Blind Optimism for the Unforeseeable Future

Blind Optimism for the Unforeseeable Future

The BBC World Business Report released a broadcast that described a wide array of perspectives on the financial and social consequences of COVID-19. After interviewing Neil Bradley, we understand that about one in ten businesses are less than a month away from shutting down completely, and despite federal and state spending, some businesses will not be able to come back from their current deficit. Following Bradley’s statement, Dr. Ayman El Tarabishy of the International Council for Small Business describes our collective movement towards a new normality. He comments on our current situation by enlightening the audience to the hurt of small businesses. Enterprises, housing only four to five employees, are those that often survive financially on a month-to-month basis. Additionally, El Tarabishy comments on how even large businesses who have invested in the upcoming spring season will feel this crisis. Throughout this moment, the unknown of time is the most important variable. Dr. El Tarabishy indicates that companies would have an easier time adjusting to this moment of loss, if they were able to define an end date and work backwards in adjusting their income structure. However, definitive time is not a luxury for which our current crisis allows. As about two trillion dollars are coming from the government, most businesses, who without aid would be severely suffering, are feeling grateful to stay open and be able to pay their employees properly. However, what will happen when it is time to pay the April paychecks? This conversation must also include a monetary percentage, therefore if businesses are able to pay their employees with the help of the government this month, they will have to replay this scene again next month. Luckily, according to Dr. El Tarabishy, small businesses are known to try to first take care of their employees. 

The presenter then asks Dr. El Tarabishy if this shut down is too large a price to pay for the pandemic, to which El Tarabishy immediately responds “no.” He states that small businesses are based in humane entrepreneurship, and while there are those who will see this virus in a negative light, there are others that will note how their enterprise’s sacrifice was made for humanity. It is this change in the narrative that will shift the way that the next generations view this moment in history. Small businesses are resilient, and that resilience shines brightest in moments of crisis, like that of today. That spirit will hopefully work concurrently with a long term plan set forth by the government. As it seems impossible to predict the future, especially as we find ourselves in such a volatile state, only the evolution of time will determine if large spending during this period will be worth it. Dr. El Tarabishy notes that if people are willing to sacrifice in the short term for their long term survival, they often need to know how long that short term period will last. This uncertainty leaves us individuals with a choice. One in which we can choose to wait for the worst or another in which we can show our true resilient humanity.
Reference broadcast: 25% of US small businesses could close

A Business School for the Day After

A Business School for the Day After

With one in two world inhabitants “confinés,” as Dean Guillaume Bigot puts it, we have an incredible opportunity to reflect on where we are. Taking over at the IPAG Business School Paris-Nice groups in July 2008, I think of Bigot as a “rebel dean.” Formed as a journalist, Bigot, and by association IPAG, uses the incredible tactic of remaining small in size. Not to promote exclusivity, but rather to focus on the quality of the programs and work that they are already conducting. Founded by Jacques Rueff, executive advisor to President Charles de Gaulle, the deeply rooted origins permit the school to branch into other world spaces with the understanding that they are french. 

In looking at the evolution of Paris, Bigot returned to the intense changes in globalization and the promotion of the “anglo-saxon business model,” following the collapse of the USSR during the Regan era. As he points to the interesting yet positive nature of the world’s usage of business tools, formalized business processes, and the adaptation of the English language in business ventures, he recognizes the convenience for the anglo-saxons. Being made in the image of their world view, anglo-saxons are able to “maximize their assets and qualities” in this field built by and for them. However, Bigot importantly points out that despite the efforts made by the international community, specifically business schools in France, to become more “anglo-saxon,” these people will never do it well enough because they, themselves, will never be anglo-saxon. Warning us to pay attention as to how we can adapt ourselves to these standards, the rebel dean has decided to encourage his students to do things differently. 

Looking to teach their students to be focused in their learning rather than to promote multiculturalism in their education, IPAG seeks to challenge their students to get to know the market they are working in. This being a way for students to learn to master their studies, and then to master their market research in the future. If one is looking to do business in Russia, IPAG advises that student to learn Russian, meaning becoming proficient in the language as well as the geography, the demography, the opportunities and, most importantly, the limitations to communities in that area.

