Preparing for the next crisis: Why businesses should prioritize resilience in their strategic planning

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, businesses have been facing overwhelming and competing challenges as they navigate the multiple impacts of the pandemic. The experience can help them adapt their operations to anticipate, mitigate and respond to the effects of future disaster events.

News | 06 October 2021
by Viky Giulietti, Senior Specialist Employers´ Activities, ILO Caribbean

Businesses have not been alone in the pandemic, as Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EMBOs) have played a critical role in supporting them and addressing the intertwined health, economic and social impact of COVID-19. They have been at the frontline, helping shape policy choices to provide safe workplaces and business continuity measures.

To fulfill its mandate, the ILO Bureau for Employers Activities (ILO ACTEMP) has been working to provide EBMOs and their members with knowledge products, tools and training to support and highlight the important role they can play. Furthermore, ILO ACTEMP, willing to support employers’ organizations under these challenging times, developed and shared with them well-calibrated guides and tools to support their response to COVID-19.

In this regards, an employers’ guide on managing workplaces during COVID-19; a survey tool assessing the needs of enterprises resulting from COVID-19 including a template for EBMOs recommendations to governments; a six-step COVID-19 business continuity plan; and a safe to work guide for employers have been shared with EBMOs for customization and dissemination to members.

Now that EBMOs have supported their members with the necessary tools to continue their operations and manage the workplace during COVID-19, it´s time that they take a leap forward by assisting them to be equipped to face unexpected events. To do this, they have to prepare their members to have the ability to anticipate and respond to crisis, not only to survive but also to thrive and evolve. In short, businesses need to be resilient and sustainable.

The conventional wisdom is that the crisis is a “black swan” event: unprecedented, unpredictable, and random. Nobody could have seen it coming. Yet that is not really true. Crises happen all the time. What is actually abnormal is to think they are not a normal part of life.

The problem with preparing for a hazard is that you are asking a small business to prepare for “something” that may happen. What needs to happen is to create an awareness that the “something” will actually happen, and if you have a basic plan you might be in a situation to stave off the worst of it.

In Trinidad and Tobago, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for over 85 per cent of businesses. Yet, we know they are the least prepared when faced with a hazard and they commonly lack the resources and knowledge to manage external risks. In response to this gap, and to support SMEs to better prepare, mitigate and respond to the impact of hazards, the ILO has developed a new programme: Sustainable and Resilient Enterprises (SURE).

The ILO ACTEMP is partnering with the Employers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECATT) to pilot the SURE programme from August 2021 to February 2022 to strengthen business resilience among small enterprises through training and coaching. The pilot comes at a critical point as countries around the globe continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic as new variants emerge and other crises such as natural disasters strike.

The SURE programme draws from international best practices through a collaboration between the ECATT and the ILO Caribbean Office and ILO ACTEMP colleagues from around the world, including Jae-Hee Chang, ILO ACTEMP HQ Senior Programme and Operation Officer, and Gary Rynhart, Employers’ Activities Specialist of ILO ACTEMP East Africa.

It is critical to create a set of incentives for all - but in particular small- and medium-sized businesses - to have a realistic and practical contingency plan in the probability they will be faced with a hazard of some sort in the foreseeable future.

Within the UN, the narrative of the Secretary General António Guterres since he took on the role in 2017 has been important to “creating a culture of resilience” because as he pointed out “The world spends much more energy and resources managing crises than preventing them.” The new ILO ACTEMP training is a response to that and an effort to help employers and enterprises build back better.