Ghazal Mir Zulfiqar
Homebased Workers and the Pandemic: The current pandemic has caused massive and sudden disruptions in economic activity. The informal economy, which is estimated to employ nearly 80 percent of our non-farm labour, is deeply affected as street vendors, casual labourers, domestic workers, rag pickers, and homebased workers are cut off from their work. Being informally employed means that wages are unstable and depend entirely on the amount of work or materials produced. Working at the bottom of the pyramid also means that such workers have little to no savings or investments to tide them over during such an unprecedented economic downturn.
As supply chains are disrupted, scores of women homebased workers across Pakistan’s urban centres working in the textile sector, are no longer able to receive their materials or piece rate wages through the middlemen that bring work to and from factories and/or wholesalers to them. These women, produce garments for wholesale and exports, crotchet prayer caps, hand produce zardozi and other forms of embroidery, and weave and dye. Despite the fact that homebased workers report working up to 15 hours a day they are not considered workers in the conventional sense, which means compensation for lost wages is harder to justify for them than for workers in other service or manufacturing jobs. The Home Based Worker Act has been approved in both the Sindh and Punjab assemblies but have not made it through the Parliament, which means the fate of these workers continues to hang in the balance. At a time like this, when the government is attempting to compensate the suddenly unemployed, not being awarded a formal worker status is especially devastating. This can be addressed if the demands of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) are taken seriously by the state. HBWWF’s General Secretary, Zehra Khan calls for the universalisation of social security schemes, job and wage security for homebased workers, cancellation of foreign debt, and using the funds saved on the wellbeing of workers, and an increase in the budgets for health and education.
Dr. Ghazal Zulfiqar is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Director of the PhD Program at the Suleman Dawood School of Business (SDSB) at LUMS. Her research interests include the informal economy, financialisation, and the political economy of marginalisation.
Shezeen Salim Hemani
Almost a month into the pandemic and the discourse has shifted from how businesses will be impacted to not only how they have already been affected, but also how they have responded to this global crisis. The role of leadership is arguably most critical in devising and implementing a response strategy in times of crises like these.
Monis Rahman, CEO of Rozee.pk, advocates leading with wisdom and a positive attitude. He is of the view that while the situation has brought grief and stress for many, at the same time, for Pakistan a new economy is being built. He mentions that mobile wallet providers are seeing a 300%-400% increase in users, work from home has received massive acceptance across organisations, fragmented SME online selling has begun to surface, and with increased efforts to help the underprivileged there is more documentation and data that is being generated. With these changes unfolding at an unprecedented speed and scale, there exist opportunities for entrepreneurs. Similarly, the CEO of Funverks Global, an organisational development consulting firm, Farhad Karamally, provides thought leadership by deliberately avoiding the use of the word “crisis” but accepting the situation as times that call for a different mindset and mode of operation. Taking agility to the next level and launching unique online skill-development platforms like “webciliation” and “webkhana”, his company’s approach has been forthcoming and futuristic, leading with three overarching principles: breaking assumptions, thinking value for customers and implementing immediately.
The above are just two of many such examples wherein the global crisis has unraveled the most fundamentally nested characteristic of businesses and of individuals who stand behind them. These trying times have forced the leadership to reflect over the underlying principles on which their businesses were built and to quickly adapt and reinvent ways of doing business. In this process, the temporary gainers and losers are already becoming evident. Still, in the long run, it is really a matter of survival of the fittest—those who can adjust and adapt, re-build and build well, to the new economic order that is becoming evident and will unfold as we move forward.
Arguably, leading with an entrepreneurial mindset is what businesses need to do to survive now and in post-pandemic times. This calls for alertness and the ability to recognise and exploit opportunities, focus on preserving the core while leveraging on innovation as the trampoline for future growth, and, most importantly, the compassion to develop and empower individuals within and beyond organisations. I argue that individuals who can step up to show leadership that thrives on competence as well as empathy, that communicates hope while remaining grounded in reality, and influences beyond the confined boundaries of their organisations are the ones that will come out as survivors and true change agents.