Having exemplified the power of this focus, soon after beginning as Dean of IPAG Paris-Nice, Bigot capitalized on the geographic location by drawing an international population to the school, specifically doing so in the form of conferences, which are held three times a year and seek to examine the topics of finance, economy of energy and ecology, and scientific business studies. Despite the school’s small size, these conferences helped IPAG gain world recognition. By targeting the quality of their program, IPAG grew locationally, rather than in student size. Strategically opening a campus in Kunming, IPAG has truly demonstrated the power in finding and following a new path.

Looking at the ‘Day After’ in France, we are warned that “if we do not pay attention, not only could the day after look just like the day before, but it could be even worse.” Many nations, including France and the United States, have seen how dependent their supply chain rests on China as “l’usine du monde,” the world’s factory. We can also see other troubling trends; for example, many middle class wages are not increasing in a direct relationship with the wealth being created globally. Additionally, we must be wary of the large, global enterprises that are much more capable of surviving the doomsday, than typical MSMEs. Bigot alerts us to pay close attention because “if we do not do something to support and help small businesses, the businesses that are capable of reinventing the economy and the day after will, and that day after will be even worse.”

We are guided to prepare for the unexpected. As in the first hour of a battle, the entire plan has already fallen apart, we must stop thinking that the future will look like the past or, frankly, that it will resemble anything we know. This proves difficult for humanity as everything we have created to predict future trends is created from information about the past. Bigot describes how fiance is nothing more than a calculus of the past. Therefore, in this moment we must focus on long lasting skills that will remain relevant throughout the uncertainty of the future. For this reason specifically, Bigot believes that Hubs, which will work to give students tools to modify their behavior. In order to offer students the life experiences in which they might learn about themselves, their own limits, and how they interact with others, Bigot has created programs in which his students are tested. In an extreme example, IPAG sends their students to the Alps for seven days. This is not an experience meant for interviews, but rather so that the students understand that if they want to survive, they need to join together, a humbling reminder of the importance of the collective. 

Bigot understands and, therefore, hopes to portray the importance of moving from a consumer to a producer mentality. Consumers work off of their instincts, however producers are trained to think and make informed decisions. Bigot recalls how Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the last emperor of the Pax Romana, made only one to two decisions everyday. This art of thoroughly thinking through a decision, an argument, or a concept seems to be completely lost in this day and age.  

However, the COVID-19 pandemic may have given us the perfect opportunity to recover this lost art. We, as individuals, can also pay attention to controlling our own Day Afters. Through this experience of confinement, we have significantly changed the way in which we related to both time and space. Before the coronavirus, we were “oppressed by the agenda,” always rushed with no time to spare. During this moment of confinement, maybe we have too much time, however it is this moment that will teach us to classify, organize, and create time to think. Then later, we might seek to find a balance between the extremes of time seen in pre- and current confinement. In regards to space, before confinement, the world was our “playground.” Now, it may feel extremely frustrating to be stuck, making this the moment to recognize that although today we might not have enough space, our world playground from before may have been too much space. This global hault has led to a reliance on local supply chains. Hopefully this glocal (global and local) mindset can remain firmly ingrained in our understanding of our importance in the recovery and stability of our local and global environments. In closing, Bigot leaves us with these final words: 

“You will certainly not be able to be successful if you think that success is individual. As

individuals can succeed if you understand that success is brought by others, that means that their success will also be brought by you. As an individual you have to pursue your own interest, but take into account the other, without the other you are and have nothing.”

Guillaume Bigot, thank you for your critical thinking and provocative questions, may we leave this discussion imprinted with your creative and founding manner of reasoning.

S. Korea After Corona

S. Korea After Corona

As the global community looks to South Korea to guide their own nations, we wonder what really sets the Korean experience apart from the rest of the world. Korea’s involvement and participation in finding their nation’s ‘new normal’ is derived from a balance between the scientific and humane efforts needed to survive and ultimately thrive during this unparalleled time. 

South Korea has found such success in escaping their ‘corona blues’ thanks to a widespread transition from working, learning, and governing offline to online. Korea, itself, might often be thought of as a technological haven; however, much of their documentation and social interactions happen in a more traditional sense, offline. Business contracts are signed face-to-face, students receive lectures in lecture halls next to their peers and they listen to their professor. For quite a while, there has been an extreme juxtaposition between the traditional and new-age Korea, which had, in fact, caused a great rift in the society itself. In finding a new normal, S. Korea will be able to both increase their people’s quality of life, in addition to, their role in guiding the rest of the world in understanding how to manage a balance between off- and on-line life.

