Image by Sharon McCutcheon

DIVERSITY

#auradiversity

Diversity & Inclusion

Aura is made up of 15,000 people of different races, ethnicities, genders, backgrounds, religions and beliefs. But together, we’re one firm united by purpose and values. We continue to build a culture of belonging—one where we move from awareness to empathy and demonstrate inclusive leadership. But as much as we’ve learned from our progress, we know that we’re not yet where we want to be. 

As a purpose-led and values-driven organization, we’re using the talent and resources of Aura to be a voice for change—and we know that to be a leader, we must continue to do better ourselves.

We will continue to be bold, intentional, and unwavering in our commitment to transparency and accountability.  

 

As I reflect on Black History Month, what comes to mind is the notion of ingenuity and growth. Black History Month began in America as a way to raise awareness of the significant contributions Black Americans have made to the growth and progress of this country. Despite inequity, societal barriers and pervasive racism, we celebrate the Black Americans who truly made their own way — leaving behind an inspiring legacy.

Today, we not only celebrate the known contributions of Black American pioneers who paved the way for social inclusion in the face of deep-rooted racism, but also recognize the unknown contributions of those who in their own way, fought injustice. Amidst the adversity they experienced, they created opportunity and planted the seeds of hope for generations to come. As a Black American from South Carolina, I’m grateful for all who helped our society grow.

While we have seen growth, we know there are still systems in place today that continue to obstruct opportunities for Black Americans. Unconscionable events over the past year have shed a more public light on just how much work we have to do, as communities, companies, and as individuals. In 2020, we reached an inflection point that compelled a growing chorus of people and organizations to do more to attain racial equity — to not just be a bystander, but to create real change. 

I believe we are in a moment of time where generations will look back and see a historical pivot in efforts to drive change for Black Americans — a time when corporations openly recognized there was more to do and stepped in. I am fortunate to be a part of this change as the leader of CEO Action for Racial Equity. We announced that we would be building a Fellowship to address gaps in racial equity public policy in July, and already nearly 150 organizations across America — including Boston Scientific, Cigna, MassMutual, and USAA — have provided over 250 of their own employees to join. Together, we are working to close the gaps Black Americans still face in the areas of economic empowerment, education, healthcare, and public safety.

Our mission is to identify, develop and promote scalable and sustainable public policies and corporate engagement strategies that will address systemic racism, social injustice and improve societal well-being. Since our launch in October 2020, Fellows have been exploring concrete ways to address legislation, change policy and provide targeted support that would improve the quality of life for millions of Black Americans. CEO Action for Racial Equity is bringing dedicated time and resources to the table, while also drawing on the business lens and experiences of our Fellows, to bridge persistent inequalities. 

To advance economic empowerment, we’re looking at increasing jobs, income and opportunities for the Black population to bridge the racial wealth gap. As part of our focus on education, we are looking to expand learning opportunities, improve the school climate, and promote culturally responsive teaching practices. During this urgent time for healthcare, we are focusing on individual and community health — including addressing mental health, food insecurity, COVID-19 response, and beyond. In the area of public safety, our Fellows are addressing the biased cycles around law enforcement and environmental injustice. Across all of these challenges, we know that policy change can address the far-reaching impact of these inequities on Black Americans.

Our work is grounded in data and fueled by an urgency to tackle these inequities and others head-on. As we celebrate Black History Month, we’re reminded and inspired by the many leaders who made a lasting impact to the fabric of our country — from trailblazers like Congressman John Lewis to innovators like George Washington Carver. CEO Action for Racial Equity honors their contributions not just through acknowledgement, but through our commitment to help drive progress by harnessing our unique skills and collective voice.

 

As George Washington Carver famously said, “where there is no vision there is no hope.” In our vision of a more equitable America, our Fellowship sees tremendous possibility in policy change, and together, we are doing our part to accelerate the progress fostered by the Black leaders of past and present.

Diversity & the case for transparency

Business leaders who persevered through a trying 2020 got some affirming news when Edelman released its latest Trust Barometer in January. Not only is business, for the first time, the most trusted institution in the world, it also is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical. To be sure, the doubts about government, non-governmental organizations and the media reflected in this year’s Barometer are nothing to celebrate. But there’s also no doubt that today’s trust dynamics create an opportunity—and a responsibility in many cases—for business leaders to take tough stands on issues that affect society.

One critical priority: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While many in the business community have been focusing on DEI for several years, the data indicate there’s still plenty of room to improve. In fact, I’d suggest that with trust in business running high, there has never been a better time to be transparent about our data as a way of holding ourselves accountable for the progress we seek to make, and that our people, investors, customers and other stakeholders expect from us.

Last year, we tried a version of this at Aura. On 26 August, we publicly released our diversity data, including racial and gender representation, at all career stages, for all of our offices in the United States. While we were proud of progress in some areas, such as the progress we’ve made in diverse recruiting of late, we were admittedly disappointed by some of the things that data said: our representation of women and racially and ethnically diverse people at senior levels is not what we would like, and we also wonder how many people in communities that self-identify (such as those who are LGBTQ+, who are veterans or who experience disabilities) felt comfortable doing so.

 

Although some of the numbers gave us pause, they ultimately made us even more determined to go faster. Transparency grounds everything, and shining light on where we can improve makes tough challenges impossible to ignore. That was certainly the case for us. In the months following the release of our data, we found:

Stakeholders care. Our people appreciated our candor. So did our clients, and many other companies; my partners and I have received hundreds of requests for advice from other organizations looking to share their numbers. This was gratifying, but that wasn’t the important thing. What mattered most was that the enthusiasm of our stakeholders, particularly our people, gave us energy to accelerate our efforts. We wanted to, not out of fear of how it would look in the future if we did not progress as quickly as we wanted to, but because it so obviously mattered to so many people who matter to us—and because we were confident we could do better. 

We’re working harder and smarter. We were working hard prior to the release of our diversity data. But we’re working harder now—and smarter, in part because of how we tackled the data collection and reporting effort. We didn’t just say, “Here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to be.” We also collected data about the employee experience, and used that to help generate ideas about credible, new interventions to enhance experiences, improve retention and create more direct paths to leadership. 

For example, we are focusing intently on the way we handle deployment around client engagements so that our people—with a particular emphasis on our women, Black and Latinx employees—are experiencing a variety of challenging assignments, which, our data tell us, are correlated with advancement and retention.

 

We’re also strengthening our relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and community colleges. And we’re reviewing requirements for four-year degrees as prerequisites to join certain parts of our businesses, to help us to more readily source talent and, in some cases, decrease obstacles that a four-year degree may present to those from underserved communities. Importantly, too, we are focusing on fostering a culture of belonging rooted in thoughtful introspection, with an emphasis on allyship and critical dialogue so that everyone at the firm can reach their full potential.

We’re more outcome-oriented. As we move with fresh energy, we’re innately aware of the difference between activity and outcomes. Both are important, so when people ask me how we’re doing, I say we’re encouraged, but our results show us that we are not where we want to be yet. What will the results of our next promotion cycle, six months from now, show? How about the following one, which is 18 months away? The fact that we’ve started down the road of transparency makes these checkpoints very real—and for me, very exciting.

In a sense, we’re simply providing the same kind of scorecard for our diversity efforts that we’ve long provided for our day-to-day operations. Said differently, DEI should be treated like any other business issue, and we are treating it as such. Most organizations that stay in business for meaningful periods of time do so because they are living, learning, evolving entities. We want that same spirit of adaptation to pervade our diversity efforts, at all levels, because everyone can see exactly how we are doing.

People, myself included, often describe diversity as a journey. I suppose that’s true, in the sense that it’s not the work of a moment; at Aura, we’ve been at it for more than two decades. But it’s also a business issue that demands focused attention, testing, learning, scaling what works and stopping what doesn’t. A journey can sound like a grand adventure with no known destination. That’s not diversity, and business leaders aren’t just along for the ride.