Shezeen Hemani is a Teaching Fellow at Suleman Dawood School of Business (SDSB) and a PhD researcher at Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Her research interest is understanding the microfoundations of Entrepreneurial Leadership in challenging and resource constraint contexts.
In a fast-changing and uncertain situation such as the coronavirus pandemic, many leaders are struggling not only in terms of organisational operations but also in terms of continued engagement and well-being of their employees. As someone who studies organisational behaviour and people management, I regularly tell students, business leaders and policymakers that employee engagement is the key for organisational survival during a crisis. To cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, countries and governments are resorting to extreme preventive and precautionary measures such as social distancing, home confinement, self-quarantine, lockdown and curfew. As a result, organisations across the world are forced to cease their normal operations and instead are exploring and experimenting alternative ways of work to ensure not only individual productivity and organisational survival, but also individual wellbeing and employee engagement. Based on insights from human resource management literature as well as current organisational approaches to the coronavirus, I offer a list of fifteen steps that may be considered by business leaders to enable or sustain employee engagement:
5. Visual interactions
7. Sense of community
8. Psychological support
9. Office time
10. Alternative work patterns
12. Employee voice
14. Time zones
15. Cultural diversity.
Please click here to read the full working paper authored by Dr Syed, titled Ensuring Employee Engagement Amid a Pandemic. This paper is part of South Asia Academy of Management, Leadership Working Paper Series.
Dr. Jawad Syed, PhD, is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Suleman Dawood School of Business. His research interests include Race & Diversity in Organisations; International HRM; Business Ethics and Organisational Knowledge.
Charles Dickens, in his famous opening to the novel A Tale of Two Cities, wrote:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”.
We arguably live in similar times where the best of what humanity has achieved goes hand in hand with the worst it has ever done; where the heights of knowledge and accumulated wisdom are bedfellows with utter ignorance and superficiality; where belief is glorified and the same is considered utter foolishness. The time of global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 is one where these dualities have (perhaps) become even more pronounced. Recent times of business certainty and economic affluence - where we had presumably mastered the art of projection and control, have suddenly seemed uncertain and uncontrollable. Service sectors, especially travel, aviation, and tourism, have taken the biggest hit, but so have the defense industry and construction. Layoffs and bankruptcies are imminent; it is not just the self-employed and smaller entrepreneurs that are (and will) continue to struggle for survival; companies across the sectoral gambit will certainly do the same.
As Shakeel Jajja has argued in his comments, challenges that are the direct outcome of COVID-19 are forcing governments, industries, and the educational sector to adopt new technologies that earlier on they had perhaps merely been contemplating. Forced into a corner in these equally best and worst of times, companies that have been ahead of the game are reaping quicker and far-reaching benefits than those who have been slow to adapt. As some of the largest service and manufacturing facilities in Pakistan practically closed overnight during the last week of March 2020, companies such as GE Power Pakistan continued to serve its customers through the use of applications that allowed remote service provision requiring only minimal number of staff on-site. Its counterparts who had been contemplating technology adoption are now being forced to look at it as a necessity rather than choice.
I propose the adoption of radical, socially responsible business practices at an unprecedented scale never practiced before. Here I do not advocate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in its normative, usual sense—not philanthropy, not activism, nor the creation of goodwill and certainly not charity. I advocate a business worldview that goes beyond CSR, where businesses see it as their responsibility to look after their internal customers and the wider society at an unprecedented scale, in unparalleled times and beyond. Like GE and its technology adoption, Pakistani organisations that have been ahead of this game are already able to reap the benefits of this orientation ahead of their counterparts.
LUMS is an educational institution that has had empathy and the wellbeing of its workforce, its partners, and the communities and the practice it serves at the heart of what it does. No surprise that LUMS was perhaps one of the first educational institutions to proactively plan and respond to the emergent challenges of the Corona pandemic on the Higher Education sector in the country.