In seeking an understanding for how and why S. Korea has managed to find their new normal so efficiently and implement it so effectively, we can imagine a couple possible explanations. Beginning his presentation, he presented us with three challenges, followed by an opportunity. Within contaminated nations, there is infection control, mental depression and economic depression. Infection control presents itself mostly in the physical infection, physical distancing, washing of hands, wearing masks, which conjure feelings of fear. Next, mental depression which has presented itself as loneliness, fear, worry, and stress. Lastly, economic depression is seen as work closures, school closures, plunges in stock prices, and ultimately unemployment. Despite the negativity that these challenges hold, however, we are also presented with an opportunity. Examples of online transitions can be found in working from home, E-health, online shopping, online courses, and ordering groceries online. The fact that everything is changing and moving to online platforms has created the new normal in Korea. 

In describing this new normal as a normalcy that has nothing to do with the old normal, South Korea places itself apart from other countries. Hope, founded in the humane approach of entrepreneurship, has been at the centerfold of their innovation. A type of hope that works to evolve with the world, instead of working to maintain society until the effects of COVID-19 have passed. Therefore, it is this balance between medicine and hope that guides S. Korea’s actions. Corona is “a wake up call for humanity.” The scientific message of social distancing and staying home is insufficient for a community. The loneliness of work and school closures and the isolation of social distancing can lead to mental depression, meaning that the scientific approach to navigating the coronavirus is not enough for humans. We need connection, and it is this fundamental empathetic need that has ultimately driven the creation of the new online normal. 

Humane affection towards others, seen today as staying home, campaigns to provide food for elderly, and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, is an innate part of the human experience and has guided the formation of Korea’s new normal. Technology has to be used to support the humanity of others, so that we can stay home and social distance, while staying connected. Coronavirus is our new reality, and S. Korea has done what many countries have been unable to do: accept this new reality. By admitting surrender through acceptance, we can then understand what our community needs to continue and progress. Currently, we know that we need to keep distance from one another. Science tells us this. We, also, know that human survival comes from a place of empathy, and that it was and is only through collaboration and cooperation that human societies have and continue to survive during and after moments of crisis. In light of COVID-19, we must understand that by speaking of the current physical health crisis, we mean those people who are contaminated and dying around the world. However for the living, we are having a momentary mental health crisis. After being pushed into isolation, we are experiencing extreme loneliness and disconnect, which proves to us that the empathetic connection felt when conversing with another is essential to the human condition. 

Then, once a nation has fully accepted their new realities can they move to their new normal. South Korea has been the global example of early and widespread testing with their groundbreaking “drive -through’ inspection system. Other nations have been unable to repeat this example because they have refused to admit that the coronavirus is their nation’s new reality. We can not just buckle down and hold out until the end of contamination and confinement because we will never reach the desired outcome if we are unable to reach this place of acceptance, which can be demonstrated by the juxtaposition of S. Korea with the United States and France. In both the USA and France, grocery stores are empty. Produce, toilet paper and hygienic masks are beyond limited and practically unavailable to the public. In South Korea, grocery stores are full and their inhabitants have been supplied with an application to view where masks are available in the neighborhood.

Finally, it is important to note that although now people are sick, soon they will be hungry. By this statement, we are pointing to the long-term effects of COVID-19. Currently, S. Korea has managed to continue administering over 350,000 checkups (March 24). Their low mortality rate being a result of their widespread testing, in addition to quick (6 hour) results update. However, even South Korea needs to start thinking about the economic depression that has ensued from the pandemic. An example of a campaign to stimulate the economy is through tax breaks for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This respect, shown in the form of human entrepreneurship, results from the innovation founded in technology-promoted campaigns.

The shift to the new normal is enormous, however the normalcy that follows will be one that allows our governments, entrepreneurs, and citizens to flourish in a way that has yet to be seen before on a global scale. The fate of the world depends on the acceptance of reality and the formation of a new normal that will be founded at the intersection of science and empathy and will benefit the quality of life for everyone.

