Hope is the currency of faith

In a vast and diverse democracy such as India, I have always believed and said that religion is for the riches since their stomachs are well fed and always full.  Whereas the poor or the “have nots” first worry about earning their livelihood to feed their family.  It is this worry that coerces them to believe in something called religion that is otherwise interpreted and perpetuated by our great scholars.   Many institutions prosper and flourish in the name of religion because of poor and misinformed populates, it is time to put charity and kindness above all religions in the wake of Covid-19.

Just as Government of India was creative and bold enough to draw a one-time dividend from the Reserve Bank of India to fill-in fiscal deficit, I am sure that all the religious or sectoral institutions including temples, mosques, gurudwaras, churches etc. whether registered or not, can be made to participate in a 20-year government bond @ nominal interest from their treasury including gold and other assets.

Nobody knows the worth of the Vatican?  However, based on media reports the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvanathapuram, India, is reported to have gold worth US$ 15 billion with one cellar yet to be opened.  Without adding wealth of other known residences of God, if we were to simply multiply this number with 5 i.e. number of major religions in India, we are talking about US$ 75 billion.  Even if we leave behind 25% for their administration and maintenance, we are looking at ~ US$ 55 billion gushing into the economy.  My trustee friends in these religious institutions need not worry since their cash boxes will keep receiving donations from the faithful including myself moment the lockdown eases.

A word of caution that these bonds are a loan to the Government of India (GoI) and not a one-time dividend.  It should be used for productive measures and creation of capital assets rather than for subsidy or direct benefit transfer (DBT).  The monies collected must be used for stimulating the economy, setting up healthcare facilities, decentralize and deconcentrate economic activities from urban to rural areas, build infrastructure, speed up migration of manufacturing facilities from China to India etc, ….perhaps the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister may add more here.  As long as the GDP grows by more than 3% yoy, the GoI should be able to repay these debts easily in a 20-year horizon.  If this were to be achieved, the PM can forego the idea of inheritance tax on us mortals forever; might as well use the inheritance left by the Gods.

I fail to understand why can’t all of humanity rise above religious inhibitions to feed the families just as Sikhism runs langar (community kitchen) or ISKCON runs meal program called Annamrita.  I am sure there are many other similar programs and good work being done elsewhere which I am not aware of.  But there is no point in keeping the assets of these institutions idle when they can be used as community kitchens or make-shift medical facilities or temporary shelter.

As I write and suggest this, there is a deep reservation in my mind due to the powerful lobby that controls such institutions as well as the political ramifications of doing something like this.  As I think more, I am reminded of a similar principle illustrated in a Akshay Kumar / Paresh Rawal Bollywood starrer movie – “OMG” which itself was an adaptation of a Gujarati play called “Kanji virrudh kanji”.  I only hope my cynicism is proved wrong.

Saumil Shah is a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant. The above are his personal views.

What the pandemic means for brands, influencer marketing

We’re swimming in uncharted waters. The SARS-CoV-2 has turned the world as we know it upside down and yet in the chaos is an opportunity. The chain of events that have caused it may not be palatable, but it is there nonetheless – an unprecedented reach to consumers through influencers.

The COVID-19 Curve Ball
In the past month, the efficacy of OOH advertising has essentially dropped to nil in India because the entirety of the nation is bound-to-home. Even adverts during traditional TV content is out for a toss because soaps, movies, and events are on an indefinite pause.

This has left brands struggling to find some means of remaining top-of-mind. The singular and not surprising solution is social media and the creators who hold sway on it.

Why the Aberrant Rise of Influencers?
With conventional means of entertainment not working, there’s an exponential growth in screen times see. More and more people look towards creators as a source of relief, information on the pandemic, and, of course, an entertainment outlet.

The sudden change in consumer behaviour is the foundation for the rise of creators. What pushed it forward was their intuitive understanding of where they fit into their audience’s life during the crisis. Being particularly equipped to adapt to situations, they adjusted accordingly.

