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An opportunity to reset

While the novel coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption, it has also provided momentum and opportunity to rethink and reconfigure for future resilience.

Guided by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I suggest there are 4 key areas private and public organisations, as well as individuals should consider carefully:

– Digitisation

– Climate change

– Ethical behaviour and combating corruption

– Diversity and inclusion

DIGITISATION

COVID-19 has resulted in increased e-commerce and a move to working-from-home arrangements for many industries. Prior to the pandemic, employers were generally reluctant to allow their people the latitude to work from home, but according to PwC’s Caribbean Digital Readiness Survey 2021, the shift to remote working caused by COVID-19 is here to stay. Over half of respondents expect at least a third of their employees to work from home more than one day a week a year from now.

Digital tools and processes are also transforming education, which had already taken great strides to utilise the Internet in the delivery of its programmes.

Shopping for all types of goods and services has seen a large upswing in trade using Internet and mobile phones, from routine kerb side pickups at supermarkets and food outlets to filing tax returns and obtaining a medical diagnosis. The delivery of public services, too, has the potential to undergo radical transformation for the benefit of us all.

As an accountant, it is noteworthy to mention that for taxpayers, the scope for online services from tax and legal authorities is enormous, for example registration, online payments and account management. The technological capabilities were there before COVID-19, just not utilised. With further thought and innovation, the possibilities of digitisation are enormous.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Like digital, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) has the potential to revamp how successful organisations plan, implement and operate.

As the world tries to recover from the crisis, it is not inconceivable that governments and businesses may prioritise recovery and growth at the expense of environmental considerations. To be fair, the world had started taking stock of environmental impacts for the past several decades, but the criticism remains that those efforts are not enough. According to the Harvard Business School, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is ensuring they include some kind of environment strategy in their operations that will not only reduce their carbon footprint, but initiate plans for a better environmental future.

To quote the world-renowned environmentalist, David Attenborough: “Many individuals are doing what they can. But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.”

Organisations need to place care for the environment high on their agendas in real and practicable terms, and this needs to be central to its accountabilities to its many stakeholders. Greater efforts are needed to broaden the scope of goal-setting behaviours of organisations as well as their reporting in a more balanced manner compared to the traditional financial-focused reporting, for example sustainability and integrated reporting.

As Pricewaterhous Coopers’ paper, ‘How ESG Will Drive the Next Wave of Transformation’ concludes: “The business landscape is littered with dead and dying businesses that tried to implement digital transformations without thinking through the implications, leading to lost value, disgruntled customers, and executives shown the door. We predict the same for those that don’t take a proactive and comprehensive approach to ESG transformation.”

The topics of ethical behaviour and combating corruption and diversity and inclusion will be covered in part II.

Wendell Ramoutar, ACCA international assembly representative for Trinidad and Tobago, partner, PwC Trinidad and Tobago and PwC Guyana.