Video reference: Dr. Ki-Chan Kim on the S. Korean Experience of COVID-19

Entrepreneurship in Crisis

Entrepreneurship in Crisis

An Audacious Plan to Save Small Businesses – All small businesses below 50 employees become tax-exempt as not-for-profits for 10 years.

It’s hard to believe that something so small that it can only be seen through a microscope can bring the world to a standstill. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has already made its mark in China, Italy, and Iran and continues its sweeping development throughout the world. Rapidly, solutions are being proposed and tested, with all of society engaged in searching for a way to stem the tide.

Though COVID-19 is a human-oriented problem at its core—it has affected the health and well-being of tens of thousands of people—so much more is involved. Like a small pebble dropped in a pond, the ripple effects of one problem can cause waves on every shore it reaches. One of those areas that the ripples have reached is businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

People are at the heart of businesses; they make their own businesses thrive through hard work, and they make other businesses thrive through consumerism. If people cannot work due to poor health, fear of catching or spreading the illness, or quarantines, the business they own or work for suffers. When they cannot work, people have less or no disposable income to buy, causing other businesses to suffer loss. Many entrepreneurs are scrambling to salvage their businesses that are caught in this vicious cycle.

Yet, we see some key areas where entrepreneurship can actually take the reins, leading in this time of crisis and showing more than just the resilience to come back, they need to show the innovative strength to forge forward. Entrepreneurship depends on innovation, and innovation at its core is about seeing a need and filling it, about coming up with solutions, about finding new ways to do things. These solutions, these new ways will not only help businesses survive; they will help them thrive and possibly even open up whole new opportunities by being first movers. Innovation can be the fire and the spark that ignites the flames of progress, even in times of crisis.

But as humanity is in a current crisis, it’s humanity, that humane culture, and ideology, that is needed more than ever within businesses. A “people” problem must be addressed, showing care and concern through humane business practices about the very people who may be suffering as much as anyone else. A worldwide health crisis levels the playing field as microbes have no bias or concern about who they infect, and entrepreneurial owners and managers do well when they apply the golden rule of treating others how they would like to be treated.

The concept of human entrepreneurship holds the belief that innovation and the financial prosperity of a business goes hand in hand with the humane treatment of those who are the heart and soul of the business—its employees. This is the recipe that can help entrepreneurship, not just weather the storm but come out standing. 

There’s a common saying that people like to use during hardships like we face today: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

With the widening of the Coronavirus, the epidemic has increasingly mounted pressure on the global supply chain, abruptly driven deep dips in the stock market, and gradually infected the working population. As the Coronavirus strikes fear in the public and introduces more uncertainty to business, it has left business professionals, the global market, and the rest of the world paralyzed.

However, through the gravity of the situation, a good entrepreneur knows not to let a serious crisis go to waste. Now, at face value this sounds exploitative; however, the underlying insight is wise. The lesson here is not to suggest entrepreneurs seek to profit from others’ misfortune, but rather to realize the new opportunities to innovate in ways they could not before.

Innovation and invention is the mother of necessity. Even though it may be dire, there is still an opportunity to be forward-looking. The world is forever in need of entrepreneurs who can observe the immediate needs of society whilst look beyond the public’s field of vision. From the invention of the blood transfusion in 1913 to the invention of the vaccine in 1955, to the invention of robotic surgery in the year 2000, the world cries out again, in 2020, for strong innovation backed by humane entrepreneurial practice.

article written by:
Dr. Ayman ElTarabishy
Deputy Chair, Department of Management
The George Washington University
ICSB Executive Director

Will Digital Education Become the New Normal?

Will Digital Education Become the New Normal?

While the world rapidly changes in many ways, “New Normal” is becoming more the routine than the exception.

One of the latest burgeoning new normal? Digital education. Advancements in technology are changing learning methods, and sometimes the advancements or how fast they are accepted, or become the new normal, can be buoyed by necessity and circumstance.

As digital technology first started coming to life, it had but a faint heartbeat, a sound heard only by the ears most educated to hear it. It beat out a faint invitation to join its new and emerging world, an invitation that some readily welcomed while others casually shrugged off as “not their thing.” But now in the wake of the global epidemic crisis, digital technology–specifically digital education–is about to become everyone’s “thing” whether they welcome it willingly or not.

