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Corporate exposure to cholera: Role of C-suit

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With Godfrey Kenneth Ben:

As expectations of corporate stewardship of natural and human resources continue to align with drivers of economic value, companies that respond slowly to the cholera outbreak will find themselves increasingly at odds with customers, investors and workers.

When business leaders (C-suit) are more aware of what is at stake, maybe there will be a different dialogue about the cholera outbreak – from being a topic that rarely touches the radar screen of business leaders to being a subject worthy of attention, investment and advocacy. But does this matter to them?

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Business leaders must improve internal response capabilities by developing and testing pre-event response plans rigorously and systematically to minimise losses from a disruptive event; involving human resource, enterprise risk and corporate communications teams to develop and communicate clear plans for minimising employee exposure to possible infection during outbreaks and for communicating these plans to employees.

Plans should include consideration of medical interventions to protect employees, such as vaccinations, medications, and hygienic practices; preparing robust production and supply chain continuity plans that include first- and second-tier suppliers who may account for the company’s greatest commercial vulnerabilities.

Engaging suppliers in frank but supportive discussions about their exposure to cholera risk can help foster relationships that improve business resilience to the outbreak; developing pre-emptive contracting and capacity management plans for operational and logistic activities at high risk of disruption from an outbreak.

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Operational managers should be supported to help them understand their locale-specific outbreak risk and tasked to work with enterprise risk management teams to implement appropriate monitoring and mitigation activities.

As the outbreak is contained, the C-suit must communicate proactively to reduce the risk of overreaction. Most economic losses caused by Cholera result from the actions of uninfected individuals.

They may take drastic action to protect themselves and their families when faced with fear, uncertainty, and misinformation.

To avoid contagion, customers, employees and partners may stay away from places of business. Such social avoidance, however, can significantly affect employee absence rates, operational productivity and demand.

Transparent and timely communication regarding the nature of an outbreak, its effect on business functioning and preparedness and response activities can help reduce the likelihood of panicked market responses.

In some localities, however, the private sector may need to lead in informing communities, including their own employees, on the nature of the outbreak threat and how to best ensure public safety.

There is a need to promote preparation through leadership and governance. The C-suit can help managers stay ahead of cholera threats by raising awareness of the risk and reviewing corporate plans for risk mitigation and management.

Helping businesses to focus on the changing nature of the infectious disease threat can protect shareholder value and promote corporate social responsibility.

Leaders of organisations should ask the following questions: Has our business been disrupted by the cholera outbreak? How big was the impact? What did we learn? What have we done since to reduce our risk? What tools and information are we using to monitor vulnerabilities to infectious disease outbreaks? How does our exposure compare with that of others in our industry? Are we actively tracking risks to our business? What are we doing to reduce our exposure and prepare for future events? How can we better communicate with employees and other critical stakeholders about our level of preparedness?

Effective corporate leaders know the importance of collaborating for the common good. They also know that disease outbreaks have no sectoral or geographic boundaries.

The societal threat posed by cholera provides a compelling platform for engagement across the public and private sectors; in fact, during an outbreak like cholera, government leaders often compel large organisations to act.

Moreover, relationships developed during peacetime increase the likelihood of effective cooperation once outbreaks of cholera occur.

Businesses should, therefore, be willing to take the lead to foster such efforts, especially in locations where government capacities are constrained.

We hope that we shall join together in making 2023 the year we seriously step up to the threat cholera poses to our companies and communities. Never act as bewildered bystanders! Instead, we can choose to shape a safer Malawi for all.

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