For instance, fashion creators innately knew that promoting a cocktail dress, or for that matter any other such product, is irrelevant. They altered course and began amplifying life-saving information or content that helped lighten the mood and made their audience feel good.

Keeping up with the current needs of their followers is one reason why creators are making headway even when the majority of the world is at a standstill. Another is their extreme adaptability when it comes to content.

The Varied Landscape of Online Content
Creators read the writing on the wall and adapted their content to it. The first big surge was live-streams. From workouts to concerts, from DJs to chefs, creators from all walks of life logged on to Instagram live because it allowed them to interact with their audience and be together even in quarantine.

Next came purpose-driven campaigns. Creators used their reach to spread awareness on how to flatten the curve, support organisations and charities helping doctors, nurses and every other professional on the front line.

The final trend is solution-based content. Influencers are now publishing content that helps followers, ranging from self-help videos to tutorial-style guides. They are also producing content that is fun, enjoyable and helps pass the time.

What Should Brands Do?
Creators, with their real, unfiltered content that echoes the needs of their audience, are a valuable resource for brands. Now is the right time to reallocate marketing spend and leverage the authenticity and flexibility of influencer marketing campaigns but with certain caveats.

Don’t force-fit the brand
One impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that true colours are coming out. If a creator has always believed in something, they are continuing to do so in spite of the lockdown.  For instance, a person who loves working out, found alternatives and began exercising at home.

Brands should leverage these creators because they are relatable to the audience, as long as they fit the company’s image. Do not choose a creator merely based on their follower count or reach, assess if they have been passionate about your product or service and then march ahead.

Don’t come off tone-deaf
The downside of more content consumption is more monitoring. The consumer is not only reading, watching or listening to your content but also judging its tone. Even a minute mistake will turn egregious during this pandemic, so have a human element to all brand messages and be extremely sensitive to the mood.

Don’t cling to guidelines
A crisis requires a nuanced working, which is rarely, if ever, possible when you adhere to strict brand guidelines. So, the last caveat for brands jumping into an influencer marketing campaign right now is to give the creator leeway.

The current content creation cycle is taking place entirely at home, trust the creator to see it through. Aim to collaborate, rather than hiring a creator. Take a cue from Cosmopolitan India’s Work from Home Issue which was styled, conceptualised and art directed solely by a creator.

Influencers: More Relevant Than Ever Before
Living in isolation has sent people searching for a sense of community and the one resource that allows it is social platforms. In the coming time, expect them to become the most potent tool for maintaining connections. And when that happens, bank on relevant influencers to dominate it.

Ankit Agarwal is the Founder of Do Your Thing (DYT). https://doyourthng.com/

New paradigm of business in a VUCA world

The current situation has clearly changed the way on how organisations structure and deliver work. There is disruption in every facet of the business – logistics, demand and supply, consumer preferences, sales models and the availability of human capital. The pace at which the world adapted to this model, i.e. less than two months, goes to show that agility is non-negotiable in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. Now, a home or a bedroom is a workplace.

Leaders need to consider socio-economic factors, statutory requirements and state/federal laws to navigate and combat the disruption. Leadership is heavily scrutinised now and making those timely personal and genuine messages will go a long way in establishing credibility. As the human and economic toll grows, it is the principles and ethos of an organisation that will lead them out of the trenches and help them plot a faster recovery curve.

The question on many minds, which industry will recover, after the outbreak, and how quickly? The quick transformation and automation of an organisation will minimise disruption. The answer lies in their ability to blend pre-COVID-19, during COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 business models seamlessly. Organisations that are operationally flexible will be able to limit the extent of disruptions caused by extraneous variables.

It is the people who makes the organisation come to life. Given disruption of workforce movements and physical presence in the workplace, there will be critical impact on all processes, upstream and downstream, that have a reliance on human capital. Organisations that have strong people practices and innovative staffing solutions will enable their workforce to deliver critical or essential services remotely. Employees will most definitely feel anxious about the permanency of their jobs, given the disruptions. Leaders must address these issues upfront candidly to enable employees safeguard their financial wellbeing. Some organisations such as Singapore Airlines have proactively taken measures e.g. the crew at Singapore airlines have been redeployed as ‘care ambassadors’ to serve at low-risk hospital wards. Organisations have also created several wellbeing programmes for employees to cope with the stress of social distancing and associated social disengagement.