As the sounding approach of digital education grew louder over the previous years, it began to nudge educators along with it. Incentives were presented to entice educators into experimenting with different digital methods. The response? A mixed bag of reactions. Some felt that the technology was “clunky” or couldn’t capture the essence of in-class experience. Fair enough, those comments are completely valid. It actually creates a win-win scenario where the negative responses allow for tech to focus on needed improvements, and positive responses opened up new opportunities for students to learn.

As authorities, schools, religious leaders, and others try to slow the flow and curb the damage done by nearly pandemic illness, the course of wisdom dictates that large public gatherings where many may be in close contact with one another must be on hold for an indefinite period. This will result in the world going digital by force and not by choice as circumstances necessitate that, among other things, schools start educating through digital means. If schools close down not knowing when classes will resume, those that are unwilling or don’t have the resources to conduct digital classes online will find that it’s the students who suffer as they fall behind in their curriculums, even to the point of jeopardizing upcoming graduations. Schools that previously did little in the way of digital learning might start to use situations like this to understand why digital technology is needed going forward, accepting, and conforming to the new normal. Sometimes all that is needed is a really good reason to change.

5 Tips for Going Digital

Having to navigate the unknown can leave many nervous and unsure about how to approach it. Educators, faculty, and leaders can keep these five things in mind as they begin to educate in the digital new normal.

  1. Continue social etiquette and social cohesion. It’s easy to forget politeness, social graces, and even friendliness online; we almost start to see others as avatars or part of the tech. One thing internet trolls and online bullies have taught us is that we can be quick to lose our sense of humanity in a digital world where physical or face to face interaction doesn’t exist. But this means there is a need for humanness and social grace more than ever. There is no need for stiffness or formality within digital classrooms. There is ample room for conversation and niceties. Instead of going straight to the point, start by asking each individual in the class how they are doing, offering the appropriate level of care and concern that you would have the chance to show in a live setting. Make the little extra effort to keep humanity not just in spite of but especially because we lose physical proximity to other human beings.
  2. Reduce what you are saying by one-third. In a live classroom, a typical lecture might last 60 minutes. But people process things differently while online and attention spans falter more quickly. That means that a 60-minute live lecture should now be 40 minutes online. Don’t dilute your message or leave out important information, instead make it more concentrated and poignant. That will allow for the lecture to be shortened without losing its punch.
  3. Lead from the back. Most educators, leaders, and faculty lead from the literal front of the classroom and metaphorically from the front in terms of doing most of the talking. Though teaching is still an essential component, digital classrooms are a prime opportunity for students to shine and take the lead. Allow for student discussions while listening, encouraging, congratulating, and re-directing when necessary. Here is the chance to begin the new normal of educators doing more listening and less talking and of students doing more learning.
  4. Have empathy for “digital dinosaurs.” Not everyone has the same comfort level with digital technology, and different people come along at their own speeds. Our knee-jerk reaction might be frustration with those lagging behind, but really, it’s not much different than teaching a live class where everyone learns and comprehends the information at different rates. In a live classroom, would students who had trouble comprehending the information cause you to openly express anger and frustration at slower students as you try to force them along? In real life, most educators wouldn’t dream of treating students that way. They look for ways to help their students connect with the very important information they need to succeed. A digital classroom should be no different, even if it’s the technology that is causing the slowdown.
  5. Have fun. A new type of environment might cause stiff seriousness to reign as you concentrate hard on making it all work. But lighten it up. Have fun, engage with students, and encourage them to engage with one another. Foster an atmosphere that lends itself to social interaction and human connection even in a non-human environment.

For more resources: The International Labour Organization (ILO): Decent Jobs for Youth Knowledge Facility

The Decent Jobs for Youth Knowledge facility is a digital platform of tools, publications, databases, thematic resources and more to support evidence-informed action on youth employment. It leverages the collective experience of multiple partners to share curated, state of the art knowledge and to facilitate learning opportunities for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth employment policies and programmes. (CLICK HERE)

Article written by:

Ayman El Tarabishy
Deputy Chair, Department of Management
GW School of Business
ICSB Executive Director