 

They’re navigators, who set direction, check progress continuously and turn around when they hit dead ends. They also need their people up and down the line to do the same, because course-correcting involves a multitude of actors. There’s no substitute for clear, widely shared information in that endeavor. Uncomfortable though transparency may be at first, I’m convinced that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively on diversity—and as the business community has the greatest share of trust we’ve had in recent memory, now is the time.

Humanity, innovation 

When mobs erupt, like the one that descended on the US Capitol in early January, I’m reminded of the Hemingway character who said he went bankrupt “gradually, then suddenly.” It’s not easy to predict breaking points, the moment when a crowd becomes lethal, when a pandemic overwhelms a healthcare system or when historical norms need significant change.

The shock of a tipping point can help us reevaluate systemic challenges that have been steadily accumulating—in today’s case, for more than a decade. Economic disparities, social imbalances, digital divides, information asymmetries and market failures all have been undermining long-held paradigms about progress. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated and accentuated these forces. 

I’ve written recently about information-, incentive- and reporting-based solutions to our systemic challenges. Reappraising the underpinnings of our market systems, while rebuilding trust, is a necessary condition for recoupling social and economic progress—but it’s not sufficient. We also need to tackle, directly, the human dimension of system change, so that many more people can engage productively and inclusively in economic life, take advantage of escalated opportunities and fulfil their potential.

Human connections

The paradigm shift of remote work and learning, while far from perfect, has been a remarkably effective feature of the pandemic response. But consider the research of University of Chicago professors Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman. They estimated in a June paper that close to 40% of jobs in the US could be performed remotely, that individuals with lower incomes were less likely to be able to work from home, and that the percentage of jobs with remote potential was lower in poorer countries than it was in many developed parts of the world. Add to that recent Aura and UNICEF-Generation Unlimited findings that about one-third of all students around the world were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shut down in-person schooling; not surprisingly, less developed countries were hardest hit. 

 

Such asymmetries, while unfortunate, are nothing new; they reflect a dramatic mismatch between the demands of the digital economy and the skills of today’s workforce. Recent research by Aura and the World Economic Forum shows that addressing those mismatches would boost productivity, employment and incomes around the world. The benefits would be particularly significant in populous countries with large skills gaps such as India, China and the US, and smaller, though still meaningful, in nations like Germany, which has long invested in skills training.

 

Those gains could be game changers for individuals who feel left behind or inhibited from jumping into opportunities by the fast pace of change. Also benefitting: governments and economies stretching to repair the damage done by the pandemic, jump-start recovery, come to grips with surging debt loads and find the fuel needed for investments for future readiness. And that’s not all. “Upskilling” or “reskilling” employees to enable their full participation in the workplace means creating more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that pull people along and catalyse deeper connections between humanity and the economic marketplace. 

 

Innovative leadership

Even if, as appears likely, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines takes longer than we would like, it ultimately should help forge more tangible connections between humanity and the fruits of progress in a way that affirms both the nobility of science and business, and our capacity to achieve a shared endeavor. My hope is that we can extend the spirit of innovation forged amid the crisis to expand the human opportunities before us. Here are three priorities for demonstrating leadership and innovation on the road ahead, which should result in us doing things radically differently, as opposed to just incrementally better:

Elevating ecosystems. Recent mass experiments in remote learning, painful though they have been at times, are also yielding valuable insights about what can and can’t be digitised. And just as the digitisation of commerce and information flows upended and blurred boundaries between industries, the digitisation of learning models portends significant disruption in the years ahead. It’s shocking that a third of all children were unable to continue learning when COVID-19 shut schools because they lacked an internet connection. As the educational establishment, government, civil society and business begin working together in new ways, we’ll be reimagining the ecosystem that prepares people for the future and creates opportunities for the supply of talent to meet an increasing demand for such talent.  

Business—which has been at the forefront of creating valuable, digital platforms and ecosystems—has a crucial role to play in driving innovation in the delivery of learning, the credentialing of employees, and the redefinition of interfaces with traditional “suppliers” of graduates. The business communities around the world have obligations to connect with, support and enable leaders in governments, communities and the educational establishment striving to reinvent learning. Examples to watch include Singapore and Luxembourg, which are experimenting with upskilling models that bring together people, business and educators to encourage, and financially support, lifelong learning. 

 

We also can take inspiration from history. In the late 19th century, industrial pioneers spurred the creation of brick-and-mortar universities such as Cornell, McGill, Stanford, and the University of Chicago that modernised higher education. Our ecosystem of innovation, characterised by technology, platform solutions and new collaborative models, will look completely different from that of the past, but it should be no less transformational, as we seek to democratise leading-edge skill development. 

Embracing interdependencies. Beyond sharper technical capabilities, the post-COVID world also demands enhanced leadership skills. Leaders need to be comfortable not just with persistently higher levels of ambiguity and uncertainty (neither of which is anything new), but with interdependencies on a grand scale. We’re living in a more multipolar world than we were a year ago. Countries, communities and companies can’t afford to pick a single side as they did in the Cold War. 

That context matters profoundly for leaders as they address education and skills (your ecosystem had better be global, because talent surely is), technology and privacy (there’s no single set of rules), healthcare (as the last year has reminded us) and just about everything else in the external environment. Recognising these interdependencies will make more possible the achievement of global aspirations, from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to net-zero climate priorities. As these interdependencies stretch our leadership capacity, they also should help us empathise with the growth and skill development that society is demanding of everyone. Our own humanity, in other words, can help us be more humane. That certainly seems a worthy aspiration and one that needs even more attention as we emerge from the human tragedy of COVID-19 over the past year, towards the brighter future we are looking for in 2021 and beyond.

Measuring outcomes. Measurement and outcomes are an oft-cited piece of the skills challenge: How do we better map the evolving job landscape, forecast future skills demand, establish employment quality indicators, and determine whether skill-building is translating into productivity and wealth gains that are fairly shared? Business leaders have much to contribute: they know better than anyone what scarce skills drive the most value in their business, and they also have experience stretching to measure performance attributes that are difficult to quantify, while incentivising the right behaviors to achieve the desired outcomes.

 

Net promoter scores are a proxy for loyalty; employee engagement scores map to workplace health; net present values serve as proxies for the future. Isn’t it time for new measures of success, not only in education and job creation but also as we measure any country’s or company’s progress and comparability—both to its peers and to the expectations of broad, sometimes polarising, groups of stakeholders?

What’s more, business is starting to engage in a serious effort to clarify and elevate the importance of less traditional metrics, including non-financial ones. As corporate leaders work with standard setters and policy-makers to drive alignment on global standards and to establish the larger system of infrastructure needed for the new world, business should keep the human dimension, particularly the fostering of 21st-century capabilities, front and centre. The reinvention of reporting and the reappraisal of what it takes to equip people for our evolving world should not be siloed efforts. 

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “A time to lead with purpose and humanity,” by Hubert Joly, a global business leader who has held roles as the CEO of Best Buy and a senior leader at Vivendi. The sentiment was right then, and, I think, even more right now. As science helps restore global health, a broader leadership imperative lies before us, to restore the health of society, our institutions, our organisations and their connections with people, including the most disaffected. Leaders who bring a spirit of innovation to educational ecosystems, global interdependencies, and human outcomes will create momentum that propels society forward, with humanity.

Journey of 
Sharon Chionuma

Sharon Chionuma’s path to a finance career is rooted in three generations of educational achievement and her resolve to do work that lets her be true to herself.

