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The Arab Spring, One Year On

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By Christine Lagarde
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
It is an absolute delight to be here and to see so many old and new friends. I would like especially to thank His Excellency Mohammad Safadi, the Lebanese minister of finance, for his kind invitation to address you today.
And I would like to thank all the organizers—the Safadi Foundation; Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law; the Center for International Private Enterprise, and—last but not least—our hosts today, the Woodrow Wilson Center.
This is my second time in a few short months giving a speech at the Wilson Center—I hope I do not wear out my welcome! But this time is different. When I was here in September, I talked about the challenges facing the global economy. Today, I will focus exclusively on the historic transformation taking place before our eyes in the Middle East and North Africa.
Let me talk about two specific things today.

  • First, I will talk briefly about the general context of the Arab Spring, and where it stands one year later.
  • Second, I will then address some specific economic challenges facing the region during this momentous period.

Context: Rejecting the Past, Defining the Future
Let me start with the context. As we all know, almost one year ago, everything changed for the people of the Middle East. The region embarked upon a historic transformation.
But at the time, few realized where this journey would lead. When Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire last year, who could have predicted that his tragic death would herald a whole new Middle East?
Who would have foreseen that this act of desperation against a violation of human dignity would ignite a flame that would eventually illuminate the entire region, toppling governments and leading to mass awakening of social consciousness?
This much is clear: The Arab Spring embodies the hopes, the dreams and aspirations of a people yearning for a better way of life. Yearning for greater freedom, for greater dignity, and for a more widespread and fairer distribution of economic opportunities and resources. Basic human yearnings.
Today, a year has passed, and the state of play remains uncertain. Spring has turned to autumn, and autumn to winter. People feel uneasy and grow impatient.
This is to be expected. Momentous changes of this sort—a new society in the making—are never smooth. They are almost always messy and complicated.
But still, I think it is fair to say that the setbacks have been bigger than expected. It has always been clear that each country must find its own path, and that the pace of change would vary by country, but few predicted the size of the setbacks or the intensity of the disruptions.
And here, I’m thinking especially of the deplorable loss of life in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Such violence against civilians is always a blight on humanity. It pains me deeply to think about it.
And now we are moving into the most difficult period of all. We are in the middle of a delicate transition between “rejecting the past” and “defining the future”, a key psychological inflexion point.
“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream,” wrote the great Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran.
This is naturally a risky and uncertain period. It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns. It also doesn’t help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy.
It will be important to manage this difficult transition in an orderly way. And here, I want to pay tribute especially to the people of Tunisia, who are going through a smooth and inclusive process of transition. Just as Tunisia provided the first spark of the Arab Spring, so now can it light the path forward for other countries in the region.
I remain ever hopeful. Although the journey might take some unpredictable twists and turns, and even prove perilous on occasion, the final destination is clear. The Arab Spring is still poised to unleash the potential of the Arab people. The potential of a better future for all. That’s what matters. And that’s what everyone must keep in mind.

Economic challenges
Let me turn now to my second point: how this ties into the economic challenges faced by the region.
We all learned some important lessons from the Arab Spring. While the top-line economic numbers—on growth, for example—often looked good, too many people were being left out.
And, speaking for the IMF, while we certainly warned about the ticking time bomb of high youth unemployment in the region, we did not fully anticipate the consequences of unequal access to opportunities. Let me be frank: we were not paying enough attention to how the fruits of economic growth were being shared.
It is now much clearer that more equal societies are associated with greater economic stability and more sustained growth.
While each country in the region must find its own path to change, the over-arching economic goals of the Arab Spring remain clear—higher growth, growth that creates more jobs, and growth that is shared equitably among all strands of society.
So how do we get there? How can we turn the dreams of the Arab Spring into reality?
At this delicate point in the transition, the risks are not only political, but also economic and financial.
We are already witnessing an economic slowdown across the oil-importing countries that is pushing up already-high unemployment and aggravating social tensions.
We must manage these risks carefully. In his context, I want to talk about two specific dimensions—macroeconomic stability and inclusive growth.

