SUSTAINING A VIABLE FUTURE FOR ALL
It is with a sense of pride and honor that I welcome each one of you to this the 196th Annual General Meeting Luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
On behalf of the Executive, Council and Secretariat of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) I express my sincere appreciation for your support in being here in person or online today. My gratitude is not only for participation today but for your support of the BCCI over the last year in particular.
As you would well appreciate, 2021 proved to be quite a challenge for businesses in Barbados. Businesses had to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, ash fall from the eruption of La Soufriere volcano, in addition to a direct impact from the Category 1 Hurricane Elsa. The Chamber itself had to adjust for its own sustainability.
2022 has not brought the relief were all hoping for as the issues related to shipping cost and new strains of Covid-19, continued to plague us and then to make matters worse we had the outbreak of war in Ukraine that has further compounded the inflationary situation.
So how do we develop and sustain a viable future for all?
Businesses can and should play a major role in contributing to the economic, environmental and social progress of wherever they are domiciled to achieve sustainable human development.
I firmly believe that the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the targets for 2030 should feature in the discourse, strategies and plans among private sector as it does with Government and various civil society actors.
All businesses regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure should fully understand and embrace their social responsibility to contribute to the sustainable development of the people and communities that support their businesses.
We are at a most crucial crossroad in the future of our country. We face an environment of significant challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain challenges, climate change and inflation, we must ask ourselves what more can businesses do to buffer the fall out for the most vulnerable? Added to the exogenous circumstances we also face wage restraint and skepticism of businesses. How can we support and partner with Government to ensure we all get through this period being a stronger and more resilient country, ensuring a viable future for all?
When I speak of being stronger and more resilient, this is not simply about economic growth. Rather this is about a society that is better able to safeguard the livelihoods of those who are most at risk and vulnerable because of their social and economic circumstances.
It would come as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the multiple economic shocks being faced by countries across the globe have been a tipping point for many individuals and families who were hovering just above the poverty line. This means that more and more poor families are forced to live with little or no means to adequately provide for their basic needs.
Beyond this core need to help the most vulnerable in our society, acting responsibly is regarded by many as the best way for a business to gain and retain a positive social identity. Other benefits include business opportunities, such as: an enhanced reputation and trust; helping to attract and retain the best staff; strengthened business relationships; access to new markets and suppliers; access to capital; and the potential to develop new and innovative products and services. A recent study found that 77% of consumers prefer to purchase from companies committed to improving their society, while investors agree that a company’s efforts to help improve society and the environment contribute positively to shareholders’ return on investments and influence their investment decisions.
Harvard Business School Professor Rebecca Henderson is quoted way back in 2019 as saying “The world badly needs a more sustainable form of capitalism if we’re going to build a more inclusive, prosperous society.”
The time has come where our business strategy in this small society can no longer be driven primarily by profit.
We need to develop or support programs where none of our children are at school hungry
We need to ensure that genuine cases of need can get sustained help.
We need to work with government to ensure that a basket of basic food items is affordable to all.
We need to commit to public-private sector partnerships in the provision of social support. We need to support entrepreneurship development in a meaningful way. We need to create job/training opportunities to get our at-risk youth off the block
We also need to form Strategic Partnerships with Nonprofit Organizations who are delivering impactful programmes in our communities.
Unfortunately, we all know of societies where there is a clear divide between the have and the have-nots and where the old adage of being our brother’s keeper has no currency we also know that this often happens where there is little or no social conscience.
This is the time for a call to action, inflation is upon us as the world suffers because of the prolonged conflict between Russia and Ukraine, high freight rates, high fuel cost, product shortages and unpredictable weather have compounded to create this “Confluence of Calamities”. With positive social impact values informing our decision-making and strategy, we can and will feel empowered to make a difference.
Continuing it’s fight back from the loss of 14% of GDP, the Government is now faced with the challenge of adjusting public sector wages and salaries. No doubt labor representatives for both the private and public sectors feel justified in their appeals for salary adjustments based upon the current inflation rates. But does this truly address the crisis we face? I suggest we must now exhibit a level of collaboration for sustainability we have never envisioned. It will require temporary systemic change, and this level of change requires collaboration among all stakeholders.
Now I know some of my members may not be aligned with my message expressed here but my desire is that the sentiments of this message will resonate in Board rooms around this island, and business will come forward to support this call, we must protect this society. I fully support the capitalist model and free enterprise. But if we fail to take appropriate collective action now, then what is the alternative. Social degradation. Working toward positive social change can mutually benefit businesses and the communities we all love and live in.
A more socially focused, purpose-driven approach to business in Barbados at this time in our history, can help create a more just and sustainable future for all.
I therefor appeal to the consciousness of our business community to let us come together, to partner with Government to sustain the human development of our people and hence create a viable future for all.