Let’s think beyond profit to build accountable, sustainable and future-fit companies
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By Arthur Anderson
South Africa is still reeling from the biggest fraud in our corporate history – the Steinhoff accounting scandal – and investors and shareholders who lost billions through the company’s fraud haven’t seen recompense or justice.
The scandal has raised several questions for me: What are the ethical responsibilities of businesses beyond accounting and legal compliance?
Should companies exist purely to turn a profit, or to what extent do businesses have a social responsibility to improve the lives of those within their broader communities?
This month is Moral Regeneration Month and I do think we need to find our moral compass again. We can't rebuild the capacity of the state or corporations without holding our political and private sector leaders to account.
If we can’t hold our leaders accountable and responsible for public and corporate crimes, then our hopes of unlocking long-term and sustainable growth have limited chances of success.
It’s good to see that former president Jacob Zuma is being held accountable for his previous misdemeanours, but what about our private sector compatriots?
The cancer of corruption in South Africa has pervaded the public and private sectors and it’s important that we have consistent standards applied across all sectors of society.
While holding errant leaders accountable won't cause them to grow consciences, being held responsible for one's actions means others think twice when faced with an opportunity to defraud the poor. And it does mean the cancer of corruption is cut out and constrained.
Finding our moral compass again is not something we talk about enough, but when our leaders and businesses are driven by the greater good rather than pure profits, they’ll inherently be using their energy and time to build and uplift those around them.
Doing business in a purely extractive manner may enrich a company for a short while, but deplete the environment in which it operates.
Moral Regeneration Month is an opportunity for leaders to turn their backs on corruption and complacency, and renew their commitment to building for the greater good, think about leaving a positive legacy and model servant leadership.
When a business operates with the mindset that problems in society aren't just for their corporate social investment department, or for an NGO to solve, they will hardwire sustainability into their DNA.
The more we invest in the communities in which we work, live and play, the more these communities will have money to spend, the more our businesses will flourish.
What goes around comes around.
If more businesses didn't just exist for profit, our nation – our businesses and our people – would be steered in a trajectory of economic growth and inclusion. And that’s exactly what we need to rebuild as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, to come together and collaborate.
Naturally, a company's responsibility is to its employees first. Staff are the engine of any business. If staff are not happy, engaged and motivated, profits may be impacted.
But when a company and its people are engaged and working with local communities and addressing the challenges that surround them, a company's right to operate within that community is secured.
While being generous is its own reward, when companies invest in people while securing profits, they ensure they are sustainable and future-fit.
According to the Gini Coefficient, South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. That's not an excuse to say, "Well, I didn't choose to be born here".
Instead, it is an opportunity to ask: "As a business leader, how can I be a part of the solution?"
No matter how wealthy or how well run a country is, there will always be a need for businesses and entities to assist in their community's betterment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for all of us. In some cases, it has exacerbated the inequalities that exist in our society and for that reason, we need to be even more intentional about checking – and resetting – our moral compasses.
As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technological advancements mean that solutions can be offered using innovations that reduce time and effort while allowing companies to scale their product offerings.
But these can also come with automations which mean job losses.
However, when we’re intentional and our moral compass is heading for True North, then we can use technology for the betterment of us all.
At Forge Academy, we recently engaged with businesses like Microsoft to have our students, assisted by IT specialists and tech gurus, develop and brainstorm new ways of combating gender-based violence (GBV).
The event was a big success. The hackathon winners developed an educational and interactive solution made to educate women and children on GBV, showed them how to take action and where to find help.
Guided by a moral compass, it’s innovations such as these that provide businesses with the opportunity to put people before profits and invest into their futures.
Arthur Anderson is the chief executive and founder of Forge Academy, South Africa’s first fully inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution.
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title site.