Reflections and the Way Forward
As we close the year 2019, I took the opportunity to reflect on some of the trends from the last decade and also provide some pointers for the next decade.
First, in my opinion, the fiscal models pursued by most governments are flawed.
Most high-income economies have governments who have accumulated unsustainable levels of public debt as a percentage of GDP – for example Japan, America, European countries and Singapore. Unfortunately, many low- and middle-income economies are pursuing similar fiscal models and will fall into the same debt trap. Fortunately, there are a handful of countries who have achieved high income status without accumulating unsustainable government debt like the Scandinavian countries, Holland, South Korea and New Zealand.
Second, during the last decade, global economic growth was very much subdued.
Manufacturing activities have weakened significantly to levels not seen since the Global Financial Crisis. Rising trade and geopolitical tensions have increased uncertainty about the future of the global trading system and international cooperation in general, which has taken a toll on business confidence, investment decisions, and global trade. A notable shift towards increased monetary policy accommodation – through both action and communication – has cushioned the impact of these tensions on financial market sentiment and activity, while a generally resilient service sector has supported employment growth.
Third, politics on the world stage has become highly polarised.
Over the course of the decade, there has been an increasing polarisation of political leaders. On one end of the polarity are leaders who have been elected on the basis of a strong drive towards nationalism and are projecting this as the answer to the perils of globalisation – for example Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Rodrigo Duterte. On the opposite end are those who believe that globalisation and international trade are predominantly beneficial to the world and that national interests can be accommodated within globalisation with the right policies and partnerships – Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Sanna Marin, for example. Many leaders oscillate along the continuum due to pragmatism or in some cases, simply a lack of conviction of what they really stand for.
Fourth, global trends towards IR 4.0 have grown to be even more pronounced during the last decade, bringing massive disruption to normal businesses.
Businesses who are in the forefront of these global trends are the likes of Amazon, Alibaba, Airbnb, Uber, Facebook, and Grab.
Fifth, in the last decade, communications have been truly transformed.
Electronic and social media have truly disrupted traditional approaches to communications. Conventional communication and traditional advertising in mainstream media have been seriously challenged. The internet is used relentlessly to bombard people with all sorts of information. As such, there is a growing call for governments to regulate against fake news.
Finally, in the last decade, the green agenda has been pushed onto the global pedestal.
It is no wonder that the TIME person of the year is the sixteen-year-old green activist, Greta Thunberg. There has been a big push for businesses to implement the green agenda.
POINTERS FOR THE NEW DECADE (2020-2029)
As we enter 2020 and the new decade, it is important to highlight that the trends of the last decade will continue. All businesses around the world were impacted by these trends one way or another.
There are winners and losers. Winners are those who know how best to spot the opportunities and quickly grab them with both hands. The losers are those who are inflexible and are caught in analytical paralysis and procrastination.
There are six pointers I wish to highlight as opportunities for the new decade:
First, governments around the world have to adopt new fiscal models to achieve economic growth without accumulating unsustainable levels of public debt.
How can they go about doing it? My advice? Just learn from those countries who are doing it right! Put together a fiscal roadmap based on the best practices from these countries. And get down to implementing the roadmap with discipline. In the Ministerial Leadership Programme organised by Harvard University in Boston, I make it a point in my lectures to convince Finance and Planning Ministers who attend the programme to move towards a sustainable fiscal model and policy.
Second, the private sector must be allowed to be the engine of economic growth.
We at PEMANDU Associates have pioneered the Lab methodology to make this happen. The Lab is basically a 6-week incubator which allows the private sector to put forward their investment projects and where the government can work together with the private sector to solve problems encountered by these projects. This will unleash the economic potential of countries, creating wealth and jobs.
Third, there is tremendous opportunity for political leaders to exercise transformational leadership to make a real difference in their countries and at the global stage of politics.
There is a sense that people all over the world are ready to accept new and radical approaches which will deliver real results to create sustainable and inclusive prosperity. For this to happen, political leaders must step up to fill this vacuum. Most governments have beautiful policies and strategies, but the problem is implementation. The crux of the problem is this: governments must focus on translating their high-level policies and strategies into practical and operational plans for implementation. In the new decade, PEMANDU Associates will seek opportunities to leverage its Global Transformation Forum (GTF) as a platform for leaders to share their transformational stories as a way to encourage learning.
Fourth, all companies must embrace digital transformation.
There are opportunities for change, for example in the retail and wholesale business, trading, banking, professional services, manufacturing and agriculture. Companies who successfully transform themselves digitally will ride the competitive wave and win. Unfortunately, businesses who are reluctant to embrace digital transformation will certainly fail in the new decade. To enhance our services, PEMANDU Associates has signed a deal with FPT Vietnam (the top IT company in Vietnam) to collaborate in providing consultancy services and solutions to help companies undertake successful business and digital transformation.
Fifth, in the new decade, there are massive opportunities for new forms of communications and advertising.
Businesses must embrace radical approaches to reach out to their target customers through a variety of channels including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Traditional approaches no longer work. COMMUNICATE by PEMANDU has positioned itself as a communications agency that pursues approaches that can be radical and disruptive. For instance, ‘rough and ready’ customer advocacy videos have much greater believability and traction compared to slick corporate videos. Amplification of these communication messages through social media is key. Furthermore, it is a cost-effective means of reaching out to target customers.
Finally, on the green agenda, PEMANDU’s newly formed subsidiary, Perintis Akal, is offering an innovative solution to waste management.
Kurina is a novel invention to dispose residential and commercial waste, with three key advantages: no more landfills, zero emissions and a lower cost.
I am convinced that while the new decade will be very challenging, there are tremendous opportunities where we can make a difference in whatever we do.
Let’s get on with it.