of completely new jobs that are being created, the sector’s potential for growth, and its characteristic of relying on individual entrepreneurs. Another panel argued that embedding the empowerment of women into business strategies is one of the most effective catalysts for economic growth. In another session, we deep-dived into the need for companies to tackle the lack of racial diversity at the level of the Board and senior positions across their operations, and also the need to address the ethnicity pay gap, and more generally to listen to the concerns of black, asian and other ethnic minority groups in their workforce, customer base and beyond.
5 To drive the system-level change needed, we need system-level partnerships
COVID-19 has highlighted how truly interconnected we are and that, with a clear focus, we can come together at scale and with speed to make a difference. The system-level challenges we face – from inequality to climate change – mean that we need to rethink how we partner: shifting from traditional transactional style partnerships to ones that bring together multiple partners – across a company’s value chain, among peer companies, with government and civil society – to drive transformational change.
We looked at this from two angles: from a country perspective and from a sector perspective. On the former, the National Business Compact on Coronavirus – a multi-stakeholder coalition in Kenya – shared their insights. A central theme was how harnessing young people and digital tools offers a powerful and untapped way to tackle major social and environmental challenges.
On the latter, we heard from representatives from the mining and agriculture sectors. In both cases, companies have stepped up to support their host communities. Critically, building on existing trust-based relationships between companies and stakeholders has proved essential to assist the most vulnerable during the current crisis and avoid the impacts being even deeper. One thing is very clear: companies’ strategies for rebuilding better must focus on cross-sector approaches and the integration of health, food and other systems to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable.
This is just flavour of our discussion. In case you missed any of the sessions, a wide range of content is available for free on the event website. You can also access the videos of all the webinars and the summary reports with a Digital Pass.
This is part of an ongoing conversation that started with our initial Business and COVID-19 Response, and which we will return to over the coming weeks and months. I look forward to connecting and collaborating with you as part of our collective effort to rebuild better.