Rapid technological adoption offers possibilities alongside the responsibility to ensure that it is inclusive, not manipulated by bad actors and that it is used for the greater good of society, writes Zellah Fuphe, Chief Corporate Governance Officer at Dimension Data Middle East and Africa.
Today, the global pandemic has brought our inter-connectedness and humanity to the fore. It has revealed "Ubuntu bethu" – the very best within us and the very best among us, specifically those individuals who put their safety and that of their families at risk for our greater good.
Covid-19 has also revealed the fault lines in how the world works. It has shone the spotlight on the way we treat each other and the environment. It has emphasised the need for more compassion in our personal and professional lives, how we support each other, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
At the same time, the pandemic has also leap frogged innovation from the rapid development of vaccines to fast-tracking connectivity that enables learning and working from home. However, this rapid technological advancement is simultaneously exciting and frightening – exciting because the possibilities are endless, and technology is an enabler that can be used for the greater good of society, and it is frightening because when technology is not accessible to all, it exacerbates the Digital Divide, which widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots, thus increasing inequality, unemployment and poverty. Unaddressed and ever widening inequality is a risk to all of us and all of us have a responsibility to anticipate and mitigate the unintended consequences occasioned by the rapid advancement of technology, as this poses a significant challenge for our country, continent and the world at large.
Each of us has a collective responsibility to find solutions to ensure that our economy ‘works’ for everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, while at the same time, minimising our impact on the environment. It is only through intentional inclusivity that we can harness the best characteristics in each other and create a more equitable world and a sustainable future for all.
Indeed, our decisions and operations should be driven by more than just profits. Ethics serve as a guide to corporates enabling them to navigate a volatile and complex world. They serve as the foundation of purpose. Ethics anchor strategy and determine our continued relevance. They define what we do and how we do it, while enabling employees to self-lead and make decisions that serve the company's purpose in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. They aim to cultivate win-win relationships with suppliers and partners and call on us to pursue diversity and inclusion, while nurturing an environment that fosters belonging. Ethics also serve to inform our responsibilities to communities in which we operate, as well as the environment.
Doing what is right should never be on the opposite end of the spectrum to profits. These two goals should never be opposing forces. Indeed, ethical business conduct is a prerequisite for sustainable profitability. Without ethics, we are doomed to be another cautionary tale. Future generations will ask "who were those people that made callous decisions that have had such devastating consequences" on humanity and the environment.
We have also seen how technology can be manipulated by bad actors from the incitement of hate to the manipulation of election outcomes. Left unchecked, technology can also infringe on our privacy.
Ethical business conduct does not happen by magic, it can only be birthed through deliberate, and strategic planning that drives intentional efforts across the organisation. Efforts that include:
- A clearly defined purpose that transcends immediate profits and looks into a sustainable future;
- Company values and a code of business conduct and ethics that guide the company's operations, including its relationships with all its stakeholders
- Strong governance structures backed by a courageous board of directors who set the tone for the company's culture, are willing to buck the trend by confronting difficult issues head-on and having difficult conversations, holding itself and the company accountable for its actions;
- Employee-led engagement supported by relevant committees with clearly defined mandates and performance that is evaluated regularly;
- Ongoing training and education of all stakeholders and the creation of spaces and for them to report any ethical concerns they may have; and
- a strong consequence management culture.
As a leading ICT player in South Africa, at Dimension Data we understand the responsibility that comes with technology and its rapid adoption. Ethics within the technology industry, in particular, will become increasingly important and it is imperative that we continually assess its impact and unintended consequences. Understanding the extent to which it exacerbates or minimises inequality through access, or lack thereof, to knowledge, opportunity and economic activity, and the infringement of rights to privacy. Through our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics we have created the framework for such conversations and inputs of not only the company's employees but also its clients, suppliers and host communities. We believe that this will help strengthen Dimension Data's market leadership in the provision of relevant technology solutions that enable human development while striving to have a net zero impact on the environment. To this end, we recently launched our SpeakUp platform which is accessible to all our stakeholders to report any suspected and actual ethical violations. The reports are attended to at the highest level of Corporate Governance office.