Macroeconomic stability
Let me first emphasize a very important point: macroeconomic and financial stability remain absolutely essential, core building blocks of any new society. Without this secure foundation, any efforts to respond to people’s aspirations will not be realized. Macroeconomic and financial stability must remain fundamental.
To date, governments have responded to social pressures by increasing subsidies, wages, and other spending to help lessen the hardship faced by ordinary people. This was needed for social cohesion in the short term.
But it does not come without cost. Fiscal deficits have widened, which raises concerns about sustainability. It pushes up interest rates, which makes it harder for the private sector to get credit to set up or expand businesses and start hiring people.
So across the region, governments need to move toward better and more sustainable fiscal policies. In particular, more targeted social protection systems would help free up funds for spending on areas like infrastructure, education, and health while laying the foundations for inclusive growth. This would be a break from the past when generalized subsidies were used to appease the population while allowing the privileged to benefit from unfair practices.
Inclusive growth
So macroeconomic stability is essential. But macroeconomic stability and inclusive growth can—and indeed must—go hand in hand.
And here, the government and the private sector must work in harmony. The private sector, including small and medium-sized enterprises, must take on a leading role, to boost investment, productivity, competitiveness—and create jobs.
But for this to happen, the government must provide an enabling environment. It should put in place modern and transparent institutions to encourage accountability and good governance and ensure fair and transparent rules of the game. It should slay, once and for all, the dragon of corruption.
The government must also lay the foundations of a modern and competitive economy by breaking down the vested interests and cozy networks of privilege that prevent the region from reaching its true economic potential. There is simply no other way to create the 50-70 million jobs needed for the people joining the labor force and to reduce unemployment over the next decade.
Again, to succeed, the debate needs to move beyond “what is wrong with the past” to “what is right for the future”.

Role of the international community
Of course, the region’s destiny lies ultimately with the region itself, but the international community also has a responsibility to help. It must listen to the hopeful voices and provide support including through financing and technical assistance.
The international community must also offer greater market access to countries in the region. If these countries are to modernize and become more competitive, they will need to be given the opportunity to trade more with the rest of the world. To create the needed jobs and inclusive growth, there is simply no other alternative.
The IMF too stands ready to help. We are working closely with our members in the region, and we are willing to walk the path with them. We are offering the best policy advice possible. We will provide financial help if requested.
And with our technical assistance, we are helping countries build better institutions for a better world. Some examples: We are helping Egypt make its tax system more equitable. We are helping Libya develop a modern system of government payments. We are helping Tunisia improve its financial sector. And we are helping Jordan with fuel subsidy reform.

Conclusion: A Beacon of Hope
Let me briefly wrap up. Amidst a darkening economic outlook and waning confidence, the Arab Spring still shines as a bright light and a beacon of hope, a symbol of what can be accomplished.
One year on, the region stands at a critical juncture. The transition is going through a rocky patch, and the challenges are substantial, but the light remains on. And the region, together with its international partners, must make sure that this light is never extinguished.
This is a region that stands at the center of human civilization. Names like Carthage and Alexandria and Damascus are forever etched in our collective consciousness. The time has come for the region to live up to its legacy.
Let me end with another quote from Khalil Gibran: “March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.”
I cannot top that.
Source: www.imf.org

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense 1

By Rob Harrison, MD UK & Ireland, SAP Concur

The last few months have been an exercise in adaptability for businesses across the UK. With the sudden mandate to work from home, company processes that were ingrained in employees’ day-to-day routines were either put on hold or turned upside down. The new office normal now includes virtual meetings, conversing through instant messaging instead of in the hallway, and the redefining of “business casual” attire.

Many of the processes that have undergone changes fall into the category of travel and expense. With most business travel on hold and the nature of expenses changing, finance managers have had to adjust policies and practices to accommodate the new world of work. Recent SAP Concur research found that 72% of businesses have seen changes in the levels and types of expenses submitted, but only 24% have changed their policies to support this. Examples of travel and expense related changes that were made at the beginning of work from home mandates include:

  • A halt to business travel and its associated expenses.
  • Temporarily ending expensed meals for business lunches, dinners, or in-office meetings.
  • Increase in office expenses like monitors and chairs as employees furnish their home offices.
  • New expenses to consider like Internet and cell phone bills for employees who must work from home.

Now, as companies begin thinking about return to work plans, finance managers are discovering it’s not simply business as usual again. SAP Concur research found that many expect finance will return to normal quicker than general workplace practices, but vast majority see the process taking up to 12 months. New policies and processes need to be put in place to accommodate travel restrictions and changes in expenses. While finance managers need to stay flexible as the business environment continues to evolve, spend control and compliance should still be a high priority.

