How firms adapt during virus disaster to ensure they don’t die

Employees at a mask manufacturing company make face masks, 11 April 2020, in Johannesburg, to be used during the coronavirus pandemic. The business usually produces security company uniforms, but applied for a permit to manufacture masks to continue generating income during the lockdown. Picture: Michel Bega

For instance, two Cape Town-based textile manufacturing companies have teamed up to convert their factory to produce face masks for public use, while maintaining solvency and preserving jobs.

As the coronavirus disaster enters the critical stage where companies have to sink or swim, some are finding ways to keep their heads above water in the prevailing economic conditions.

Experts believe firms have to adapt or die – they can become innovative with their products, jump on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) bandwagon or join the battle against the virus and stay solvent in the process.

Global management consultancy Kearney, which studied trends since the start of the virus, believes it is resilience that will ultimately be a secret weapon in the fight against the negative impact of Covid-19 on their bottom lines and survival.

Many, like Uitenhage-based Volkswagen South Africa, are participating in efforts to flatten the curve. VWSA availed its under-utilised factory in the Eastern Cape to be converted into a temporary hospital to accommodate people infected by the coronavirus.

In addition to the protective cloth face masks produced by Volkwagen in partnership with local NGO Gusco, the firm is also planning to produce a local ventilator.

Other businesses had made material and financial donations towards assisting the communities impacted negatively by the virus.

Two Cape Town-based textile manufacturing companies had teamed up to convert their factory to produce face masks for public use as a contribution to the national coronavirus pandemic response, while maintaining solvency and preserving jobs.

Kearney’s managing director for Africa, Theo Sibiya, believed that the survival of many companies is going to depend on their capacity to build resilience in order to remain sustainable. These firms would be able to remain solvent during the Covid-19 and beyond.

“Businesses and its citizens are demonstrating that they are up to the challenge – displaying resilience, resourcefulness, dynamism, and social solidarity,” he said.

Another aspect of innovation is the 4IR into which both the private and public sectors have been plunged. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the private sector and government had been establishing electronic platforms that communicate complex epidemiological data in user-friendly and engaging ways.

Sibiya attributed the adaptation to digitalisation as a demonstration of remarkable foresight. For South Africa, this shift towards the 4IR lays bare the stark reality of the digital divide where society’s most vulnerable are at risk of being left behind.

Sibiya believed that this presented an opportunity for forward-thinking enterprises, including the government, to roll out new social development programmes that ensure every South African has access to telecommunications technology.

In response to the call by the department of trade, industry and competition to the industry to assist in the national ventilator project to produce 10,000 ventilators by June, VWSA and others have taken up the challenge.

A public-private partnership is under way to design a non-invasive ventilator solution that does not require electricity.

ericn@citizen.co.za

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