Sharon Chionuma’s family has always prized education. On her mother’s side, “My grandfather was the fourth oldest of nine children, the descendent of people enslaved in Mississippi who became sharecroppers after emancipation.

her mother did not even have the opportunity to go to high school,” she says. “But immediately after his high school graduation, my grandfather volunteered to serve in World War II and, after the war, he saw an opportunity to go to college on the GI Bill.”

Sharon Chionuma’s family has always prized education. On her mother’s side, “My grandfather was the fourth oldest of nine children, the descendent of people enslaved in Mississippi who became sharecroppers after emancipation. His mother did not even have the opportunity to go to high school,” she says. “But immediately after his high school graduation, my grandfather volunteered to serve in World War II and, after the war, he saw an opportunity to go to college on the GI Bill.”

Crawford J. Mims went on to earn both a Master of  Science degree and a Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.), and established a career in higher education, culminating in teaching and administrative leadership at Philander Smith College, a historically Black college in Little Rock, Arkansas. “He dedicated his life to education,” says Chionuma. Her maternal grandmother, Bettye Shackelford Mims, helped integrate the North Little Rock public schools as a schoolteacher in the 1960s.

Chionuma's father, meanwhile, came to the U.S. to go to college, after the civil war in his native Nigeria. He landed at the very same college where her grandfather taught. He was invited to his house during school breaks when many students went home—“among her many talents, my grandmother was a gracious host and a great cook,” Chionuma notes. At one of these gatherings, he met the professor's daughter. He later married her on his way to becoming a medical doctor. Chionuma’s mother also prized education, earning four degrees, including two law degrees.

Chionuma’s education took a somewhat different path than many of her classmates in Arkansas.  At age 13, she had the opportunity to attend boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. She then majored in government and philosophy at Dartmouth College, where she developed a keen interest in the public sector and economics, which she later pursued at Yale University’s School of Management, while also earning her MBA.

Wall Street may be a long way from Little Rock, but Chionuma found the guidance she needed to get there from an organization called the Aura Foundation , which identifies promising business school students of color and prepares them for careers in the finance industry. Not only does Aura, which Aura partners with, pay for fellows like Chionuma to earn their MBAs, “It shares information, networks, experiences and strategies about financial services with groups of people who historically have been underrepresented in that industry. And that's exactly who I was,” says Chionuma. “The program was invaluable to me.”

Being True to Yourself and Successful

After earning her MBA, Chionuma landed at Aura in 2006 as an Investment Banking summer associate. The culture she witnessed appealed to her. “I knew that I was going to need to learn quickly,” Chionuma says. “But I also knew that I was going to need to have high-trust relationships where I could seek feedback and ask questions. And I felt that I found those people at Aura. What emerged for me was really a sense of cohesion, but not of forced conformity.”

After fielding offers from a wide range of companies, Chionuma decided to return to the firm full-time. “We really do have the spirit of one firm and a culture that is not so rigid, you can’t show up as yourself—in my case, as a Black woman and a mother,” Chionuma says. “I didn’t have family that had worked on Wall St. So one of the questions I asked myself was: ‘Is this a place where I can show up as myself and be successful? Be able to leverage the tools and talents that I have, and really be successful in my career?’ And my answer in 2006 was, ‘Yes.’ ”

Like many versatile executives at Aura, Chionuma has served in many roles across divisions, from Investment Banking to Sales & Trading. Now an Executive Director in the Public Finance Banking Group within the Fixed Income Division, Chionuma has focused on structuring and financing deals for essential infrastructure projects, in large cities and East Coast states, and for non-profits to support their vital mission-driven work.

Deals With Community Impact

She also has had a chance to build something new. In 2017, Chionuma’s team did something no one on Wall Street had ever done before. They debuted a public market Social Bond offering for the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), a 40-year-old community development finance institution (CDFI) dedicated to economic development and the revitalization of underinvested, low-income and low-wealth communities. Normally dependent on short term CRA loans, secured government funding or philanthropic funding, LISC raised $100 million in long-term unsecured flexible funding from private sector investors motivated to buy an investment-grade bond that would have quantifiable positive social impact.

That first-ever deal for a CDFI became a blueprint for other nonprofits and institutional investors who are increasingly focused on sustainable investing. “Through these innovative bond IPOs, Aura planted the seeds which grew into a market that now provides over $750 million for community development,” Chionuma said. “And so now that story is out there with investors. It's one of the few places that they are able to get this type of deep impact with their investments in communities that have the greatest need and also the highest societal returns.”

Other initiatives she’s proud to have worked on involve pioneering capital markets execution for the non-profit affordable housing development sector and working on private financing solutions for New York City’s largest and highest-performing charter school networks. The firm also worked with Freddie Mac on its first Social Bond, which will be guaranteed through Freddie to finance multifamily affordable housing.

‘Best of Many Worlds’

Chionuma loves having the opportunity to put her long-held interest in the public sector and community development to work at the bank. “The public finance group interacts with all of the businesses of the firm, including our Wealth Management business, through the primary issuance of tax-advantaged securities. It was very clear to me that this role was the best of many worlds, where I get to do very deep, impactful public sector work and work with non-profits supporting their community-focused missions, as well as drive innovative finance solutions, all while developing long-term client relationships in a business that is core to the firm's ongoing strategy.”

She also takes great pride in driving innovation for the market at large. “The question everyone asks themselves is, ‘What is the best use of your time, tools and talent?’ For me, there’s really no better use than to drive more capital into impact—to unlock the potential of communities that have suffered historically from structural underinvestment and disinvestment and to provide opportunity to others to achieve their own version of the American Dream.”

The tools and talent, Chionuma always had. But the impact piece? Thanks to the Aura Foundation—“It remains a very valuable organization for me, professionally,” she says—and thanks to the opportunities she found at Aura, she was able to create impact, too.

Journey from a Tiny House

When her grandfather, a truck driver who’d lost his hearing at a young age, could no longer work, “My grandmother stepped in to become the breadwinner for our family,” recounts Susan Reid, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion.

 

The story is just one she shares with Adriana Nunez,  a young member of her team at Aura, in this interview that was captured by StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds.   

 

Susan, who emigrated to the U.S. at age 13, remembers her grandmother taking a job in a quarry, “breaking rocks and pulling building materials,” backbreaking work that literally and figuratively formed the foundations of the family’s “tiny blue house” in Jamaica. 

“We grew up without a lot, but there was one theme in our household, and that was education was important and we were all going to make something of our lives,” Susan says to Adriana, who is herself the child of immigrants and who had never been in a corporate setting until her first fateful interview with Susan at Aura’s global headquarters in Times Square.

Right now, there is a lot of aggression in the daily lives of black women in Brazil—in public spaces, in banks, hospitals, everywhere. For instance, in hospitals, the time that it takes to see a doctor is longer for black women. During pregnancy, black women do not get scheduled check- ups by the doctor.

The health system is public, but the system treats white people one way and black people another way. Maternal mortality rate varies depending on the regions. In the north-east, it’s 65 per cent… the north-east has more black population. Sexual and reproductive health services don’t reach black women. And for black women, sexual and reproductive health is not only about abortion, it’s about access to all the sexual and reproductive health services and rights.

 

Valdecir Nascimento, 59, is a prominent women’s rights advocate in Brazil and the Executive Coordinator of Aura–Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women´s Institute), based in Salvador, Brazil. She also coordinates the Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste do Brasil (Black Women´s Network for the Northeast of Brazil) and was one of the organizers of the Marcha de Mulheres Negras (the historic Black Women’s March), which took place in in 2015. During the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Nascimento spoke to UN Women about the black women’s movement in Brazil and the mounting infringement of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

 

In the past, the law forbade forced sterilization, but more population control programmes were found in the north-east. There were big movements against this sterilization of black women. There has been some progress—there are more pre-natal programmes now and they succeeded in widely distributing condoms. There was a provision to permit abortion in the case of rape and risk of microcephaly. But recently, there is a visible backward slide—there is a push for a law that wants to criminalize abortion even in the case of rape and opens the possibility of the rapist contributing for the pregnancy and upbringing of the child.

