Melany Riquetti Morán
Almost three months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Americas and the Caribbean, data is showing how deeply the private sector has been affected, as some businesses are being forced to close while others are struggling to continue operating due to limitations in markets and supply chains.
Whilst the economic impact of the crisis is still unforeseen, according to estimates by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), economic activity in the region is expected to contract by 5.3 per cent by the end of 2020. Though as the dynamics of the pandemic continue and physical distancing measures remain necessary, the contraction can be expected to be greater than projected.
Thus, supporting the private sector to maintain operations and achieving resilience is critical for the short-term recovery efforts in the region. This support requires to be particularly focused on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which according to ILO could makeup around 70% of sources of employment in the Americas and the Caribbean and often lack the financial capital to resist prolonged disruptions. Only in the US, according to FEMA (2016), 40% of SMEs do not reopen after disasters. Consequently, the need to better integrate risk into business practices and decisions, as well as generate networks of support with different partners, is becoming a priority for the private sector. Thus during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been observed how the business community across the world has made an active effort to ramp up its capacities on business continuity, as well as to connect and learn from other peers.
As put by Chloe Demrovsky, CEO of Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRI) and member of UNDRR Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) in a recent article published by Forbes, over the last months her institute has been receiving multiple requests from companies and organizations that don’t have a business continuity plan, for help and resources to respond to the global pandemic. Likewise, through the ARISE initiative in the Americas and the Caribbean, with support of UNDRR, members including national and multinational companies, business networks and chambers of commerce have mobilised to provide companies in their countries with tools, information and resources to become more resilient in the face of COVID-19.
For instance, in Central America, and through ARISE , business continuity trainings using UNDRR´s Toolkit for Small and Medium Enterprises have been organized in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras by the Business Alliance for Development (AED), FundahRSE, UniRSE and other members of the regional business network, INTEGRARSE, to help companies to prepare for COVID-19.
In Colombia, ARISE focal points, ANDI and CCS, together with the country's larger small business association, FENALCO, conducted the same training and organized a dialogue session on business resilience and DRR to exchange experiences and practices with ARISE Mexico member, CEMEX. During the discussion, business leaders highlighted the importance of enhancing preventing measures to help companies make risk-informed decisions and be better prepared.
Similarly, with the support of UNDRR and the Network of Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM), ARISE Dominica and ARISE Barbados collaborated in a virtual discussion aimed at supporting business partners in the Caribbean region to prepare for multi-hazard scenarios. During the webinar, the importance of collaboration was also highlighted by Nikima Royer-Jno Baptise , CEO OF Digicel Dominica & Chairman Digicel BCM, which mentioned that “the private sector cannot stand still; we need to keep moving forward, ensuring that we are as prepared as possible and share the information so that others could also benefit from expertise and experiences”. Thus, best practices and key recommendations were shared to enhanced preparedness of the private sector for the hurricane season, in the context of COVID-19. The webinar also served to raise awareness and knowledge about the impacts of systemic risks and the dual challenges of biological and climatic disasters.
Other initiatives of business-to-business cooperation have been promoted through other programmes, such as the OCHA and UNDP-led Connecting Business initiative (CBi), the ADPC-led Asian Preparedness Partnership (APP) and the Global Compact. All these initiatives called on business leaders to unite and collaborate to support business continuity and early recovery providing guidance and recommendations to face the pandemic and helping companies to be more resilient.
Melissa Pierre, Project and Trade Officer for the American Chamber of Commerce in Trinidad and Tobago, summed it up in one of the webinars organized by UNDRR: “there is no business as usual now, and there is no return to that, as we don’t want to continue being exposed. We need to work together. We need to be able to understand risk before making specific decisions”.
These examples demonstrate that in order to contain the adverse effects of the pandemic, the business sector is acknowledging that collaboration is the only way to effectively manage response and recovery. As stated in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 the private sector is key in making business and communities more resilient. Consequently, the private sector will play a key role in returning to a new normality, as they are bridges connecting actors along value chains from customers, suppliers, investors, etc. In this light, increased cooperation and peer-to-peer support, as evidenced so far, will help companies, particularly SMEs, to bounce back, while establishing prevention strategies to better protect their employees and operations against COVID-19 and future disasters.