Technology at the core
Technology is no longer the enabler but the life blood of organisations to cope with the current business disruption. Many organisations now rely heavily on technology to conduct their meetings via online platforms and video calls, in the comfort and safety of their homes. Times like this is when the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) put their teams and investment to the test. Never has the dependency on technology infrastructure been so critical to run seamlessly, with almost 90% concurrent remote logins, IT teams have to work overtime to ensure continuity of service. To replace face-to-face meetings, there is a need for collaboration and knowledge sharing platforms, easily accessible to all, across geographies. This makes it even easier if there is a single integrated enterprise platform, to ensure consolidation, access and accuracy of information.

With most of the work today being performed online and via multitude of third party tools, the risk associated with data breaches and leakages has become even more clear and present. Cyber protection has gone into hyper drive in the last couple of months to protect both company, employee and client information.

The optimistic view of this pandemic is the reduction in carbon footprint as most people stay at home. The lower emission of fuel as both land, air and sea vehicles are grounded has given us clearer skies and cleaner oceans as the planet resets. A real food for thought at this moment as humans is to really ask ourselves if half the activities we do which has been killing our planet is really essential.  In addition, as organisations re-organise for only essential staff to be in the office and for those who can work from home to give up their work desks, whilst real estate will see a sharp decrease in rental yield, companies can use this reduction to increase their profit margins. The COVID-19 pandemic is a first of its kind, and the only thing we can hope for is for mankind, economies and organisations to learn from the grave mistakes, habits, and oversights which took a pandemic of this magnitude to give it a wake-up call and remind us that we are global citizens, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Angelyn Varkey is Marketing Director, Asia at AON (www.aon.com) and based in Singapore

Discovering New Ways of Working amidst the Pandemic

Technological advancements, disruptive innovations and the need for work-life-balance are changing the fundamental nature of work. This has naturally led to much speculation, excitement and fear about the future of work around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly renewed the emphasis on the new ways of working. The big question is: Are organisations and employees prepared for the new  ways of working?

A global remote work, tools and software, business workflow and e-learning experiment has begun. Some are struggling to adapt to the new ways of working together; others envision it as an idealist scenario in achieving the ultimate work-life balance. Realistically, the new ways of working is a conversation that needs to be explored in-depth, practiced over time and embraced by each individual of an organisation. To succeed, we will need to discover new ways of organising, performing and leading; along with new approaches to attracting, developing and engaging employees.

These are trying times that have created a myriad of challenges for many at work. Work and life are being impacted in a variety of ways. During times like this, it is important that we develop and align around explicit expectations, get familiar with technology, individualise coaching of employees, get creative, rethink meetings, give and ask for some grace while adapting. Taking account of employee empowerment might allow each employee to see their work in a new light; in turn transforming into an innovative, collaborative, empathetic and inclusive organisation. The times are changing but the values remain the same. We can construct the future of work together; one which help achieve our collective and individual goals despite the dynamic environmental conditions that we find ourselves in.

Looking ahead, COVID-19 will not be an issue forever, the new ways of working will be. A wave of change is coming that will soon make the way we work almost unrecognisable to business leaders today. Do not be surprised if employees prefer the option of working remotely even after this pandemic. Many studies show remote employees are more productive and profitable than in-house employees. What we learn about leading a new workforce now will likely become best practice later on. Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can offer definitive solutions to this paradigm shift other than to remind everyone that the only constant in the universe is change. Take care of yourselves and each other and see this challenge as an opportunity to build new ways of working.

“Honsonn Wong is the Assistant Talent Development Manager at LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics. The above-mentioned are his personal views and are not a representation of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics”.