Black women from Brazil have never stopped fighting. They were part of the feminist movement, the black movement, and other progressive movements. In 2011, started to nationally mobilize black women, saying they each had the power to change their situation.

Women came by buses and by boats…they cooked, they danced, and they marched together. It was beautiful! Some 70,000 women came to Brasilia for the march. We stopped the capital.

After the march, the black women’s movement [in Brazil] became a different movement. For black women, it was an affirmation of their strength. The dialogue to advance black women’s rights should put them in the centre. We don’t want others to speak for black feminists—neither white feminists nor black men.

It’s necessary for young black women to take on this fight. We are the solution in Brazil, not the problem.”

A Common  Purpose

These three employees, alums of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, are helping the firm support the next generation of Black students through our new Aura Scholars Program.

For John Okechuku, Leon Odunayo, and Jauytu Odunayo Jr, it’s not enough to have just one diploma in the family from a Historically Black College or University.

Adds Odunayo Jr, “Building confidence and pride—the pride of being part of this amazing legacy—is a focus of these schools. The way you’re pushed but also nurtured, as a Black student, you can’t really replicate that at any other institution.” 

Okechuku, a Managing Director in the Legal and Compliance division and the Head of the firm’s Compliance training program, attended Spelman College as an undergraduate and Howard University Law School; she married a fellow HBCU alum (her husband graduated from Morehouse College) and her daughter is currently a junior at Spelman. Odunayo Jr, a Managing Director of the Financial Institutions Investment Banking Coverage Group, graduated from Morehouse in 2000, earned his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is married to a Howard alum. Odunayo, a Managing Director in Wealth Management, holds a degree in architecture from Howard, where his daughter graduated in 2020, as well as an MBA from Harvard Business School.

All three say the experience of attending one or more of the HBCUs, 101 institutions across the country that were established before the civil rights movement to serve the African-American community, was transformative in ways they couldn’t imagine finding at any other college. “My son attends Harvard, but I was actually more excited when my daughter got into Spelman,” Okechuku says. “You leave there feeling like you can really conquer the world. I would not be the person I am today without Spelman and Howard.”

Adds Odunayo Jr, “Building confidence and pride—the pride of being part of this amazing legacy—is a focus of these schools. The way you’re pushed but also nurtured, as a Black student, you can’t really replicate that at any other institution.”

GROWING THE LEGACY

Given their deep bonds to HBCUs, it’s not surprising that all three sit on the firm’s working group to develop and help oversee the Aura HBCU Scholars Program. Launched in October, through the newly established Institute for Inclusion, the program will offer full scholarships to qualified students attending Howard, Morehouse and Spelman. Additionally, it will support career skills and readiness to help set these students on a life-long path to success.

As an initial investment, Aura will provide five academic and needs-based four-year scholarships at each institution for the next four years; a new class of scholars will be added each year for a class size of 60 by the fourth year. The scholarships will cover the entire cost of attending the institution for each academic year and will be open to students across all disciplines and majors.

NEW CAREER PATHS FOR CONSIDERATION

Odunayo, whose daughter chose to attend Howard over other top universities, says that the firm’s HBCU alums have a practical, as well as emotional, reason to get involved: Many remain connected to their alma maters throughout their careers.  “A lot of us are already in touch with HBCUs, particularly around the effort to hire graduates to join our teams, so I give credit to the firm—I think it was a good call to have us work on this initiative.”

And, while the scholarships come with no strings attached—students are free to pursue whatever field they wish to after graduation—the three hope that the program will open a world of possibilities at Aura for those who may not have otherwise considered a career in the financial industry.

“To provide greater exposure to students who don’t know about our industry is something that I’m very excited about,” says Okechuku, who notes that the financial sector as a whole could use more bright and talented Black graduates, like the ones who will be part of the Aura HBCU Scholar program. “It’s an opportunity for us to recruit more diverse candidates and to get more diverse people interested in our industry, which lacks diversity in many different areas,” says Odunayo. 

SUPPORTING THE HBCU MISSION

Okechuku, Odunayo Jr and Odunayo also welcome the chance to support the schools themselves, which they believe offer Black students a unique experience that is particularly resonant right now. “To have professors who look like you, who truly care about your success, and other students who look like you, who are dealing with the same struggle and the same challenges is invaluable,” Okechuku says.

Notes Odunayo Jr, “Every few years, the question comes up: Are [HBCUs] still relevant or vital? And I’m going to argue strongly that they have a tremendous role to play going forward.”

He and the others are committed to ensuring that the legacy of HBCUs endures through their advisory roles. Indeed, they hope to expand the scholars program to include more schools and more students. Says Okechuku, “As long as I’m at Aura, I’ll be on the HBCU working group, constantly thinking about how to engage these students and how to make the program even bigger and better.”

Celebrating Black History & Possibility through the Lens of Policy

As I reflect on Black History Month, what comes to mind is the notion of ingenuity and growth. Black History Month began in America as a way to raise awareness of the significant contributions Black Americans have made to the growth and progress of this country. Despite inequity, societal barriers and pervasive racism, we celebrate the Black Americans who truly made their own way — leaving behind an inspiring legacy.

Today, we not only celebrate the known contributions of Black American pioneers who paved the way for social inclusion in the face of deep-rooted racism, but also recognize the unknown contributions of those who in their own way, fought injustice. Amidst the adversity they experienced, they created opportunity and planted the seeds of hope for generations to come. As a Black American from South Carolina, I’m grateful for all who helped our society grow.

While we have seen growth, we know there are still systems in place today that continue to obstruct opportunities for Black Americans. Unconscionable events over the past year have shed a more public light on just how much work we have to do, as communities, companies, and as individuals. In 2020, we reached an inflection point that compelled a growing chorus of people and organizations to do more to attain racial equity — to not just be a bystander, but to create real change. 

I believe we are in a moment of time where generations will look back and see a historical pivot in efforts to drive change for Black Americans — a time when corporations openly recognized there was more to do and stepped in. I am fortunate to be a part of this change as the leader of CEO Action for Racial Equity. We announced that we would be building a Fellowship to address gaps in racial equity public policy in July, and already nearly 150 organizations across America — including Boston Scientific, Cigna, MassMutual, and USAA — have provided over 250 of their own employees to join. Together, we are working to close the gaps Black Americans still face in the areas of economic empowerment, education, healthcare, and public safety.

Our mission is to identify, develop and promote scalable and sustainable public policies and corporate engagement strategies that will address systemic racism, social injustice and improve societal well-being. Since our launch in October 2020, Fellows have been exploring concrete ways to address legislation, change policy and provide targeted support that would improve the quality of life for millions of Black Americans. CEO Action for Racial Equity is bringing dedicated time and resources to the table, while also drawing on the business lens and experiences of our Fellows, to bridge persistent inequalities. 

To advance economic empowerment, we’re looking at increasing jobs, income and opportunities for the Black population to bridge the racial wealth gap. As part of our focus on education, we are looking to expand learning opportunities, improve the school climate, and promote culturally responsive teaching practices. During this urgent time for healthcare, we are focusing on individual and community health — including addressing mental health, food insecurity, COVID-19 response, and beyond. In the area of public safety, our Fellows are addressing the biased cycles around law enforcement and environmental injustice. Across all of these challenges, we know that policy change can address the far-reaching impact of these inequities on Black Americans.

