South Africa risks more inequality if it does not digitalise, says WEF

5th March 2021 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Deputy Editor Online

The World Economic Forum (WEF) finds in its latest ‘Global Risks Report 2021’ that Covid-19 has not only claimed millions of lives, but also risks widened long-standing health, economic and digital disparities.

The WEF, together with report collaborators professional services firms Marsh McLennan, SK Group and Zurich Insurance Group, says minorities who were disadvantaged before the pandemic could be at risk of missing pathways to the new and fairer societies that the recovery could unlock.

Globally, the acceleration of the digital transformation as a result of the pandemic promises significant benefits, for example the creation of almost 100-million new jobs by 2025.

Simultaneously, however, digitalisation may displace some 85-million jobs, and since 60% of adults lack basic digital skills, the risk is the deepening of existing inequalities.

It is also expected to expose businesses, and their customers, to significantly greater risks of cyberattacks.

Commenting on the findings, Marsh Africa CEO Spiros Fatouros says that, when it comes to access to technology and digital skills, the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ could widen.

“This has the potential to particularly affect young people. This is why it is imperative that South African businesses work towards ensuring that, in accelerating their digital transformation programmes, they do not miss the opportunity for growth that comes with embracing sections of society who might not have access to the technology necessary to function in a digital first world.”

The WEF reports that the economic and societal fallout from Covid-19 will impact on the way organisations interact with clients and colleagues long after any vaccine roll-out.

As businesses transform their workplaces, new vulnerabilities are emerging, and rapid digitalisation is exponentially increasing supply chain disruption and cyber-exposures.

Cyber-risk (30%) and misuse of technology (29%) were identified in the report by senior business leaders as some of their biggest concerns – a water crisis (63%) was highlighted as the number one risk to doing business.

Fatouros believes every business will need to strengthen and constantly review its strategies.

“In 2020, the risk of a global pandemic became reality, something this report has been highlighting since 2006. As governments, businesses and societies begin to emerge from the pandemic, they have an opportunity to shape new economic and social systems that improve our collective resilience and offer the capacity to reduce inequality, improve health and protect the planet,” he adds.