With Covid-19 preventing it holding its normal annual winter school, the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe successfully held a Virtual Winter School on Thursday and Friday last week, in which more than 300 people participated.
Speakers included Corporate Governance Institute (CGI) global president Peter Turnbull and director general Tim Sheehy, who made a joint presentation from Australia, and Corporate Secretaries International Association (CSIA) president Karyn Southgate, who made her presentation from South Africa. ICSAZ is the CGI’s Zimbabwe division and a member of CSIA.
Speaking on the Changing Role of the Governance Professional and Governance in the Digital Age Post Covid, Mr Turnbull and Mr Sheehy both pointed out that, while Covid-19 had caused chaos worldwide, within any crisis there were opportunities.
“Remember the renaissance followed the plague: There are always opportunities to be found, so never waste a good crisis,” Mr Turnbull said.
“If we are smart and we’re involved and we’re flexible, this can add opportunities for us as well,” Mr Sheehy said.
He said many company secretaries and governance professionals had found that in the Covid-19 environment their role as advisor to the board had come to the fore. They had also spent much more time working with the executive part of the business than ever before. They had had to embrace technology options quickly and help others learn how to use them.
They had found the scope of advice they were being asked to give had broadened and that, while advice to the board had been a normal part of their job, they were now being asked by a wider part of the organisation for advice on governance matters and a range of matters they had not previously had to deal with.
“In a way that describes what a chartered secretary is as opposed to a company secretary,” he said.
Responses to the sudden and unexpected Covid-19 lockdowns had had to be fast, with constant adaptation and the use of technology becoming the norm.
Mr Turnbull said that while virtual meetings had worked well, they were not the same as physical meetings. Some of the things that were missing, he said, were “the nuances, the body language, the interactions, the direct negotiations, the ability to have really difficult conversations, the emotions which are suppressed and therefore we do not really know what some people are thinking”.
He said the new normal after Covid-19 was likely to see some people working from home for some of the week. There would probably be a mixture of working from home and going to work.
Mangers would need to increase their skills in maintaining creativity, innovation and performance without constant face to face interaction. Technology would increase in importance and so would cyber risks.
Mergers and acquisition activity was likely to increase as profit margins came under pressure.
If remote working gained traction, job locations might move to countries with lower labour costs. There would probably also be more local manufacturing to shorten supply chains and guarantee supply.
Dandemutande chief executive Never Ncube addressed the virtual winter school on digital transformation.
He said that when the Covid-19 crisis arrived, there was already a clear case for shifting to a more digitally focussed economy.
“The new normal,” he said, “is about delivering services and products online, serving customers from anywhere, managing a remote workforce and our existence in a digital global village.”
He said the main benefits of digital transformation included long-term gains in efficiency and productivity, opening new markets and driving economic growth, more effective logistics and global supply chains and a drop in transportation and communication costs.
He listed some of frontier technologies associated with digital transformation as blockchain technology, data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 3D printing, automation, robotics and cloud computing.
He said Zimbabwe’s currency crisis had forced it to adopt online, internet and mobile banking and cashless payment systems. It was behind in adopting e-commerce platforms but the coronavirus pandemic and associated business disruptions had resulted in a rise in online purchases.
Social media presence in Zimbabwe was chiefly limited to Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. There was limited use of search engine optimisation and limited skills in digital marketing.
The adoption of frontier technologies such as the internet of things, data analytics and blockchain technology was in its infancy across all industries.
Covid-19 had forced business to adopt digital collaborations such as virtual meetings.
“The new normal is about connectivity as a human right, digital platforms, virtual collaboration, smart cities, smart manufacturing, smart agriculture, Fin-techs and robots. The new normal is about how we can rebuild a more equitable and inclusive global economy,” he said.
Ms Southgate told winter school participants about the CSIA toolkit for company secretaries, while Auditor General Mildred Chiri outlined the public sector financial management dynamics.
All the presentations were well received by Winter School participants, who indicated their appreciation through comments posted online during the presentations.