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The silver lining under the Covid-19 and Floyd Cloud

Presented to alumni of Henley Business School Africa

I started writing this article with the title, “The silver lining under the COVID cloud”, and then the George Floyd incident happened, followed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies that rippled across the globe
to protest racial inequality and all other forms of injustice. Upon recovery from my shock, at the way
Floyd was murdered, I realized that, just like the COVID pandemic, some positive outcomes could actually
result from these ugly incidents that have caused emotional and financial traumas. I therefore
found myself re-thinking the title of this presentation as, “The silver lining under the COVID and Floyd
cloud”, because I perceived both  incidents, nudging the world to reset for the better.

As the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across countries and several conspiracy theories were spun around the nature of the disease and the different roles China and the US played in its development
and spread, I couldn’t help seeing a more transcendental reason behind it all. In my opinion, the world was on a path to self-destruction on different levels, and the COVID  pandemic brought us to a jolting
halt. The lockdowns provided an opportunity to reset environmentally, economically and socially.

Environmentally, because, in spite of all the warnings about climate change and required behavioural changes and practices demanded, for the most part, we continued business as usual. We barely heeded the catastrophic predictions regarding global warming, if we failed to reduce our carbon footprint.

Economically and socially (and I tie both factors together because they affect each other), whether across
continents or countries and within countries, the economic system was and remains skewed to favour some at the expense of others, rather than one that allows for shared prosperity. Keeping in mind the unsavoury results of wide economic disparities, and the fact that they keep broadening, as the rich become richer and the poor, poorer, the horrors we witness today, across the globe, such the rise in terrorism, human trafficking, suicides and unbridled shootings can only get worse if this system is not
reset to allow a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

The pre-COVID world was therefore in my opinion, on a self-destructive path as a result of selfishness and greed. As people refer to the new normal with a tinge of sadness, as though the pre-COVID to Heads of Business Schools like Harvard, and organisations like PWC, and big businesses like DSW.
I believe this is one significant reset that has been facilitated by COVID crisis and jolted into action
by the Floyd incident. Both crises, therefore, present an opportunity to create a better post-COVID and
post-Floyd world.

Another positive occurrence is the fact that in many of the BLM rallies, there were people of all races. This suggests that there is now some form of global agreement in the decision to stand for fairness
and justice, while shedding the systemic ways through which racial, economic and social injustices have
been perpetuated and reinforced. I also believe that the condemnation of racism by many white people is the world is to be missed, the following quote by an anonymous author, captures what I would like us to leave behind as we look forward to a better post-COVID world. The quote states:

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction… We should not long to return
my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature”.

So indeed, as unfortunate as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, it brought us all to a point that has compelled us to reflect, re-think and reset our relationship with our world, our continents, our countries and our individual actions. Now, just in case we did not get this “reset” message, the Floyd incident happened! The despicable murder of an unarmed black man, that sent ripples down spines of many, around the world and triggered protest by people of all races, further hammered in the rest message. And this time around, judging from the rallies that sprang up, in over 50 countries around the world and in all continents (except Antarctica), it looks like the reset message has finally hit us loud and clear. The protests were not just against racial inequality, but all other forms of injustice.
Thankfully the various rallies across the globe has awakened people’s consciences and in many countries, institutions and organisations are reviewing their policies to correct and eliminate the systemic racism that had become normalized. Concrete action points are being announced and implemented at different levels; from the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, to Heads of Business Schools like Harvard, and organisations like PWC, and big businesses like DSW.

I believe this is one significant reset that has been facilitated by COVID crisis and jolted into action by the Floyd incident. Both crises , therefore, present an opportunity to create a better post-COVID and
post-Floyd world.

Another positive occurrence is the fact that in many of the BLM rallies, there were people of all
races. This suggests that there is now some form of global agreement in the decision to stand for fairness
and justice while shedding the systemic ways through which racial, economic, and social injustices have been perpetuated and reinforced. I also believe that the condemnation of racism by many white people is a signal, that will also neutralize any tendency for reverse racism, as it will always be remembered that
not all whites are racists. In my view, the Floyd incident, which represents the slew of racially induced killings, calls for an end to racial injustices and a transition to a system that is fair to all and allows for shared prosperity. This is actually a better, more peaceful, and more sustainable way to live. Consequently, if we take the right actions, I believe the world will be making progress in the right direction.

Further, considering that historically, perpetrators of tyranny have always come to an ignominious end, I do not think that allowing systemic injustice to continue would do any good to the perpetrators or to the world in the end. Examples abound, but I will only name a few;  ranging from Hitler in Germany, to Idi Amin in Uganda, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. These tyrants reigned for a time, and all ended up badly. There is an African proverb that states, “the child that is not loved by the village will set it on fire so that it can feel its warmth.” The on-going riots in the US, which started peacefully and have now turned into havoc wreaking riots, are a manifestation of this proverb. I think we should
learn from the past, and that the call for a reset at this point is a fortunate one, as it provides an opportunity to avoid a trajectory that could have a very sad ending. I also consider the fact that there were some anti-BLM riots, and I have tried to understand why some people would try to justify systemic
injustice or see the Floyd incident as anything other than what it is, which is murder!

