Excerpts of issues raised and discussed by CAFOR’s Executive Director, Dr Lawalley Cole, at the recent Youth Summit held on September 3rd 2020 and Organized by the African Youth for Development Commission (AYDEC) based in Abuja, Nigeria.
The Coronavirus and the current World Order
The Coronavirus is bringing the world to a standstill. COVID-19 – an invisible microscopic virus, has succeeded in undoing many of humanity’s outstanding achievements and systems in this short space of time. Although it is happening now in peacetime, it all looks like we are already in a third world war as we witness significant disruptions around the globe. Practically all local and international meetings are under suspense worldwide, and many nations have declared a state of emergency. The world seems to be going through some transformation that may result in the new world order. We already see the tragic human consequences of this pandemic with several hundreds of people dying daily from different corners of the planet.
This virus has stood everything on its head as we witness it bringing the vast global economy mechanism to a scraping pause. Millions of aircraft, ships, trains, buses, and other transportations are forced to remain in parking spaces. The virus also has closed offices, schools, factories, stock-markets, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, bars, clubs, beaches.
It has chased away farm workers leaving what could become profitable farming produce unharvested. The virus has separated families and overwhelmed social life. We can no longer celebrate weddings, funerals and other social events in the usual way, and individuals subject themselves to some house arrest.
Many people can no longer work in their everyday workplaces, unless if they happen to be in the essential services category or work in the informal sector, thus taking away one of the central planks of what we consider everyday life. It has left some of the world’s most massive armies, navies and air forces, with their grim stockpiles of dangerous weapons including nuclear bombs – all designed to annihilate people – helpless against this invisible enemy.
It has left the rich as isolated and fearful as the poor. It has stripped away all the accoutrements of wealth, status, privilege that so many have worked so assiduously to accumulate. It makes no distinction between the highly qualified and the ignorant, the religious and the non-believer. It has, in many cases, reduced us to our basic humanity and made us look at ourselves exposed in the mirror. It has forced us to ask the question, what kind of a person are we? Religious people will tell us that this is the precursor of the great Day of Judgement where only our deeds will determine our destiny.
How COVID-19 will change the world
However, despite all the suffering and loss, COVID-19 has also had a few positive outcomes. The virus has enabled the clearing away of choking pollution in big cities around the world. In some places, citizens can, for the first time, see hitherto fogged landscapes that were always immersed in blankets of smoke and dust. Also, some people could, for the first time in their lives, listen to the chirping and singing of birds in the natural environment with little or no traffic and hushed industrial silence.
We now understand that life could continue without us running from pillar to post. We do not need to get together in bars or restaurants to feel connected. We are learning to share with others as we realize that at the end of the day, what matters most is that we all have one life and one world, and neither is everlasting.
We have also realized how futile wars, hatred, dogma, and ideology can be. We came down to earth when this diminutive virus just rendered inactive our mighty war engines and made us look weak and vulnerable. Furthermore, for the first time in a very long time, we are learning how to recognize and respect this new brand of heroes who are risking their lives to try to save others in hospitals and clinics; a hitherto neglected army, poorly paid and easily disregarded. We are referring to all categories of our healthcare workers which include our doctors, nurses, midwives, home caregivers and even mothers who look after their sick children and many other unpaid carers.
Countries across Africa continue to strive since March this year to limit widespread infections: identifying, isolating, and treating patients; restricting movement, heightening surveillance, and stepping up health precautions. This invisible virus has raised health concerns and the risk of broader restrictions on the movement of people, goods, and services. We are also witnessing falls in business and consumer confidence and slowing production.
How has Africa fared with the virus?
Compared to other continents, the number of cases in Africa is not as high yet. However, the numbers keep rising, and as of September 2, 2020, we report 1,260, 594 coronavirus cases in Africa affecting all the 55 member nations of the African Union. Globally there are now 25,992,190 COVID-19 cases with 862,773 deaths. Five countries in Africa have reported the most cases. These are South Africa (628,259), Egypt (99,115), Morocco (63,781), Nigeria (54,247) and Ethiopia (53,304). The African continent records thirty thousand and eighty deaths to date. The five countries reporting the most deaths are South Africa (14,263), Egypt (5,440), Algeria (1,518), Morocco (1,184) and Nigeria (1,023). According to the latest data from WHO, the breakdown remains fluid as countries confirm cases as and when. We know that the whole of Africa has rising experiences with a sizeable number of states holding out.
This pandemic has accelerated a shift to new ways of working, prompting institutions, organizations and companies to reexamine how, where and by whom work gets done. This shift was already underway with the technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As companies realize the new world of work that would emerge from this pandemic, they would also realize the benefit of this approach that values talent as a critical asset that contributes to an organization’s sustained value creation. This transformation calls for the development of a new human capital accounting framework. Such a structure should enable a business to track how investment in people can enhance the organization’s human capital and support the delivery of better outcomes for the enterprise, the workforce, and the wider community.