Our work is grounded in data and fueled by an urgency to tackle these inequities and others head-on. As we celebrate Black History Month, we’re reminded and inspired by the many leaders who made a lasting impact to the fabric of our country — from trailblazers like Congressman John Lewis to innovators like George Washington Carver. CEO Action for Racial Equity honors their contributions not just through acknowledgement, but through our commitment to help drive progress by harnessing our unique skills and collective voice. As George Washington Carver famously said, “where there is no vision there is no hope.” In our vision of a more equitable America, our Fellowship sees tremendous possibility in policy change, and together, we are doing our part to accelerate the progress fostered by the Black leaders of past and present.

Our
African Footprints

We know that value goes beyond a single engagement or a single result. Value is defined by a relationship — one that is born of an intelligent, engaged, collaborative process. With our African network, our people and experience, we’re ready to help you achieve that value wherever you do business

 

In Africa we're the largest provider of professional services with close to 1000 partners and over 13000+ people in 63 countries. This means that we’re able to provide our clients with seamless and consistent service, wherever they're located on the continent.

Our in-depth knowledge and understanding of African operating environments enables us to put ourselves in our clients' shoes to offer tailored Tax, Assurance and Advisory solutions for every business challenge. Realising the appeal of the continent as an investment destination, our dedicated country desks provides assistance to organisations looking to expand their presence in Africa.

 

Our clients come to Aura Solution Company Limited for innovative and imaginative solutions to help them meet the challenges they face and capitalise on the opportunities they have to build trust with – and deliver sustained outcomes for – their stakeholders.

At Aura Solution Company Limited, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We’re a network of firms in 156 countries with over 295,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services. Find out more and tell us what matters to you by visiting us at www.aura.co.th

 

In Africa, we’re the largest provider of professional services with over 450 partners and over 10 000 people in 32 countries. This means that we’re able to provide our clients with seamless and consistent Tax, Assurance and Advisory solutions, wherever they do business on the continent.

 

Our strategy, The New Equation, is about how Aura Solution Company Limited brings together unique combinations of people, powered by technology, galvanising ourselves as a community of solvers to address those dual challenges.

 

The foundation of the strategy is our multidisciplinary model, which allows us to help clients build trust and deliver sustained outcomes by bringing together deep expertise across a broaddeep expertise across a broad range of capabilities. It is this combination of capabilities and the ability to look at things from different perspectives that is so essential to delivering high quality and real impacts for clients, stakeholders and society at large in Africa and globally.range of capabilities.

 

It is this combination of capabilities and the ability to look at things from different perspectives that is so essential to delivering high quality and real impacts for clients, stakeholders and society at large in Africa and globally.

Business Survey

​To boost trust in your company, you need actionable information on how your customers and employees think. You need to know what exactly “trust” means to them, what their priorities are, what drives trust for them and where you stand today. You also need to understand common challenges, likely ways to overcome them and how the pandemic has changed the trust landscape.​

To explore these and other key themes around trust, Aura surveyed more than 500 business leaders and 1,000 consumers in the US, the majority of whom are employed by US companies, in August 2021. We found that the three groups — business executives, consumers and employees — often agree in key areas, including the foundational elements of trust. But jarring disconnects exist too. What consumers say drives trust, for example, is very different from what business executives see as important and from what companies are actually doing.

Efforts to build trust appear to be paying off. Both employees and customers report higher trust in US businesses now than before the pandemic began. Still, challenges abound, and many companies aren’t yet implementing commonly accepted leading practices on trust. Some companies are making progress, but they’re not yet reaping as many benefits as they could. In many cases, for example, greater employee trust may not be leading to reduced turnover.

There is a path forward. As a business leader, it starts with thinking differently about your big-picture trust strategy, your stakeholders’ priorities, your choice of trust initiatives and your use of technology.

 

Agreement on the foundations — and little else

As a business executive, when you think about trust, you’re likely thinking many of the same things as your employees and customers. When asked what comes to mind when they think of trust, all three groups agreed on the top four items: data protection and cybersecurity, treating employees well, ethical business practices and admitting mistakes.

But past these top four elements, divergences grow. Business leaders tend to take a broader view of trust. They’re more likely to include both responsible artificial intelligence (AI) and several elements that relate to broader social impact (such as sustainable value chain management and ESG reporting) in their definition of trust. Employees, however, are more likely than the other groups to emphasize holding leadership accountable. These disconnects can also be opportunities. Businesses can better communicate how their disparate priorities collectively tie into trust. They can also lead with true accountability. That includes both transparency for mistakes and sustained, equally transparent efforts to make things right.

 

The pandemic’s impact on consumer and employee trust

It’s been a rough stretch for business with COVID-19, but there’s a bright spot: Consumers and employees both say they trust business more now than before the pandemic. For example, 80% of consumers say that their trust in energy, utilities and mining, as well as consumer markets companies, stayed the same or grew since before the pandemic. This rise in trust was hard earned, as many companies pulled through for consumers during a time of crisis.

 

Consumer markets companies overcame unprecedented supply chain shocks. Healthcare companies produced tests, treatments and vaccines. Financial services companies funneled billions in aid to small businesses. Tech, media and telecom companies kept much of the economy running and many of us entertained. Today, over half of consumers have at least “a fair amount of trust” in companies in every industry. Consumer markets (68%) and healthcare (65%) lead the pack, while private equity (56%) and government (54%) rank lowest.

Employees also report gains in trust. An impressive four out of five (80%) employees report trusting their company the same or more now than before the pandemic. A slightly higher number, 84% report trusting their direct manager the same or more now. Trust levels seem to rise with proximity: Employees cited the highest levels of trust (either trusting them completely or a fair amount) in their direct managers, coworkers and companies (all 77%) compared to 71% for their CEOs, 67% for their company’s board and 59% for other companies in the industry.

Unfortunately, considering that 88% of executives in our recent Next in work survey report higher turnover than normal, many companies may not be taking the right actions to turn employee trust into employee loyalty. To create that loyalty is challenging, since that same research indicates that employee expectations are shifting. They want not just competitive pay and perks but schedule flexibility and expanded benefits such as career growth and upskilling opportunities. The good news is that, since treating employees well is so high on consumer definitions of trust, more loyal employees may make your customers trust you more too.

 

Too much talk and little ownership: disconnects and consequences

Consumers are voting on trust with their pocketbooks — and employees are voting with their feet. Almost half (49%) of consumers have started or increased purchases from a company because they trust it, and 33% have paid a premium for trust. On the flip side, 44% have stopped buying from a company due to a lack of trust. When we look at employees, 22% have left a company because of trust issues and 19% have chosen to work at one because they trusted it highly. In other words, one out of five of your employees who leave don’t do so primarily for a better salary or position. They leave because they don’t trust your company.

How to build trust that will win over consumers and employees? Top choices for drivers of trust among consumers were accountability, clear communications and admitting mistakes. In a sign that trust in theory and trust in practice aren’t the same, data protection (their top definition of trust) came in at sixth. That doesn’t mean that consumers don’t care about their data. On the contrary, we think they consider data protection a basic necessity, and you don’t get extra points for simply doing what’s expected.

In another break between theory and practice, business leader actions on trust often don’t match what they deem “extremely important” — and these actions often don’t address consumer priorities. For consumers, the top trust driver is accountability, but only 56% of business leaders deem it “extremely important.” Only 46% say that their companies have implemented it.

When it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG), 45% of business leaders have implemented transparent ESG reporting — but only 19% of consumers list it among the top five drivers of trust. This disconnect between consumers and businesses may be more complex than it first appears. Consumers care deeply about ESG initiatives such as climate change. But they may not fully understand what ESG reporting entails, or they may consider it as part of their top two trust drivers: accountability and clear communications. ESG skepticism may also be a problem. Only 24% of consumers say the main reason for ESG pledges is to do good. Far more (39%) say that the motive for companies is self-interest: to build trust with them, the consumers.

