Business maps out post-pandemic resilient future
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a harsh blow to businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean but the private sector has a vital role to play in helping people recover from the crisis and adapt to the new normality, said industry experts.
Implementing disaster risk reduction plans will be top of the list for many companies as they look to rebuild their customer bases, supply chains and distribution networks in the wake of the crisis, which has forced many to shed staff and others into bankruptcy.
"The pandemic will reconfigure the entire world and all sectors. It is clear that we will have to reinvent ourselves", Martha Herrera, president of the Mexican branch of The Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE), said in an interview.
"All sectors must be more forceful in evaluating the response", said Herrera, whose organisation is backed by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
While many of the region's biggest firms had invested in business contingency and disaster risk management plans to deal with events such as cyber-attacks, hurricanes or earthquakes, few were prepared to cope with a pandemic, said business experts.
In Costa Rica, the vast majority of companies had no pandemic plans in place and were ill-equipped for the massive impact of COVID-19, according to Elizabeth Venegas, environmental director at the country's Business Alliance for Development.
Despite the fact 90 percent of Costa Rica's companies are micro, small or mid-sized, many have managed to rapidly innovate to cope with the crisis while protecting the health and welfare of their employees, she said in an interview.
"This crisis has taught the private sector a new work paradigm, generating new challenges and opportunities in its businesses and its capacity for resilience", said Venegas. "It has taught us that those who do not adapt are left behind", added.
To support employees and reduce their chance of contracting the virus, some Dominican Republic firms have implemented new working hours to comply with curfews while others have turned shipping containers into sleeping quarters for key staff.
Businesses have also extended payment periods, cut commissions and reduced prices to help navigate the upheaval, said Anthony Batista, head of risk management and climate change at the National Business Support Network for Environmental Protection (EcoRed).
"Most have had to improvise, without much time for experimentation or reflection", said Batista in an interview. "Risk management systems must be strengthened in the private sector, giving greater priority to anthropogenic, natural and technological risks", he added.
Protecting operations against future pandemics, alongside more frequently recurring disasters such as landslides or floods, is now likely to top the agenda for many companies as they recover, said business experts.
In the Caribbean, where many businesses were forced to quickly diversify, the focus is increasingly on how firms can reduce the impact of similar events in the future, said Lizra Fabien, president of the Network of Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM).
"Before this, we had nothing to counter biological threats. Now we do, and it contributes to strengthening our practices", said Fabien, who is also executive director of the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecasts unemployment will hit almost 38 million in 2020 as a result of the crisis, with 30 million people sliding into poverty.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) highlights the crucial role played by the private sector when it comes to ensuring both businesses and investments are resilient.
"We rely on the consolidated development of private sector partnerships and networks", explained said Raul Salazar, head of UNDRR's Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean. "The region will make positive strides because we have the structure, the will and the prior knowledge", he added
Increased cooperation between sectors and countries will also help companies bounce back as quickly as possible, while establishing strategies to better protect their employees and operations against future disasters, said business experts.
"We will increase resilience to threats", said EcoRed's Batista. "As the dust settles, companies will focus on facing this type of crisis with greater efficiency and in the shortest amount of time possible".