The sale of raw materials still drives many African countries economies. These countries face a threat, due to their weaker exports’ returns linked to a stronger US dollar since most investors would be seeking a haven for their money, as commodity prices rise when the global economy slows down. Commodity exporters will, therefore, become incredibly vulnerable. As the virus spreads widely in Africa, no one knows how vital the economic damage caused by this pandemic would be. Sales are falling dramatically, and African exporters fear the consequences of this COVID-19 outbreak. With practically all borders in Africa having been closed with many reopening now, we would expect a severe curtailment of all movements of goods and peoples with grave ramifications for economies that are already in serious turmoil. Also, measures taken to contain the virus’s spread, such as travel restrictions, business closures, quarantines, are already severely affecting people’s incomes.
The effects of the pandemic on the global workforce
The global workforce has suffered the most from this pandemic. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 93% of the world’s workers were living in countries with workplace closure measures in place in June 2020. Although restrictions are easing, we have seen severe disruptions in production. Besides, the sharp economic downturns that have resulted from the crisis have dealt a severe blow to incomes and jobs. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that over 95% of countries will see per capita incomes fall in 2020. The ILO also estimates that hours worked globally declined by 14% in the second quarter of 2020 when compared with the final quarter of 2019. This decline is equivalent to a loss of 400 million full-time jobs.
While the COVID-19 pandemic did not spare any sector, some have suffered harder than others. In retail, the crisis has precipitated a massive shift to online shopping and triggered mass layoffs and bankruptcies. Due to an 80% drop in airline passenger traffic, commercial airlines embarked on various stratagems to address the crisis. Here we have seen reduced working hours, unpaid leave, pay cuts, and temporary and permanent layoffs as well as freezes on new hiring. The aerospace sector also took similar measures. We also see a dramatic decrease in earnings for the tourism and hospitality sector. In April, the industry lost more than $500 million in revenues and 12,000 jobs per day, on average.
We also see a mixed impact on the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. Elective surgeries are on hold, and while revenues in hospitals fall as costs rise, medical device manufacturers experience a declining demand for their products used in non-essential medical procedures.
This pandemic is a defining moment for leaders as they reset the workforce, restore stability, and strive to achieve growth sustainably to benefit all stakeholders. Although the crisis has had a highly disruptive effect on people and work, it also presents an opportunity to take enterprising measures to shape a workforce that is ready to deliver value to the country, organization, economy and society at large, as it journeys through the new realities.
Science and technology as essential attributes for COVID-19 and its aftermath
Science and technology are crucial at this stage of our development. The technology sector alone may somewhat be in a better position to meet the challenges of COVID-19. It already has well-established policies for remote working and the rising demand for digital collaboration tools and technology to support remote working. Before the pandemic, technology was already disrupting the world of work, redefining how, where and who does the job. The cost pressures, changing business models, and workforce disruptions of the COVID-19 crisis have accelerated many trends associated with the future of work.
With the constraints of today’s business environment in mind, organizations can unlock innovative ways of reimagining work and build more sustainable business models. Nevertheless, cost-effective, and sustainable work redesign requires practical human capital accounting to provide measures for valuing all talent, including contingent workers, as an asset.
Supporting employee health and well-being has been a leading concern for many companies during the pandemic. Such support from the employer in the form of outreach from managers and communication regarding an organization’s health and well-being efforts can serve as a buffer against anxiety. As companies recalibrate to the new reality, a focus on balancing company and employee well-being – encompassing financial, social, physical and emotional aspects – builds a pathway to generate sustained value for the business and workforce and support more human-centric outcomes in the world of work. Companies recognize the need to focus on employee well-being, but such efforts would be given a firmer foundation by better human capital accounting that demonstrates their tangible value.
In the face of a growing plurality of ways to get work done (e.g. contingent work, artificial intelligence, process automation, robotics, outsourcing, alliances), the traditional notion of work being performed primarily by employees in jobs is rapidly giving way to a broader focus on work and skills. This approach, combined with technology, can make for a more human-centric enterprise in which people focus on higher-value, non-routine work. However, there is a need for metrics that effectively measure the plurality of work options on a level playing field. Differentiated accounting practices and isolated metrics need to be replaced by more integrated, holistic measures.
The result of investing in the workforce to achieve business results often appears in the mid to long term. Therefore, a longer-term view will inform human capital policies such as building versus buying talent; investing in employee upskilling and reskilling; and reinventing jobs based on technology augmentation and alternate ways of working. Approaching business strategies and associated investments from a multiyear or generational (i.e. 15-year) perspective will likely require different metrics and bases for assessing performance, including new metrics for valuing human capital as set out in this paper.
Operationalizing a principled approach to workforce management requires organizations to think about human capital measurement in a way that goes beyond current mindsets and practices. Companies are accustomed to selecting among metrics to understand the value of their people. This approach is healthy, but it is only a start.
