Covid-19: To complain or to innovate? That’s the question

Many employers cannot absorb new staff but there are other ways that can be explored, says the author. File image.
Many employers cannot absorb new staff but there are other ways that can be explored, says the author. File image.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Reports vary but it is estimated that in the last year alone, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost due to Covid-19. Those that are still lucky to have a job have very little disposable income.

There is no time like today where the words “every cent counts” are truer. But what is the solution? We can sit and throw our hands in the air in despair, or we could innovate.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said it better when he said: “What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes about you and when it changes against you — what used to be a tailwind is now a headwind — you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.”

It is therefore incumbent on all of us potential employers or those that can create opportunities to do so to make light the burden on those most affected by Covid-19. And let's face it, those are the most downtrodden. The single mother with children still at school. The breadwinner who got laid off and has no chance of getting another job soon. The student who just completed their degree but walks into a shrunken employment market.

The world has changed more for these people and many others. And all they need are opportunities to keep the lights on, to put bread on the table, to pay for one more month of school fees.

Reality though is such that a lot of employers — corporates and SMMEs alike — have also lost a lot of revenue and cannot absorb new staff. Not yet at least. But there are other ways, and they have to be explored.

By all indications, Covid-19 is still going to be with us for a long time. Even with the current rollout of the different vaccines, there is no way of telling when SA and the world will be out of danger.

Accordingly, the job market will remain under stress. Even if more people don’t lose their jobs, those who have already been laid off have little or no chance of being absorbed back.

This is a collective problem. The more people are left out of economic activity, the worse it is for the country. All good corporate citizens should be very concerned about this and all of us have to find ways of making the situation better.

This is the challenge we took on for ourselves at Talk360 to answer some of the problems already mentioned here. With our easy-to-use calling app, we have made it easy for ordinary people to make cheap local and international calls. This app is now one of the top five leading calling apps worldwide and proves the need for new services connecting the online and offline customers.

It is also convenient. Unlike other free services, the recipient doesn’t have to have data or the app. This helps because the user does not have to be tech-savvy or banked to get airtime to call and they can share some of their airtime with family, wherever they are in the world. 

There is also an opportunity for users to start their small businesses by recruiting friends to buy airtime and earn commission in the process. Through our referral portal, we are now creating entrepreneurial opportunities for agents to recruit and earn for customers acquired. And when someone downloads the app, the agent offers them their code, which comes with some free airtime, as an incentive. Right there and then, they have secured themselves a new customer and every time the customer tops up, the agent makes money and has real time access to their income.

This is a small effort by one organisation. Imagine how much more can be done if most companies found innovative ways to create opportunities for those who have been removed from the mainstream. This is perhaps an opportunity to even review corporate social responsibility programmes to create such opportunities and to alleviate the unemployment challenges that many people face.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma said: “Opportunity lies in the place where the complaints are.”

The time of complaining about what Covid-19 has done to us is past. Now is the time to see what opportunities it has created for us and how we can pass on those opportunities to those who are less fortunate and most affected by the pandemic.

  • Dean Hiine is co-founder and MD for Africa and the Middle East for Talk360