Here are a few questions that can help finance managers prepare for return to work while keeping control and compliance top of mind:

  • What will travel look like for the company? Finance managers must work with travel and HR counterparts to determine the need for employee travel, if at all, and how to keep employees safe. At SAP Concur, we surveyed 500 UK business travellers and found that health and safety is now seen as more than twice as important than their business goals being met on trips (34% versus 16%. Clear guidelines should be developed, even if they are temporary or evolving, so it’s clear who can travel, when they can travel, and how they can travel. Duty of care plans should also be re-evaluated and businesses should ensure they know at all times where employees are traveling for business and how they can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
  • Who needs to approve travel and expenses? While it may be temporary, businesses may have to implement a more stringent approval policy for travel and other expenses. Due to health concerns related to travel and the need to conserve cash flow, business leaders like CFOs may want to have final approval over all travel and expenses until the situation stabilises. To help ensure new approval processes don’t cause delays and inefficiencies, finance managers should implement an automated solution that streamlines the process and allows business leaders to review and approve travel requests, expenses, and invoices right from their phones. According to SAP Concur research, 11% of UK businesses implemented some automation of financial processes in response to COVID-19. This is definitely set to increase post-pandemic.
  • Rob Harrison

    Rob Harrison

    What types of expenses are within policy? Prior to social distancing, employees may have been allowed to take clients out to dinner. In-person team meetings held during the lunch hour, may have included expensed lunches. As employees return to work, finance managers need to determine if these activities and expenses will be allowed again. Clear guidelines must be put in place and expense policies need to be updated to reflect any changes.

  • What happens to home office items that were purchased? While new office equipment may have been purchased for employees’ home offices, they remain the business’s property and what to do with them as employees return to work needs to be determined. Perhaps employees will continue to work from home a few days a week and need to keep the equipment to ensure productivity. However, if a full return to work is expected, finance managers have options that can maximise their asset investment and possibly save the company money, like replacing old office equipment with the new purchases, reselling to a used office furniture company, or donating to a non-profit.
  • How can cost control be ensured? For many businesses, cash flow will be tight for the foreseeable future. Spend needs to be managed to help ensure recovery and stability. An important aspect of controlling costs is having full visibility of expenses throughout the company. Implementing an automated spend management solution that integrates expense and invoice management brings together a business’s spend, giving finance managers an understanding of where they can save, where to renegotiate, and where to redirect budgets based on plans and priorities.

Once finance managers have asked themselves the questions above and determined how they want to approach travel and expense procedures, it’s vital they create guidelines and communicate clearly to employees. Compliance can only be ensured if employees have a clear understanding of what has and has not changed with travel and expense policies and what’s expected as they return to work.

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Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals

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Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals 2

By Professor Guido Palazzo is Academic Director at Executive Education HEC Lausanne.

A recent report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that almost seven out of 10 anti-fraud professionals have experienced or observed an increase in fraud levels during the Covid pandemic, with a-quarter saying this increase has been significant. Almost all of those questioned (93%) said they expected an increase in fraud over the next 12 months and nearly three-quarters said that preventing, detecting, and investigating fraud has become significantly more difficult.

For corporations, banks and financial directors, this is a clear warning signal of new risks ahead. Indeed, it’s not difficult to predict that the birth of next big corporate scandal will be traced back to this period. As the ACFE put it, the pandemic is “a perfect storm for fraud. Pressures motivating employee fraud are high at the same time that defenses intended to safeguard against fraud have been weakened.”

If we want to stop corporate misconduct, where should we be focusing our efforts? What should we do to minimise the chances of corporate scandals, fraud and unethical decision-making? Compliance and risk management are obviously critical in detecting fraud, but given that corporate scandals keep happening, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves whether we need to take a different, more holistic approach to combat unethical behaviour.

Bad Apples or Toxic Cultures?

Most compliance is based on the premise that we need to keep bad people in check and to root out the ‘bad apples’ who usually get blamed when there’s a corporate scandal. When the scandal breaks, we all ask, “how was that possible? What were they thinking?” And we also tell ourselves that we could never behave like that and that it could never happen in our organisation – it’s not our problem.

But are those who succumb to this temptation really ‘bad apples’ or rather people like you and I? Most models of (un)ethical decision-making assume that people make rational choices and are able to evaluate their decisions from a moral point of view. However, if you made a list of the character traits of a rule breaker in an organisation and then compared it to a list of your own, you might be surprised to find a lot of overlap.

