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The pandemic has brought our interconnectedness and humanity to the fore. It has revealed "ubuntu bethu" – the very best within us and the very best among us, specifically those 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 emphasized the need for more compassion in our personal and professional lives and how we support each other, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

At the same time, the pandemic has boosted innovation, ranging from the rapid development of vaccines to fast-tracking the connectivity that enables learning and working from home.

However, this rapid technological advancement is both exciting and frightening – the possibilities are endless, and technology is an enabler that can be used for the greater good of society, but 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 us all, 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.

We have a collective responsibility to find solutions to ensure that our economy “works” for everyone, especially the most vulnerable, while minimizing 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 organizations, enabling them to navigate a volatile and complex world. They are 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 organization'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 the 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 profit. 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 the people were that made callous decisions with 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 come from deliberate and strategic planning that drives intentional efforts across the organization, including:

  • A clearly defined purpose that transcends immediate profits and looks into a sustainable future
  • Organizational values and a code of business conduct and ethics that guide the organization'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 organization's culture and are willing to buck the trend by confronting difficult issues head-on and having difficult conversations
  • 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 for them to report any ethical concerns they may have
  • A strong consequence management culture

As a leading information and communications technology player in South Africa, Dimension Data understands the responsibility that comes with technology and its rapid adoption.

Ethics within the technology industry will become increasingly important and it is imperative that we continually assess the impacts or unintended consequences of technological advancement; the extent to which it exacerbates or minimizes inequality through access, or a 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 a framework for such conversations and inputs among not only our people but also our clients, suppliers and host communities.

We believe this will help strengthen our 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 our Corporate Governance office.

Zellah Fuhpe is Chief Corporate Governance Officer at Dimension Data

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