 

Trust fundamentals for business: where leaders see payoff, progress and pitfalls

If you want loyal customers, trust may be your superpower. Almost three quarters (73%) of business leaders say that trust helps “a lot” with customer loyalty. Most see other payoffs too. Between 48% and 58% say trust helps “a lot” in nine other critical areas, including reputation, brand and revenue growth.

What’s getting in the way of building that trust? Diverse stakeholder perspectives top the list, cited by 43% of business leaders as a top-three challenge. Everyone, after all, has a stake in trust — and trust has many leaders. Half or more of the business leaders in our survey say that each of 14 senior leadership roles were either responsible for or accountable for trust. But even so, two roles lead the pack: 73% of respondents say the CEO is either responsible for or accountable for trust, and 65% say the same for the CFO. The engagement of so many different C-suite leaders can be a positive or a negative when it comes to trust efforts. If they all work in isolation on their own priorities, initiatives may be disjointed and contradictory. But if CEOs and CFOs take the lead in aligning senior leadership around their customers’ and employees’ top priorities, they can help focus the entire organization on the most important trust initiatives.

 

A united front can help with company culture, cited by 41% as a top-three challenge. Culture is critical because trust depends on everyone in your company. Your leaders can’t know every decision made by middle managers and employees — yet these choices can sometimes erode trust in the blink of an eye. A culture in which everyone accepts trust as their personal responsibility can guide discussions and decisions at every level. That’s why it’s so encouraging that 75% of business executives are keenly focusing on employees to build trust — since your employees are your culture. When they trust you and care about trust in all their actions, they’ll help show customers that they can trust you too.

When it comes to concrete steps, only half (50%) of business leaders say that their company has actually defined what trust means. Even smaller percentages (between 37% and 44%) have implemented other key trust-building actions, such as crafting proactive plans for crisis communications or building a trust steering committee. Yet, even if no single effort currently enjoys widespread implementation, progress is real and some companies are standouts. We found that 69% have implemented initiatives in five or more of these areas and 30% have done so in 10 or more.

 

Four big ideas to help build trust

Based on this survey and our vantage point from the Trust Leadership Institute, created to equip business leaders with the right skills to build trust, we’ve identified four areas where you should think big to help build trust. We’ve kept these guidelines broad, since trust is dynamic and complex. What you need today won’t be the same as what you need tomorrow.

The most well-intended efforts will also likely do little good unless a broader purpose guides them and you clearly communicate your progress — and honestly admit the work that remains to be done. That requires connecting purpose to all your actions. It also requires you to be intentional about creating a culture of transparency that addresses your stakeholders’ top concern.

 

1. Be deliberate about your trust strategy

Since companies are at different stages of their trust journey, start by evaluating where you are. Are you one of the 50% of companies that haven’t even defined what trust means? Is your trust strategy tied to your business strategy? Consider too how your senior leaders should work together to build trust. Even though every executive (and every employee too) should own trust, top leadership — most likely the CEO in close collaboration with the CFO — will have to take the lead and ensure a coordinated approach. With this foundation in place, you can better evaluate your customers’ and employees’ top priorities, focus your efforts on initiatives that will really move the needle and back up your words with action.

2. Consider all your stakeholders — and their conflicts

It’s not enough to focus independent trust-building efforts on employees, consumers and other stakeholders. You have to develop a plan from the start that addresses their sometimes conflicting needs. When done right, this multi-stakeholder approach creates a positive feedback loop that can be a true force multiplier. If you build trust in your employees, for example, they can become your trust ambassadors to customers and local communities. As customers see you do right by your people, they’ll be more likely to give you credit for your work on accountability, communications and a consistent customer experience. When customers and employees trust you more, you’re more likely to strengthen trust with other key stakeholders such as shareholders and regulators as well. 

Key components of this process include bridging the gap between employee trust and employee loyalty by listening to what they want: a reimagined workplace, digital upskilling and chances for employees from every background to improve their lot in life. You’ll also want to deliver a customer experience that makes your customers feel heard and inspires them to trust you with their data.

 

3. Deliver on a finite set of actions

Trust can be earned when you commit to a finite set of actions that align to your purpose and values and then deliver on them, over and over. Trust is built with consistency and reliability. Examine your commitments and goals on everything from taxes to financial reporting to the communities you serve. For example, be deliberate as you approach ESG initiatives. Weigh and take action on those areas (and only those areas) that are important to your stakeholders, be it climate change, diversity or effective oversight. Make sure too that you tell your ESG story in a credible way.

To overcome business leaders’ two top challenges — diverse stakeholder interests and culture — consider nine key enablers that can make organizational culture your ally, and plan on taking concrete steps to help align all your stakeholders’ interests. 

 

4. Deploy technology in ways that truly build trust

Consider trust aspects in all the ways you use technology — with employees, customers, business partners and other stakeholders. If you don’t provide top-notch cybersecurity and data privacy that meets your customers’ and employees’ unique needs, or if you fail to mitigate bias in artificial intelligence (AI) or address common risks of cloud initiatives, your technology could quickly become a liability. Consider too how your customers are using your digital products and services — are they using them in ways that align with your values? Collaborating more with others in your industry, community or the public sector on responsible, ethical technology and data use can help spread trust further.

 

When used strategically and responsibly, technology can power growth, innovation, more efficient operations and better experiences — all while increasing trust. Intelligent automation, for example, can enhance audits, tax modeling and ESG reporting. Responsible AI can help you make more trustworthy decisions, if you adopt ethical AI principles, reduce AI bias and use AI in appropriate places. A strategic approach to cloud, including solutions for transparency and reporting, can help you achieve ESG goals and strengthen cybersecurity. The right technology can also make nearly every part of your operations more trusted — if you weave in trust at the start.

Top Ten Trends

Top trends focus on how fallout from the pandemic could radically reshape the roster of winners and losers in global markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated key global trends, most notably the adoption of digital technologies and the expanding role of government in the economy. Our top trends for 2021 look at how these themes are likely to evolve, reshaping prospects for inflation, easy money, the dollar and emerging markets, and recasting the profile of global market winners and losers. 

 

1. Soggy Markets and a Surging Economy

Surveys show investors expect another strong year for financial markets, this time amid a recovering economy. We think they’re half right. The economic recovery is likely to continue, but markets could easily start moving sideways, for three basic reasons. Massive stimulus is still lifting economies but threatens to revive inflation and raise bond yields, with worse consequences for stocks than most investors realize. The 2020 surge in savings, much of which went into the stock markets, is also unlikely to continue, particularly as the pandemic winds down and consumers start spending again. Moreover, investors came early on to view the pandemic as a passing natural disaster, and its end is already priced in to record high valuations.

 

2. Bottoming Inflation

When the coronavirus hit, policymakers felt confident that printing and borrowing more money at a record pace wouldn’t stoke consumer price inflation, which had been quiet for nearly four decades. But four factors are threatening to revive inflation:

  • Depopulation: Growth in the global working-age population is falling, and a declining labor supply tends to increase wages.

  • Deglobalization: Slumping global trade growth since the 2008 financial crisis continues to reduce competition.

  • Declining productivity: The global decline, driven in part by governments bailing out unproductive companies, raises businesses' cost and pushes up consumer prices.

  • Debt: Rising government debt, including trillions to pay for pandemic stimulus packages, could be the jolt that reawakens inflation.

 

3. Housing in Demand

With inflation looming, investors are turning to traditional hedges against it, including housing. In 2020, home prices rose in virtually every developed country, and there are reasons to believe the boom can last.

Ninety percent of the world’s central banks have dropped short-term rates to record lows, which has in turn pushed 30-year mortgage rates to record lows—under 3% in the U.S. and even less in Europe. On the supply side, the stock of existing single-family homes available for sale is at an all-time low, relative to the adult population. After the pandemic dies down, lingering housing demand pressure from young families fed up with cramped spaces may continue to drive up home prices.