Globally, we see companies responding very differently to the needs of this era of crisis. General Motor Company (GM), a 164,000-strong global giant (revenue exceeding US$137.2 billion in 2019), has reportedly been dragging its feet on the joint-venture ventilation production project with US medical device manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems. GM has been demanding a vast amount of money for the same, despite being forced to do so through the US government’s invocation of the US Federal Defense Production Act, 1950 (the Act allows the government to procure vital supplies forcefully). Half a world away, the staff at a medium-sized medical supplies manufacturer in Tunisia called Conso-med (which reportedly has a staff size between 50-200 employees), has now seen over 150 employees confining themselves to its factory in order to make 50,000 masks a day to fulfill the possible (upcoming) requirements within Tunisia. The company is not propelled by financial need, nor has it been coerced into action through regulation. The company and its employees, who have voluntarily confined themselves to the premises of the factory—not being able to see their families or friends for the foreseeable future—are driven by none other than patriotism and care for their people at a time of need. Like Conso-med, what is needed is for companies, both Pakistani and global, to realise that desperate times require responsible measures, a form of organisational self-regulation such as that which Conso-med has adopted. The ‘business’ case of such responses is not financial, but rather the social good it creates. That wider social good is what makes a business sustainable.
Anything works in the best of times; the worst of times, however require one’s finest skills and attributes to shine. That is real business sense!
Dr. Zehra Waheed is Assistant Professor at Suleman Dawood School of Business (SDSB). Dr Waheed is also the Director of the Centre for Business & Society at LUMS. Her research interests include Project Management, Facilities Management, Public Sector Procurement, Public-Private-Partnerships, Urban Waste, Sustainable Water, Knowledge Management.
Muhammad Imran Chaudhry
Capitalist economic systems are not well-equipped to deal with sudden, large negative shocks, with such wide-ranging effects. Thus, we see government interventions across the developed world. From a business perspective, there are two critical issues that governments need to address. First, ensure that negatively affected industries (e.g., transport, tourism, manufacturing, etc.) do not come to a standstill, since it takes significantly more time and resources to restart a stalled industrial sector. Besides, stalled industries entail significant negative spillover effects, with large multipliers, on critical supply chains (e.g., energy) due to demand shrinkage. Second, the government's assistance is needed to help resolve coordination problems in order to harness the power of private enterprise to produce resources (medicines, equipment, human resource, donations, etc.) required to tackle COVID-19. In the context of developing countries, the second step is very important because governments are plagued by debts and do not have the funds or capacity to sustain the fight against a pandemic.
Dr. Imran is Assistant Professor of Economics at the Suleman Dawood School of Business, Lahore University of Management Sciences. His research interests revolve around issues related to the agricultural supply chains and financial markets of less developing countries.
Muhammad Shakeel S. Jajja
Think COVID-19 Strategically - Premature Hatchlings and New Permanents: COVID-19 will markedly split the world’s timeline into two eras, pre-and post COVID-19, and the managerial world is not an exception. The emergence of COVID-19 is forcing organisations and their supply chains to hatch many products and services such as virtual versions of mainstream healthcare, education, retailing, banking, and public services before their natural time. There is a race among organisations to stabilise the new products and services by fast-pacing the technological transition and investing in and developing the needed capabilities. The investments in the new capabilities are mostly in novel and exclusively online channels, and may render earlier capabilities partially redundant or less attractive for growth in the post-COVID-19 period. This apparently-temporary change in products, services, and markets, application of technological and human resources, processes and routines, and revenue and cost models has the potential to stabilise and create rich, uncultivated, and sustainable avenues of serving customers. Thus, if COVID-19 prevails for a time that is enough for the stabilisation of the hatchlings, and it seems likely, the new business models will become the new permanent.
In this backdrop, managers should not approach the COVID-19 situation on a merely ad-hoc basis. Rather consider it a potential technological transition in your industry, supply chain, and organisation. Hence, they should identify opportunities, make technological trade-offs, commit resources, and re-organise. They should consider that these choices may have far-reaching implications in creating and dispelling the competitive advantage in the scenario when some early hatchlings of today will become the new permanents. Those who think through this transition more strategically may lead others in the industry in the post COVID-19 era.
Dr. Shakeel Sadiq Jajja is Associate Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management and Director of the Executive MBA programme at Suleman Dawood School of Business (SDSB). His research interests include Supply Chain Management, Technology & Innovation in Supply Chain Relationships, Social & Environmental Compliance in Supply Chain Relationships, and Operations Management.
This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Suleman Dawood School of Business.