“Paris attacks will add to Wall Street anxiety”, “Thousands feared dead in terrorist attacks on US”, “Marikana violence is a sign of things to come”…….
News headlines of this nature often spread hysteria far and wide, whether stirred up through the mainstream media, or whipped into a frenzy via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Stock markets plunge, consumer confidence nosedives, businesses bolt down the hatches in fear of the shockwaves, and families relocate to perceived “safer” places.
We’ve seen it time and time again globally where undesirable occurrences lead to far bigger impacts than they should have in the first place. If we think back to events in our own recent past such as attempts by white right wing groups to derail the negotiations process in South Africa in the late 80’s and early 90’s, political violence between the UDF and IFP (in which the state was partly complicit), which spilled over into the vicious conflicts between the ANC and Inkatha, Aids denialism and the subsequent genocide of HIV infected South Africans, and more recently the sacking of Nonhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister, isolated events can have colossal bearing on the wellbeing of a nation and its dealings with the universal and global society.
So how do we, as risk management professionals, minimise the impact of these aftermaths, not just within our own corporate environment, but also throughout the community we live in. On a daily basis, newsworthy incidents are being reported on across millions of elements of print media, hundreds of thousands of electronic and online news formats, in a variety of languages and with an often vastly differing scope of detail. The reality is that 90% of the world’s media comes from the same six sources (Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS and NBC). Even though this phenomenon creates an illusion of choice for consumers, it does mean that these behemoths control most of what we watch, hear and read every day. And, being a corporate playing field, the question is always going to be asked whether these corporate players would be prepared to publish anything that threatens their relationships with their biggest advertisers (e.g. pharmaceuticals and banks). This has led to the formation of a vast array of alternative media streams such as alternativenews.com and alternet.org which provide another angle on the news events that potentially impact on your business. Are you as a risk manager in touch with alternative media streams as a side-by-side view to the widely presented one?
Infobesity, infoxication or information overload as it is commonly known, becomes a pervading challenge when confronted with the massive amounts of news that is of relevance to us. Although it is important to sift through as much of this information as humanly possible (technology has really come to the party in terms of media monitoring and the ability to find the news you want, when you need it), I believe that the risk management community as a whole has a wonderful opportunity to take this process to another level.
By means of a thorough root cause analysis, organizations (and individuals) can avoid the propensity to isolate one factor for resolution, and instead look at the underlying problems that contributed to the event. This helps us to avoid treating symptoms, and instead focus on the causal factors, and all the actions and conditions that were present and adequate enough for a given consequence to transpire.
It is becoming increasingly apparent, as the WHO pointed out recently, that “the world’s biggest killer and greatest cause of ill-health and suffering” is poverty. It cannot be overstated that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the world’s population. And poverty cannot be addressed until we alleviate the inequality that is rampant throughout the human world. There is empirical scientific evidence that suggests that individuals and families living in deprived communities experience poor health, raised anxiety, negative childhood behaviours and increased risk of substance abuse and addiction, resulting in far higher mortality rates within these lower socio-economic classes. These effects of income inequality have an inevitable spill over into society in general causing severe stress, rising frustrations and general disorder, resulting in increases in crime rates, violence and civil disobedience. On the upside, there is also commonly an increase in empathy and altruism levels within these “lower” levels of the social order, but that’s a topic for a different article.
With this in mind, it has become infinitely more important to consider how “the other half” lives. The invisible lines separating people by virtue of economic and political power is destined to heighten social tensions, and ultimately rip humanity apart. We are already seeing this phenomenon in the dramatic increase in public upheaval, protests and a shifting group consciousness. Societal breakdown is a universal heartbeat away.
“If we don’t make a dollar but we change the world in a meaningful way… the returns are going to be the exhaust of that.”
The inherent pitfalls in ignoring and neglecting inequality are glaringly obvious. Economic growth cannot be sustained, social security and cohesion is weakened, and the hopes for sustainable development and an end to conflicts becomes a fading pipe dream. This is not just relevant on a macroeconomic level, but within our own organizational and personal lives as well. People tend to believe that government is responsible for the rise of this problem, but governments cannot even begin to solve this problem on their own. Companies, institutions, industry bodies and associations need to come to the realization that addressing inequality is not just a responsibility, but also a mammoth opportunity. Addressing inequality is prudent business. It opens up new markets of consumers, broadening the potential for higher profits and increased services, and strengthening the reputation of our brands. Moving to a point where all people can contribute to society with access to job opportunities, financial services, infrastructure and most importantly a right to live with dignity, should not just be a priority, but the single most important goal for every individual, corporation or public sector entity.
Corporate Social Responsibility programs only go so far to address these issues. What can we do to make a bigger difference in the communities in which we ply our trade? These self-same communities buy our products, supply our labour, and are impacted by our business practices. Are we doing enough to ensure we keep our own backyard unsoiled?
Capitalist greed, single-minded conquest, and the constant pursuit of the bottom line has led humanity to the precipice of global dissatisfaction, worldwide conflict, and spiritual blindness. The decisions we take today resonate through time, and define the legacy we leave. Let’s ensure we make it a legacy of opportunity for all, respect for one another, acknowledgement and embracing of our differences, and an overwhelming movement to living a life of empathy and philanthropy in harmony with the tiny corner of the universe we occupy, and beyond.
“Protection for gangs, clubs and nations
Causing grief in human relations
It’s a turf war on a global scale
I’d rather hear both sides of the tale
See, it’s not about races
Just places, faces
Where your blood comes from is where your space is
I’ve seen the bright get duller
I’m not going to spend my life being a color”
Michael Jackson – Black and White
Author – Paul van der Struys