I realise that part of what may have reinforced the slew of police brutalities especially against black people is a result of negative stereotypes: Black excellence and the contributions by black people to society, have been consistently undermined while highlighting slights, which have led to negative prejudices that fuel racism. I, however, discovered through my personal research that a significant number of valuable black inventions over time, which continue to be very relevant today (see for a long list of inventions by African Americans).

These inventions have gone unacknowledged for decades and were never taught in schools or talked about. For instance, we all believe that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but the 1 truth is that the light bulb was invented in 1881, by an African-American named Lewis Latimer. No one ever heard of him, but he created a light bulb with a filament made from Carbon, which is more durable, and sold
the patent for the “Incandescent Electric Light Bulb with Carbon Filament” to the United States Electric Company in 1881 (see ).

At this point, I share slides that show about 19 different contributions to the world by Africans and African-Americans (slides attached and a table is shown in the appendix for those who may not be able to access the slides). Some of the contributions contained in the slides include:
• A Nigerian Professor of medicine, Babafemi Taiwo, who is currently lead- ing the efforts in the US to find a potential cure for Coronavirus. He is leading a major study on the famous COVID-19 drug, Remdesivir, which is currently confirmed to be the most effective in treating COVID patients.’

• Elon Musk, a citizen of South Africa, Canada, and the US, who is the inventor of Tesla Motors – a car many Americans and people around the world aspire to own: He is also the founder of PayPal, a pay-
ment platform that allows people make safe payments globally, and the founder of SpaceX, which in 2010, became the first private company to launch a rocket into orbit and return it to Earth intact—a feat that only government agencies like NASA or Russia’s Roscosmos had done before.
• Dr Oluyinka Olutoye, a Nigerian surgeon resident in Texas, who in 2016, successfully took a premature baby out of the mother’s womb, operated on her brain to remove a tumor and returned her to the womb. He has since been ap-pointed Surgeon-In-Chief at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the U.S.

More accomplishments and innovations by African-Americans are reported on this link: I share these contributions, because it is my belief that racism can be diffused, if people knew the valuable contributions made by the various races and cultures that make up any population, they would because they realise that they benefit from each other.

Further, I believe that there is also ignorance about the fact that a major contributor to Americas greatness is the heterogeneity of its population. The multiple races and cultures in the melting was not “invented” in the traditional sense in 1879 by Thomas Alva Edison, although he could be said to have created the first commercially practical incandescent light”. pot that make up America’s population, brings so many benefits to the country in terms of multiple ideas and innovations that have made America a world leader.’

I will use two examples to illustrate the value of heterogeneity: The first example comes from a book by Richard Branson, titled, “Screw business as usual” and has to do with a group of Navy seals who were asked to form two teams for the day’s tasks. All the white Americans chose to stick to- gether in one team, while the other team was =made up of different ethnic minorities who were neither as tall or as broad shouldered as many of the American hunks that formed the other team. Both teams were given similar tasks to perform and by the end of the day, the heterogeneous team of minorities significantly outperformed the homogenous team of white Americans.

This was because the ethnic minorities came from different backgrounds and could apply a rich variety of ideas to the tasks they had been entrusted with. They were, therefore, able resolve them quicker than the team with a homogenous knowledge base. In addition to this anecdote, research has shown over and over again that heterogeneous teams tend to be more innovative than homogenous teams.
The second example has to do with royals: You may recall that in the past, that when royals chose to keep their believed superior blue-blood intact, they engaged in consanguineous marriages, which refers to marriage among close relatives. They ended up getting children with weaker and weaker constitutions, as a result of genetic disorders. As a result of this, consanguineous marriages became discouraged and eventually prohibited.

Both examples support the fact that diversity is enriches and strengthens, and more importantly, that none of us, is as good as all of us. We are therefore better together.

Concluding thoughts

As we acknowledge that our pre- COVID world was neither perfect nor normal and that the COVID pandemic as well as the Floyd incident, unfortunate as they are, provide us an opportunity to reset our countries and continents economically, socially and environmentally, in this final part of my presentation, I would like to focus on the steps I believe Africa can take to ensure that the Post-COVID and Post-Floyd
Africa is both stronger and better than it was previously:

Economically: As countries across the globe struggle with economic recovery after the pandemic induced lockdowns, African countries must find ways to achieve better economic performance. There is a need for African countries to change the habit of importing what it can produce, simply because it is cheaper to import, than to manufacture locally, due to our infrastructural challenges.

Fortunately, the flight and export restrictions around the world, compel a greater effort to achieve
self-sufficiency. African countries should see the current situation as an opportunity to reduce import de-
pendence on countries outside the continent. However, there are stronger reasons now more than ever before why self-sufficiency is important.

Africa needs to give the world more reasons to respect it. I believe that respect is earned and Africa needs to go from doing what is easy, to doing what is best for it in the long term.