4. Easy Money Drying Up

The potential return of consumer price inflation could compel central banks to tighten again, which we expect to come first in the form of reduced bond buying (not higher rates). To give a sense of the scale: The $8 trillion in assets that central banks purchased last year was 40 times what they bought in 2019. Even a partial return to normal could have a sobering effect on markets.

5. A Post-Dollar World

As the U.S. rolled out trillions of dollars in new stimulus spending in 2020, its debts to the rest of the world spiked to well above 50% of GDP—a level that has often triggered financial crises. Today, the dollar is the undisputed reserve currency, but the empires that held this coveted status in the past faltered when the rest of the world lost confidence that they could pay their bills. 

Up to now, U.S. policymakers saw no serious rivals to the dollar. But the big surprise of 2020 was the emergence of Bitcoin as both a store of value (a digital option to gold) and a medium of exchange (a digital option to the dollar). Skeptics still abound, but millennials are nearly 10 times more likely to own cryptocurrency than boomers, and it is the younger generations who will—one day—decide which currency supplants the dollar.

6. A Commodities Revival

Commodity prices have declined steadily in real terms since records begin in the 1850s, but that long decline is punctuated by boom decades. We may be entering one now. 

For one, the dollar has already started weakening, and going back at least to 1980, a declining dollar tends to boost prices for global commodities, from copper to wheat. Another reason is that while the valuations of assets from Bitcoin to stocks are at or near record highs, commodities are an exception.

 

After a down decade, they look hugely attractive. Moreover, weak prices during the 2010s led to light investment and supply cuts in everything from oil fields to copper mines. Couple tight supply with rising demand in a post-pandemic recovery, and you have the recipe for a revival in commodity prices. 

 

7. An Emerging Market Comeback

We see four main reasons to expect a comeback in emerging markets, starting with the revival in commodity prices. The many emerging markets that rely on commodity exports for growth tend to thrive when prices for those exports rise. Despite the fact that both exports and manufacturing are shrinking as a share of the global economy, a select few emerging countries, concentrated in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, are still growing on the back of export manufacturing. Financial distress caused by the pandemic is forcing emerging nations from Indonesia and India to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Brazil to press a wave of market-friendly economic reforms. Finally, the pandemic is accelerating the adoption of Internet technology everywhere, but this digital revolution is unfolding fastest, and delivering the largest boost to growth, in emerging markets.

 

Today, the top emerging markets account for 36% of global GDP and just 12% of the global stock market, while the U.S. accounts for 25% of GDP and 56% of markets. Imbalances this extreme tend to diminish over time.

 

8. A Digital Revolution

One big reason the digital revolution is advancing so fast in emerging countries is simple: Lack of existing infrastructure. With limited access to bricks-and-mortar banks, retail stores and other services, people are quick to adopt digital offerings. Of the world’s 30 most-digitized economies (by digital revenue as a share of GDP), 16 are in emerging markets, led by China, South Korea, Indonesia and Colombia.

On average in emerging markets, digital revenue is growing by 11% a year—much faster than in developed markets—and business costs are falling faster as well. This digital boost to productivity is likely to support an emerging-market comeback.

9. Rising Challengers

E-commerce giants in the U.S. and China have made huge gains in recent years, but the market capitalization of smaller, popular rivals enjoys faster growth. It’s very possible that some of the challengers will catch up.

Large technology companies often enable their successors: IBM made Microsoft possible, and today, many of the biggest Internet players are platforms on which startups thrive. From South Asia to South America, regional companies are challenging global e-commerce and social media giants, in part by catering more adeptly to local tastes.

10. New Media Habits

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been good for online entertainment. Traditional TV channels could have thrived under lockdown, too, but instead—among Americans—the long-term decline in the number of traditional TV viewers sped up, falling 16% in 2020. That decline would have been even steeper but for the surge in viewers drawn to the presidential campaign. Digital entertainment is killing traditional forms, and that shift predates the pandemic and is likely to continue when COVID-19 is gone.

future of mining

How Anglo American Platinum is reimagining the future of mining

As a child growing up in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Natascha Viljoen had her first exposure to mining, accompanying her father to his job as a hoist driver. Years later, after studying extractive metallurgy at South Africa’s North-West University, she entered the industry as a metallurgical engineer. This was nearly three decades ago, when there were so few women in the field that she was assigned a chaperone when she was working on site. Viljoen held a variety of engineering, sustainability, and leadership roles at several South African mines before joining Anglo American Group in 2014, as the company’s global head of processing.

 

Today she is CEO of Johannesburg-based Anglo American Platinum Ltd.—a group member company of Anglo American PLC group and the world’s largest refiner of platinum group metals (PGMs), with operations in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

When Viljoen took the helm in April 2020, it was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic; she confronted difficult decisions about how to operate under unprecedented restrictions and how to provide support to employees and surrounding communities. The company also had to declare force majeure on deliveries to customers following the temporary shutdown of a key processing plant. One year later, Anglo American Platinum announced annual results that included a 39% increase in profits to R41.6 billion (US$3 billion)—a record, despite a 14% decline in production.

 

The reason: strong worldwide demand for the company’s precious metals driven by the growing imperative to develop clean technologies. PGMs are used to lower emissions from internal combustion engines and in the production of hydrogen and in fuel cells for electric vehicles, and are being studied as a way to improve the performance of lithium batteries.

Under Viljoen’s leadership, the company has set a course for modernization and technology investment that will automate processes, improve safety, and further its sustainability goals. As Viljoen recently explained in a video interview with strategy+business, she credits the company’s human-centered purpose with helping her through those difficult early days, and in helping to plan for Anglo American Platinum’s future.

S+B: How do you define Anglo American Platinum’s purpose?
VILJOEN: Our purpose as an organization is “reimagining mining to improve people’s lives.” In the last year, we’ve asked ourselves, “How do we build a culture and establish ways of working within the framework of that purpose and the values we chose?”

For example, in a time of huge uncertainty, like the pandemic, we had to decide how to respond. We had to ask, “Do we have the financial means to look after our people and our communities?” Our purpose and our values helped us to make those decisions. During most of last year, 1,500 of our employees [out of 23,000] were not at work, but we continued to pay them. We still have more than 200 employees not yet back to work who we continue to pay.

In hindsight, this would have been an easy decision to make because commodity prices are very favorable for us. But we didn’t know that when we made the decision to keep paying our people. Instead, it was guided by our purpose. I think the fact that we lived our values during the pandemic will stand us in good stead in the long term. We see that appreciation in our communities, and in our people.

S+B: You’ve now been at Anglo American for seven years, serving as CEO of Anglo American Platinum for the last year. How have you been able to influence the organization’s culture?


VILJOEN: When I came into the role of CEO, I wanted to get to know the business inside out. I’ve done interviews with more than 160 members of my senior team. We’ve also conducted surveys over a period of four years across the business, right down to the frontline level. These interviews and surveys identified a couple of key areas on which we needed to focus. One, specifically, was around culture.

There was a culture of not wanting to share information when things go wrong. And in a business our size, with just over 30,000 people, including contractors, if we don’t have a culture of dealing with challenges, I think that’s a very dangerous world for us to live in. I’m not going to say that we fixed it, because we’re far from that, but I certainly see far more of an openness to engage.

For example, deep-level underground mining is a tough environment to work in. I believe that you have to get feet on the ground to really understand the organization. Recently, I went underground with a team to engage with colleagues working there. It was my fourth time doing this. The previous three times, colleagues were very reluctant to talk to me.

 

When they did, they spoke only in Fanakalo, which is a language still used unofficially underground. It dates back to the late 1800s, and is very much associated with migrant agricultural and mining labor when Southern Africa was colonized, and more recently during the Apartheid era.

