Imaging the Corporate Sector in a Post Covid-19 Era

Boss Mustapha

Davina Nnawuihe ponders the struggle for survival by the corporate sector, post Covid-19

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its 2019 report on Poverty and Inequality reveals that an estimated 40.1 per cent of people in Nigeria live below the poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) a year. This simply means that more than 82.9 million Nigerians are poor by national standard.

In view of the impact of Coronavirus pandemic on the Nigerian economy, the World Poverty Clock reports a 9.9 per cent increase in the number presented in the NBS 2019 report. Ultimately, this means that we have more than 100 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty as at March 2020.

Before Nigeria had its first case of Coronavirus, we were aware of the impending disaster this could pose as we watched leaders across the world grapple with efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

In an April 10 interview with Cable News Network, American philanthropist, Melinda Gates expressed deep concerns over the huge damage the pandemic could cause to most African countries considering the volatile health care system, staggering economy and a high poverty rate. Nigeria fit well into this profile and while hopeful, we stood no chance long before the first case was recorded.

In what could be called a first-of-its-kind mass mobilisation, prominent Nigerians, philanthropists, and corporate organizations joined the fight against the Covid-19 scourge in the country through several donations.

Within a month, the sum of N27bn was raised under the auspices of the Coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID) spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Access Bank, Aliko Dangote Foundation with support from organizations like MTN, GTBank among others. There were also donations of medical supplies, Personal Protective Gear (PPE), ventilators and safety materials to increase support.

The Federal Government’s latest guidelines around COVID-19, announced that effective June 1, 2020, nationwide curfew will remain in place from 10pm to 4am, the financial sector is to open fully, places of worship will observe restricted opening based on state government protocols, interstate travels remains prohibited while the aviation industry will start developing procedure for domestic flights to resume tentatively from June 21, 2020.

While the efforts are commendable, the number of infected persons are steadily on the increase and has exceeded the 10,000 mark with 10,819 confirmed cases and 314 deaths as at June 2, 2020. It begs the question – what has been done exactly and what can be done?

This is a wakeup call to private organizations to implement strategies that will guide its messaging and support to customers’ during this unforeseen period as this will determine how customers interact with organisations in a post-Covid era. Two companies that clearly understood this common rule is GTBank and MTN Nigeria, their proactive COVID-19 response strategy is something that corporate organisations should study closely.

The GTB model was quite simple, they outlined possible solutions that were practical and efficient given the nature of the problem Nigeria faced. They opted for a direct approach, that is, channeling funds into setting up a 100-bed Intensive Care Centre at Onikan for Covid-19 patients before handing it over to the government.
On the other hand, MTN Nigeria adopted a phased approach which involved the implementation of a work from home policy for all staff before the lockdown was announced and birthed the Y’ello Hope Initiative – tailored to cater to both the government and communities during the pandemic, distinctively communicating a single message to Nigerians – ‘Keep the Hope Alive, we are here for you’.

Probing further into the elements that constitute the initiative, one will discover that they supported key health organisations such as the NCDC, created a six-month package for the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) which covers all 36 states and FCT, a three-month package was developed for the Lagos State Government since the state currently holds the highest number of confirmed cases while enabling free access to reputable health platforms as well as educational websites for students who are out out-of-school.

This approach shows that a pandemic is not an isolated incident and should be managed similar to the organisational crisis management approach. The pace at which the virus spreads requires a model that addresses the business’ concerns, employees and its relationship with critical stakeholders.

A country like Nigeria which lacks institutional safeguards with embedded transparency and accountability mechanisms, the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) vortex should clearly show that the corporate reputation of most private organizations is at stake.

To effectively prevent this, companies should realize that corporate responsibility does not stop at making publicized donations but showing a clear adoption of the Corporate Social Investment principles which ties such donations to specific projects that can be measured. These efforts will reflect the organisation’s accountability to stakeholders.

Corporate organizations should also see the pandemic as an opportunity to study consumer behavior and reaction in a seemingly unending crisis to create an effective proactive response strategy while studying the models employed by counterparts across the world. After all, COVID-19 is a learning curve for everyone.
Nnawuihe wrote from Ikeja, Lagos