For instance, the importation of items such as pencils, toilet paper, toothpicks, liquid handwash or other liquid soaps, ketchup, biscuits, and many basic things which can be manufactured locally, needs to stop. No matter the challenges, we must be determined to produce such basic items locally as creates jobs and expertise for the local population and also conserves our much needed foreign exchange.

As the African Continental free trade agreement (AfCFTA) comes on stream, trade collaborations among African countries must grow. Africans must delib- erately seek to do business with other African countries to boost the economy of the continent, and preserve wealth within the continent.

Another way of preserving wealth within the continent is by changing our tastes for vacationing outside
the continent, to doing so within the continent. Many African countries have wonderful weather and great
tourist attractions. Unfortunately, middle class to wealthy Africans have a pervasive economically unhealthy habit of vacationing outside the continent. They are mostly in Europe or America, during summer, Christmas and/or Easter holidays expensive foreign currency to the detriment of our national
economy and to the advantage of the countries of destination. Imagine the number of jobs that would created and lives transformed if all that money was spent within the continent.

For the BLM movement to have long term traction, black people all over the world, especially those in Africa, must be determined to attain a stronger financial muscle that provides a more potent global voice.
Until African countries begin to strengthen their economic performance, Africa may, unfortunately, remain a region for exploitation, and black people around the world may continue to be perceived as the

Socially: I believe the COVID pandemic has forced us to understand that we must be our brother’s keeper. As long as anyone is compromised by the virus, we all are. We must, therefore, be concerned about the living conditions of the poor who form the majority in most African countries.

The pandemic compels this concern for the less privileged, as they usually work for the richer folk in the population, either as domestic staff (nannies, cooks, chauffeurs, gardeners or, electricians, etc. or serve us in supermarkets, hotels and even in workplaces as janitors. Consequently, if their living conditions expose them to contagion, the rest of the population are also endangered.

This should compel governments and business leaders in the private sector, to find ways to improve infrastructure in low income neighbourhoods, and thus assure the safety of the population. Though economic disparity is currently a global phenomenon, the problem is quite exacerbated in African countries and we cannot continue to ignore it as the consequences are bad for everyone.
We can emerge from this crisis better if we start to encourage purpose-driven entrepreneurship that is focused on transforming lives and improving society, by using financially profitable business
models. We must unprogramme ourselves from the belief that social concerns are the purview of non-
profit businesses, charities and/ or government. The pervasive erroneous idea that the sole purposeof a business was to make profits for shareholders, took hold in the 1970s, when Milton Friedman wrote this in New York Times. The most obvious evidence against this is the fact that the most successful entrepreneurs in the world today, happen to be some of those who have made the greatest positive
social impact on humanity: For example, Bill Gates was obsessed with making people more creative
by putting a personal computer on every desk and making it user friendly. Because this solution
was so useful, people all over the world were willing to pay for it and as a result, he became the richest
man in the world for over 18 years.

We can learn from this, that impact and profit are compatible, rather than dichotomous. As Jack Ma,
the richest entrepreneur in China would say, “If you want to remain small, solve small problems. If you
want to be big, solve big problems”.

Africa has many problems, and therefore several opportunities, because every problem represents
a potentially profitable business opportunity. Africa needs impact or purpose-driven entrepreneurs, who
understand how to use business as atool for social transformation, and so can accelerate Africa’s development, in a sustainable way. Africans must give dignity to Africa and change the pervasive narrative of Africa as a poor, dark continent. Africa is the root of all civilization and can still take its rightful place, if Africans can develop the right mindset of consciously working towards the division of making Africa rise again!

Environmentally: The lockdowns, resulting from the COVID pandemic, have made us realise
that we can work effectively from home in many instances, and so organisations have realised that they can cut down on office space and rentals. Similarly, lots of conferences have held online, so the belief that
conferences implied people coming together from different geographies is no longer the case. Consequently, with more people working from home and significantly less flying around, there’s a much reduced level of carbon emission globally.

Not even the popular teen environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, could have achieved such a feat in
such a short time!

In addition to this, Africa has the advantage of practically a full year of sunlight and thus needs to exploit solar power more, as it is clean energy. As African countries are not yet sufficiently provided for, in terms of energy, Africans have the advantage of leapfrogging energy technology based on existing best practices, to provide affordable, clean energy in areas that still lack conventional electrification. It is my hope that just as young African entrepreneurs are doing a fantastic job of coding and developing Apps that address problems on the continent, they would do the same in the energy space and provide clean, affordable and sustainable power for the entire continent.

As many difficult conversations continue to hold, across the globe, and as Presidents, business leaders
and heads of academic institutions and Foundations like Rockefeller continue to make decisions and take
decisive steps towards accelerating racial equality, I perceive the world is gradually heeding the opportunity occasioned by the COVID and Floyd incidents, to reset itself. Africa, should not be left behind as the rest of the world resets. If we continue to take the right actions towards achieving justice and shared prosperity for all, I see light at the end of the tunnel for Africa and the rest of the world.

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