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THE International MBA - InfoBytes
THE International MBA - InfoBytes
30 July 2020,

06 MAY 2020
We are living through unprecedented times

by Lyal White: Senior Director of the Johannesburg Business School (JBS), University of Johannesburg.

While experts have long predicted a pandemic of this nature, few anticipated the rate it would spread and the immediate impact it would have around the world. But it is the human response and, by extension, the systemic impact on our day-to-day lives, that has surprised us all.

Covid-19 is no Black Swan or an ‘unknown-unknown’. Rather, the pandemic is a ‘known-unknown’ or socioeconomic disruptor, the likes of which we have seen throughout history, even recently in the form of H1N1, Ebola and Zika. But it is the inertia of escalated concern and uncertainty at a time of our heightened fear-based agenda that is building into a truly Black Swan scenario in 2020.

At times like this, we are bombarded with opinions, a plethora of articles and information soundbites. An immediate response is to ‘lock-down’, to contain the virus. This is necessary, for now. But as the historian and best-selling author of Sapiens, Yoval Harari, insists:

“…While short-term quarantine is essential to stop epidemics, long-term isolation will lead to economic collapse without offering any real protection against infectious diseases. The real antidote to epidemic is not segregation, but rather cooperation.”

In the medium-to-long term, de-globalisation is not the answer.

The solution is far more simple and is available to us today, as we centralise society and build community - not in response to, but rather supported by technology, economic change and innovation. Drawing on Harari again:

“…The best defence humans have against pathogens is not isolation – it is information.”

Scientific analysis and real expert insights that inform information and are universally shared is key. We need to practice this at all levels, through inclusive localisation in our immediate community, nationally and globally.

Covid-19 has jolted us into action, to rethink how we do things and to evaluate how we live, work and prosper. All of us need to consider this as we lead our way through uncertainty and consider more deeply how we are doing things, and if we are measuring what truly counts. This is the great opportunity a crisis of this nature presents to us.

For now, some recent reliable information and numbers that have emerged, many of which are changing by the day:

  • The United States, Italy and Spain have surpassed China's number of infected persons.
  • According to Goldman Sachs, 80% of those who contract the virus will be early stage, equivalent of a cold. 5% will be critical. Mortality rates could be up to 2%, heavily weighted toward the elderly and those with a poor immune system.
  • Environmental resource economist, Marshall Burke says that just two months of reduction in pollution levels has likely saved the lives of 4,000 children under five and 73,000 adults over 70 in China alone.
  • The economic impact is now obvious and real. Global GDP growth could plummet to 1.5% - the lowest in 30 years.
  • The greatest damage will be the market reaction to the psychology around and managing of the virus and associated crisis.

In the South African context, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown has disrupted normal day-to-day life and halted ‘business as usual’.

Government’s decisive action with the implementation of the lockdown is a necessary response. Aggressive measures to “flatten the curve” have been put in place to mitigate the dangerous cocktail of rife inequality, spatial planning, high HIV/AIDS and TB prevalence rates, and already strained healthcare system in the country. In his address, President Ramaphosa stated:

“While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far greater.”

The lockdown presents an invaluable opportunity for us to reconnect with our family and think more deeply about the impact of our fixation with growth at all costs, and the environment. It also provides us with the opportunity to engage with new methods of conducting business that put ingenuity, innovation and flexibility at the forefront as we work purposefully towards the “post-Corona” period and new era of sustainable growth and development.

During these uncertain times, resilience will be key in keeping businesses afloat.

Digital technology has presented us with a unique opportunity to work differently, seek alternatives – not only in what we do, but how we do it, and, most importantly, to engage on fresh ideas and new approaches. Let us use this as a catalyst for creative change, to advance what we are doing and embrace new modes of learning, engagement, and working from online to virtual - with a personalised human touch.

As an immediate response, in the spirit of JBS agility and flexibility, we continue to operate and engage, mindful that the well-being of our people – the JBS community – is our priority. We are managing this period of uncertainty and personal upheavals through collective support and understanding.

The MBA and Exec Ed team will provide regular, detailed and specific information to the MBAs and JBS clients respectively.

Let us use this time in the best possible way.

Let us move from predicting an outcome and the future to creating our JBS future, for our broader community.


Johannesburg Business School
With a focus on developing leaders and managers for the future, and innovation with a purpose are at the core of the Johannesburg Business School's (JBS) understanding of Industry 4.0. Part of the University of Johannesburg's College of Business and Economics (CBE), JBS offers programmes that are expertly designed to equip and develop effective, ethical, impactful and enterprising African leaders and managers. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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