When we examine corporate scandals, what we invariably see is good people doing bad things in highly stressful circumstances. If you put sufficient pressure on an individual and they start making ill-advised decisions or behaving unethically, the first reaction is fear as they realise what they are doing is wrong. But then they will start to rationalise their actions to justify what they are doing. Over time, such behaviour becomes normalised and they convince themselves that there is no wrongdoing involved. That’s something that my HEC Lausanne colleagues, Franciska Krings and Ulrich Hoffrage, and I have termed ‘ethical blindness’, and it is a phenomenon that plays a fundamental role in systematic organisational wrongdoing.

Professor Guido Palazzo

Professor Guido Palazzo

The trouble with conventional technical and regulatory compliance strategies is that while policies, codes of conduct and formal processes are all very necessary, they don’t take into consideration the importance of leadership behaviour or human psychology.   We can’t pre-empt those who succumb to the temptation to do bad things in difficult circumstances unless we understand why they behave in the way they do. If we simply attribute problems to the psychological failings of ‘bad apples’ while ignoring the context, culture and leadership style which made their wrongdoing possible, then the barrel will still be contagious.

So what can be done to reduce the chances of new corporate scandals emerging in these challenging times? One take-away from previous scandals is the learning how to read the warning signals. This entails a deep understanding the psychological and emotional factors behind human risk, which surprisingly is not included in most compliance and ethics training. These small signals viewed in isolation may seem insignificant, but over time they can combine to create a dysfunctional context and culture where it can be all too easy for people to slip into the dark side.

Develop a Speak Up Culture

One of the most potent antidotes to that sort of dysfunction and the ethical blindness it encourages is a culture in which individuals at all levels feel able to speak up to their superiors about problems and ethical issues without fear of retaliation. But that will only happen if their own bosses are prepared to speak up and the tone for this must be set at the top. So, the critical question every executive needs to ask themselves is, “do I speak up?” Then they need to reflect on whether people come to them and speak up freely without fear of the consequences. That’s an approach to compliance that offers real protection against the onset of ethical blindness in a way that no conventional strategy can match.

This understanding of human risk element also elevates compliance to a leadership topic with all kinds of positive implications beyond compliance.  Whilst on the one hand, this approach helps to boost the status of the compliance and risk function, my experience of working with senior executives is that when they start to understand the psychological elements of the dark side, it shines a light on their own behaviour. One thing they realise is that, yes, it perhaps could have been them doing those things in one of those scandals. The other is understanding that their leadership style can unwittingly creating the context for unethical behaviour.

That’s one reason I invited two former senior executives who were involved in corporate scandals to share their first-hand experience as teachers on our new certificate in ethics and compliance. Andy Fastow is the former CFO of Enron and Richard Bistrong is a former sales executive involved in an international bribery scandal. Amongst other things, the valuable insights of people like these can help others to understand how risks accumulate over time and how this can impact the integrity of an organisation. Their stories also highlight the temptation that people can face as a result of the tension between the pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply.

Traditionally, compliance training and development has been technical and regulatory – what are the rules, what are people allowed to do or not allowed to do, and how do we demonstrate to the authorities that we did everything possible to ensure that people understand the laws and regulations? But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that it’s time for a multi-disciplinary approach if we are to start redressing the balance between the legal dimension of risk management and the human element.

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Trust is a critical asset

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Trust is a critical asset 3

By Graham Staplehurst, Global Strategy Director, BrandZ, explains how it’s evolving.

Trust is what makes us return to the same brands, particularly during times of uncertainty and crisis.

Pampers is an instinctive choice for many parents. It’s the go-to global nappy brand whether they shop online or in-store. By our reckoning, it’s also the world’s most trusted brand, driven primarily through its perceived superiority over competitors, which it has honed through a relentless focus on technological improvements that make its products the best in the category.

BrandZ has been tracking Trust since 1998 because it’s a critical ingredient in delivering both reassurance and simplifying brand choice, thereby boosting brand value. It’s also become extra critical in delivering business performance at a time when consumers are uncertain and often anxious.

Even brands that haven’t been available during Covid-19 lockdowns, brands that are already trusted, have found that they are more reassuring to consumers when they start returning to market with new safety measures such as protecting staff, which will be seen as evidence that the brand will take similar steps to protect customers.