Embracing creativity in Africa’s post COVID-19
There is an adage that tells us that necessity is the mother of invention, some say creation. We see the need for a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values in action now more than ever before. We must, therefore, embrace creativity in Africa. COVID-19 is telling us that the time has now come for us as Africans to engage in developmental activities engineered by ourselves to ensure the continent takes its rightful place in the world. We must do the things that we ought to do ourselves.
Schools around the world, including many in African states, are currently preparing and providing online instruction. However, we must contend that even the best and most well-intentioned efforts would mean that students suffer. In Africa, technology is at a low level of development, and students from low-income families and rural students are unlikely to have access to the technology necessary for online learning. We risk having most of the poverty-stricken, marginalized and refugee children in Africa left alone and in environments that are not at all ideal for education. This scenario will have profound implications for job security during post-COVID-19.
Besides, the technological deficiencies in Africa would suggest that not only that students generally learn less in online environments, compared with in person, but that disadvantaged students learn the least. This phenomenon is real even when online teachers have experience and training with online teaching. Under the current emergency, most teachers in Africa would not have any experience at all with this online approach. It can be a challenging situation for everyone, but it is most likely to harm low-income and rural students. To compound this, we also risk having a massive dropout of students from the schools’ system in Africa, with severe consequences from the resulting deficiency that would ensue in the shortage of the human capital that we have strived to build over the past sixty years in the continent. Therefore, African governments and their citizens must take extraordinary measures in the provision of the necessary resources to support new and innovative initiatives to ensure that learning continues and that we do not lose the momentum.
Post-COVID-19 Africa must create jobs through technology, invention, and innovations. Students will necessarily have to apply their knowledge in unknown and evolving circumstances to ensure job security on the continent. They will, therefore, need a wide range of skills that would include cognitive and meta-cognitive skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking, learning to learn and self-regulation. Besides, social, and emotional skills (e.g. empathy, self-efficacy and collaboration); and practical and physical skills (e.g. using new information and communication technology devices) will be of immense value.
The use of this broader range of knowledge and skills will be mediated by attitudes and values (e.g. motivation, trust, respect for diversity and virtue). The attitudes and values can be observed at personal, local, societal, and global levels.
The new competencies we acquire in Africa must transform our society and shape our future.
Suppose students are to play an active part in all dimensions of life. In that case, they will need to navigate through uncertainty, across a wide variety of contexts: in time (past, present, future), in social space (family, community, region, nation and the world) and digital space. They will also need to engage with the natural world, to appreciate its fragility, complexity, and value.
We must, therefore, address adequately the growing need for young people to be innovative, responsible, and aware.
New sources of growth are urgently needed to achieve more robust, more inclusive, and more sustainable development. Innovation can offer sound solutions, at affordable cost, to economic, social, and cultural dilemmas. Innovative economies are more productive, more resilient, more adaptable, and better able to support higher living standards.
Following the COVID-19 experiences, African people should be able to think creatively, develop new products and services. In this respect, Africans would be in right positions to create new jobs, new processes and methods, new ways of thinking and living, new enterprises, new sectors, new business models and new social models. Increasingly, innovation springs not from individuals thinking and working alone, but through cooperation and collaboration with others around the world to draw on existing knowledge to create a new experience. Africans have experienced slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and now COVID-19. They should therefore be in a better position to understand that the constructs that underpin the competency we are talking about here include adaptability, creativity, curiosity, and open-mindedness.
Reconciling tensions and dilemmas
In a world characterized by inequities, the imperative to reconcile diverse perspectives and interests, in local settings with sometimes global implications, will require young Africans to become adept at handling tensions, dilemmas and trade-offs, for example, balancing equity with freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, and efficiency and the democratic process. Striking a balance between competing demands will rarely lead to an either/or choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that avoids premature conclusions and recognize interconnections. In a world of interdependency and conflict, people will successfully secure their well-being and that of their families and their communities only by developing the capacity to understand the needs and desires of others.
To be prepared for the future, individuals must learn to think and act in a more integrated way, considering the interconnections and interrelations between contradictory or incompatible ideas, logics, and positions, from both short- and long-term perspectives. In other words, they must learn to be systems thinkers.
Finally, we must take responsibility now and stop blaming others for our ills and misfortunes.
When we deal with novelty, change, diversity, and ambiguity assume that individuals can think for themselves and work with others. Equally, creativity and problem solving require the capacity to consider the future consequences of one’s actions, to evaluate risk and reward, and to accept accountability for the products of one’s work. The issue of ethics comes here, and this implies asking questions related to norms, values, meanings, and limits, such as: What should we do? Was it right to do that? Where are the limits? Knowing the consequences of what we did, should we have done it? Central to this competency is the concept of self-regulation, which involves self-control, self-efficacy, responsibility, problem solving and adaptability. Youth now becomes a time not just of vulnerability but of opportunity for developing a sense of responsibility.