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Thu 23 Jul 2020 03:14 PM

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A lighthouse for turbulent times: how company purpose is illuminating the way during Covid-19

As Covid-19 disrupts lives and livelihoods across the region and the world, companies have an innate responsibility to leverage their scale and resources to make a difference, writes PepsiCo's Aamer Sheikh

A lighthouse for turbulent times: how company purpose is illuminating the way during Covid-19

Aamer Sheikh, President & General Manager at PepsiCo Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

The use of the adjective ‘unprecedented’ during this crisis has been, well, unprecedented. This only serves to highlight that when the full reality of Covid-19 hit the global community this year, there was no playbook with which to pull off the shelf, dust off and begin implementing.

Health authorities, governments and the private sector across the globe raced to assess, adapt and implement action plans to stem the tide of infections and respond to the crisis as best as they could, with limited visibility on the long-term impact.

While we’re still in the early days of what could be a much longer-term reality, we do now have somewhat of a precedent to refer to.

The scale of response from all corners of the globe has been historic but what lessons can companies derive from recent history and apply to their ‘new normal’?

As Covid-19 disrupts lives and livelihoods across the region and the world, companies have an innate responsibility to leverage their scale and resources to make a difference.

During times of darkness and choppy waters, all ships need a lighthouse – a bright beacon to guide them in the right direction and away from peril.  For many companies that have risen to the challenge, this beacon of safety has been “Purpose” – the foundation guiding their response and bringing a sense of stability to an otherwise stormy voyage.

PepsiCo’s ‘Winning with Purpose’ strategy embeds purpose at a genetic level and is the rallying cry for all our Associates to instinctively guide their thoughts and actions.

But identifying and articulating purpose is only one side of the coin. Action i.e. how this purpose is deployed is of greater importance.

5 principles that have proven successful in responding to this crisis with purpose at the heart:

Empower your people to focus on the greater good

I firmly believe that a company’s greatest asset is its people. In our case, our people have always been our number one priority and, now, our biggest allies in the fight against Covid-19.

At the onset of the crisis, the emphasis was on clarity of communication and safety: implementing strict measures to promote health and safety and establishing clear and regular lines of dialogue to provide reassurance during a time of unparalleled confusion and fear. Loss of employment and financial stability is a very real concern during times of economic crisis.

As PepsiCo, we’ve been fortunate to be able to not only protect our people’s livelihoods but, in some instances, go a step further and reward many of our frontline staff with increased compensation in recognition of their service during these testing times.

While not all businesses are able to control this, what is crucial is clarity of communication and empathy and what makes a real difference is empowerment.

As the crisis gathered momentum and moved into a phase of ‘resilience’ mobilization to tackle Covid-19 has provided additional resources and a focal point of hope to unite and empower a dispersed workforce. Our employees – many of whom have adapted to working from home – have been emboldened to contribute to the collective response. One example is through voluntary donations, which we recognized as an opportunity to propagate these acts of altruism with a two-to-one matching initiative during April.

Protect the vulnerable and support the frontlines:

Covid-19 is indiscriminate. It has disrupted many lives and livelihoods but in times of crisis, prioritization of the most vulnerable parts of our communities is crucial to making an impact where it matters most.

Companies around the world have rallied to provide those at risk and on the frontlines with practical measures – from retooling their operations to provide medical equipment to intervening to make sure the needy get what they need.

Jointly with our bottling partners, we’ve committed USD 5 million towards humanitarian support to help those across the MENA region who need it most, through the PepsiCo MENA Foundation.

We’re distributing close to 10 million meals and supply boxes to those who are vulnerable: quarantined and at-risk groups in labor camps and other communities.

Our frontlines - our doctors, nurses, supermarket staff and all of those involved behind the scenes - are working around the clock to keep us safe. We all need to support their efforts. In countries across MENA including Lebanon and KSA, we’ve moved quickly to contribute to the purchase of protective gear, medical equipment, water and other crucial supplies.

“Speed trumps perfection”:

At the onset of the crisis, a key WHO figure, Dr. Micheal Ryan indicated that in emergency relief work “speed trumps perfection”. His words ring true across so many other disciplines.

In these extraordinary times, complex businesses with a multitude of stakeholders and decision makers must put red tape aside to act quickly, decisively and coherently.

In the early days of Covid-19, the fog of the unknown was overcome by those who took swift action – guided by their purpose. Locally, major retailers pivoted to retrain staff from their entertainment businesses and redeploy them to the frontlines at their hypermarket stores: an action that no doubt had a steep learning curve but that addressed a need with immediacy true to their purpose.

“Greater than the sum of our parts” – community cohesion and supporting our governments and partners

The proverbial ‘silver lining’ to this dark cloud has been that even through a period characterized by social distancing – we’ve, arguably, never been closer.

On every level, communities are banding together to adapt to Covid-19 with a magnificent display of unity to preserve connections and look after each other.

While governments lead the way, companies have an undeniable responsibility to support them to deliver on a common purpose.

Having called MENA PepsiCo’s home for decades, we’re working in close partnership with our governments, bottlers and retail partners to direct resources and relief to where it’s needed most.

Never has there been a greater time to demonstrate the truth behind: “the whole is greater than the sum of our parts”.

Creativity during crisis: leaning into your expertise to produce new outcomes

Crisis needn’t be a time to play it safe. While a company’s purpose must remain a constant, Covid-19 has taught us that crisis can catalyze creative problem solving.

Household toy and technology brands have deviated from their core business but transferred expertise to produce face shields and ventilators. Tourism companies have released virtual experiences to keep digital tourism and adventurism alive during lockdown. Restaurants have pivoted to delivery businesses or provided remote cooking classes to keep their communities well fed. PepsiCo has leveraged its expertise in nutrition and training to provide nutritious meal packs to the most in need and contribute to an online education program in Iraq in collaboration with the government. Globally, we’ve partnered with entities like Meals on Wheels ad Food4Kids making sure that nutrition gets to people all across the world where they most need it.

The universal truth is that all companies have strengths that can be applied in a meaningful way to a crisis situation like Covid-19. Whether it’s expertise in logistics, procurement, communication, or a particular category like nutrition, this crisis has shone a spotlight on how companies can act quickly, creatively and responsibly, while staying true to their core abilities.

What the future of Covid-19 holds for us is still unknown but what is clear is that companies that stay true to their purpose and act quickly and authentically, will emerge stronger post this crisis.

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