With a growing demand from consumers for more responsible corporate behaviour, this in turn amplifies the need for brands to make a positive difference.

Alongside Pampers, other brands in this year’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands ranking that have strengthened their trust and responsibility credentials include the Indian bank HDFC, which has supported customer initiatives across its consumer and business banking and life insurance operations – with innovations such as mobile ATMs, and DHL, which has proven itself even more essential as a delivery service during the COVID-19 outbreak.

New brands too have managed to grow Trust relatively rapidly. Second in the Top 10 most trusted brands was Chinese lifestyle brand Meituan with a trust score of 130. This delivery and online ordering brand, which was launched just over a decade ago, has clearly demonstrated its understanding of what consumers want and developed a strong reputation for customer care.

Then there’s streaming service Netflix – founded in 1997 but which only became a streaming service in 2007 – which scored 127 and was the fifth most trusted brand in our ranking. Netflix has created a strong association with being open and honest compared to other ‘content’ platforms, despite the fact that it uses customer’s personal data to suggest future viewing options.

Top 10 Most Trusted Brands in the BrandZ Top 100 Ranking 2020

Position Brand Category Trust Score (Average is 100) Position in Top 100 ranking
1 Pampers Baby Care 136  70
2 Meituan Lifestyle Platform 130  54
3 China Mobile Telecom Providers 129  36
4 Visa Payments 128  5
5 Netflix Entertainment 127  26
6 LIC Insurance 125  75
7 FedEx Logistics 124  88
8 Microsoft Technology 124  3
9 BCA Regional Banks 124  90
10 UPS Logistics 124  20

What defines trust?

The nature of trust is evolving with ‘responsibility’ to consumers forming an increasingly large proportion of what builds perceptions of trust.  This amplifies the need for brands in all categories to act as a positive force in the world.

Traditionally, consumers trusted well-established brands based on two factors:

  • Proven expertise, the knowledge that the brand will deliver on its brand promise, reliably and consistently over time.
  • Corporate responsibility, which is about the business behind the brand. Does it show concern over the environment, its employees, and so on?

In recent years, the latter factor has become increasingly important. It is now three times more important to corporate reputation than 10 years ago and accounts for 40% of reputation overall, with environmental and social responsibility the most important component, alongside employee responsibility and the supply chain.

Companies such as Toyota, with its emphasis on sustainability, Nike, with its campaigns around social responsibility, and FedEx focusing on employee responsibility, highlight the fact that responsibility is high on the agenda for many brands in the BrandZ Global Top 100 Most Valuable Brands, which has been tracking rises and falls in brand value via a mix of millions of consumer interviews and financial performance data since 2006.

Such actions explain why trust in the Top 100 brands has been increasing not declining, filling the gap as trust declines in other institutions like government and the media. This is being driven largely by consumer concerns over the bigger issues including sustainability and climate change that society faces today.

One of the challenges that we face in assessing trust is understanding how and why consumers will trust brands they hardly know or have never used? Why do we trust Uber the first time if we’ve never used the platform before, or Airbnb the first time we rent an apartment or holiday accommodation?

The answer is that there are three elements that build trust and confidence when a brand is new to a market. These are:

  • Identifying with the needs and values of consumers
  • Operating with integrity and honesty
  • Inclusivity, i.e. treating every type of consumer equally.

New brands that can develop these associations not only build trust rapidly and more strongly but also tend to outperform their competitors in growing their brand value.

As a result of this new understanding we have added an additional pillar to our previous understanding of Trust builders. Alongside proven expertise and corporate responsibility, we have a new quality of ‘inspiring expectation’ driven by our three key factors of identification, integrity and inclusivity.

Airbnb, for example, has long had promoted a platform of inclusivity for both renters and users of properties on the platform, helping it to build an overall Consumer Trust Index of up to 105 – and 110+ on the specific dimension of Inclusivity.

Flying Fish in South Africa is a premium flavoured beer that has gone from a launch in October 2013 to being the second-most drunk brand in the country, with trust equal to the vastly more established Castle and Carling brands.  It has appealed to a new generation of beer drinkers with strong integrity and inclusion, using a playful mix of young men and women in its messaging to portray South Africa’s multicultural society.

Brands have a unique opportunity to earn valuable trust and create change, providing this is seen to be genuine. Being sincere, empathetic and ensuring your brand remains consistent with its core values will ensure your corporate reputation is not compromised.

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