The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its latest 'Global Risks Report 2021' finds that Covid-19 has not only claimed millions of lives, but also risks widened long-standing health, economic and digital disparities.
The WEF, together with report collaborators professional services firms Marsh McLennan, SK Group and Zurich Insurance Group, say minorities who were disadvantaged before the pandemic could be at risk of missing pathways to the new and fairer societies that the recovery could unlock.
Globally, the acceleration of the digital transformation as a result of the pandemic promises large benefits, for example the creation of almost 100-million new jobs by 2025.
Simultaneously, however, digitalisation may displace some 85-million jobs, and since 60% of adults still lack basic digital skills, the risk is the deepening of existing inequalities.
It is also expected to expose businesses, and their customers, to significantly greater risks of cyberattacks.
Financial, digital and reputational pressures resulting from Covid-19 also threaten to leave behind many companies and their workforces in the markets of the future, creating potential disparities that could lead to societal fragmentation.
Commenting on the latest Global Risk’s key findings, Marsh Africa CEO Spiros Fatouros says that, when it comes to access to technology and digital skills, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” could widen.
“This has the potential to particularly affect young people. This is why it is imperative that South African businesses work towards ensuring that in accelerating their digital transformation programmes, they do not miss the opportunity for growth that comes with embracing sections of society who might not have access to the technology necessary to function in a digital first world.”
The WEF reports that the economic and societal fallout from Covid-19 will profoundly impact the way organisations interact with clients and colleagues long after any vaccine rollout.
As businesses transform their workplaces, new vulnerabilities are emerging, and rapid digitalisation is exponentially increasing supply chain disruption and cyber-exposures.
Cyber-risk (30%) and misuse of technology (29%) were identified in the report by senior business leaders as some of their biggest concerns – a water crisis (63%) was highlighted as the number one risk to doing business.
Fatouros believes every business will need to strengthen and constantly review their strategies if they are to improve their resilience to future shocks.
“In 2020, the risk of a global pandemic became reality, something this report has been highlighting since 2006. As governments, businesses and societies begin to emerge from the pandemic, they have an opportunity to shape new economic and social systems that improve our collective resilience and offer the capacity to reduce inequality, improve health and protect the planet,” he adds.
Moreover, Fatouros states that the pandemic has been a stress-test that shook the foundations of economies and societies worldwide.
Rebuilding resilience to systemic shocks will require significant funding, international cooperation and greater social cohesion.
“South Africa is well placed to achieve this if businesses are willing to adapt their approach. Resilience will also hinge on the continued growth in connectivity, as we know that businesses that digitised early performed better in 2020.”