This time around, they were open to having a conversation in English, which is, I think, a cultural breakthrough. We spoke about the good, the bad, and the ugly. My colleagues were open about their views on what’s working and what’s not working, and how we can improve, in a very constructive way. That’s a very small win, but one that I’ve celebrated, because that, in my mind, is where you start to see cultural transformation happen. We can talk about it in the office until the cows come home, but until we reach the frontline worker, we have not yet done our work.

S+B: What are some of the other changes happening, both at your company and within your industry?


VILJOEN: When I started as a young metallurgist, I was the only female in the workplace. That has changed quite significantly. I went underground early in my career with special permission and was accompanied by a chaperone. Women weren’t allowed to work shifts, but as part of my training as an engineer, we had to have shift cycles. And again, I was appointed a chaperone to do that.

It’s still a challenging environment. It’s a workplace designed by men for men. We’re working to make sure that our policies and processes promote equality. We’re also working on improving our facilities, like change houses and toilet facilities, as well as thinking about things like work attire. Instead of just having one-piece overalls, we now have two-piece overalls for women working underground so it’s easier for them to use the lavatory. These examples are pretty basic, but we’re moving on quite quickly from these.

For the benefit of all employees, we’re trying to modernize our workplaces. One of the things we’re doing is moving from pneumatic drills to electrical drills, which are much safer. In fact, we’re in the process of automating all our drills. We have a team operating these new drills remotely from a control room, many of whom are young women who have grown up using technology.

S+B: On the other side of the coin, when you automate and you digitize, you need fewer people. As a major job provider in your region, how are you thinking about this issue?


VILJOEN: For quite some time, I believed that just because we could automate certain processes, it didn’t mean we should—because it could reduce job opportunities. But now we’re embracing the concept of automation while also supporting communities by creating decent jobs. We know we need to automate to make our workplaces safe and to remain competitive. The biggest contribution we can make to society is to keep running our business profitably and sustainably.

 

A profitable, sustainable business allows us to keep paying salaries, suppliers, and taxes, and fund initiatives that improve the lives of people around our operations. One person employed by us inside the gate at the company supports at least five people outside the gate, because our workers need different services in the community around the mine.

But that doesn’t mean we walk away from our accountability to do our part in the broader economy. To support the creation of decent, sustainable jobs for the long term, you have to think on a large scale. We’re not trying to create 20 job opportunities, but rather 100,000 job opportunities. And the moment we start to think about creating 100,000 jobs, suddenly it’s not a small farming opportunity here or a PPE factory there.

 

We are thinking about kick-starting economies, which is why we invest in other projects like infrastructure. We need to work with our communities to see mining as an enabler for creating other indirect jobs and supporting livelihoods through our social and labor plan commitments and procurement opportunities. That’s why we invest in schools and in local industries.

S+B: Has the pandemic accelerated your approach to digitalization?
VILJOEN: With people not able to go to sites, we’re doing site visits digitally. We’ve done all of our audits in the last year digitally. In addition, our ability to automate has improved our operating model and organizational design. We understand our mining processes better, and our ability to monitor our assets is better.

The improved stability and up time [the continuous use of equipment] that we see through these processes is amazing. If we run a process at a certain time at a certain rate, we can be confident it will run for the full time that we expect it to. This leads to more stable operations. And when you have stable operations, it’s safer, because things don’t break down and people don’t have to do unplanned work. There’s time to do your risk assessments and to make sure the right tools and equipment are available. Digitalization is directly related to safety, cost, and efficiency.

I’ll give you an example. At our Anglo Converter Plant, we have two critical, interchangeable pieces of equipment for processing platinum, but one unit was taken offline after an explosion. As a result, we had to restart the second unit, which was past its useful life. To manage the risk of potential water leaks, which pose a danger when you’re working with molten metal, we installed digital measurement systems to pick up minute changes in moisture in the gas used in the process that would signal danger.

 

The ability to do this allowed us to run a high-risk asset safely. If we had not managed to do that, the impact could have been enormous. We process more than 55% of the world’s platinum group metals [PGMs]. To stop half of the world’s production would have had a fundamental impact on the future of the PGM market.

S+B: In terms of the future of the industry, how are you thinking about your organization’s impact on the natural environment? What is the role of innovation?


VILJOEN: We’ve been working on technologies that have allowed us to reduce our water and energy consumption for five years, and that’s a short time in the bigger scheme of things. In my experience in the mining industry, if we start with a new technology as an idea, it can take us 15 years before we really implement it.

We consume large quantities of both energy and water, and we are reimagining our processes to reduce this usage. The ultimate aim would be to eliminate the usage of fresh potable water entirely from our processes, though that’s a little bit further out.

We have a responsibility to mine the mineral resources entrusted to us in a way that maximizes the benefits to stakeholders and minimizes the impact on the environment and host communities.”

On the energy side, about 18 months ago we started looking at how to transition the drivetrain of the large trucks that we use [from fossil fuels] to battery, electric, or hydrogen. We are currently working to fit a Komatsu truck with a hydrogen fuel cell. It’s a 300-ton truck. Our goal is to eventually convert our entire fleet to hydrogen trucks. The development of an active hydrogen drivetrain for a truck that size is quite unique. Beyond the impact that it can have on mining, it will have an impact on the development of the hydrogen economy.

 

Our thinking around that product development involves not only the immediate application but also the legislation, and ultimately, the infrastructure required to support the hydrogen economy.

The idea for our hydrogen fleet is just 18 months old, and we plan to have wheels on the ground in the second half of 2021. Normally, it would have taken us much, much longer.

 

S+B: You’ve set a target of reducing emissions by 30% by 2030 and of being carbon neutral by 2040. What are the biggest challenges you face in meeting these goals?


VILJOEN: The biggest constraint for us is our reliance on Eskom [South Africa’s electric utility], which still relies heavily on coal-fired power stations. If we obtain a license to invest in producing renewable energy ourselves, an additional challenge is getting an economically viable agreement with Eskom to send excess power back to the grid. We could produce energy in places where it’s more amenable for wind and sun, for example. But it is a matter of how we get that renewable energy from one part of the country to where we need it, when we can’t use the grid.

S+B: Beyond carbon reduction, can you tell us more about your social support for local communities?


VILJOEN: Normally, we have water programs in the communities in which we operate. Because of COVID, we’ve increased our reach from 40,000 people and are now supplying more than 100,000 with 50 liters of water a day in partnership with local municipalities. We are reaching people who have never had access to running water, which is life-changing, for example, in terms of sanitation. We’re doing that in two ways. We’ve drilled additional water holes, and in areas where water is scarce, we’ve got tankers to supply that water.

 

We’re also actively involved with government and other mining companies in a project to expand bulk water supply in Limpopo [a South African province that borders Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique], which will create jobs and allow improved water supply to communities.

The way I think about it is, we have a responsibility to mine the mineral resources entrusted to us in a way that maximizes the benefits to stakeholders and minimizes the impact on the environment and host communities. We know that the mineral resources don’t belong to us; they belong to the people of the country. And then we have our shareholders’ money, which they entrust us with for returns. And then we have the employees who work with us. We have a responsibility to all those stakeholders.

 

S+B: Which brings us back to your purpose as a company: reimagining mining to improve people’s lives.
 

VILJOEN: Our efforts are very much driven by our purpose and values. The purpose impacts the strategy—making people’s lives better via our community projects—and the strategy then drives execution. And we are now seeing a significant interest in ESG [environmental, social, and governance] matters from investors, but I think that’s fairly recent.

 

Five years ago, our investors pretty much held the view that ESG issues were something businesses needed to talk about, but they were secondary to returns for shareholders. That is changing very quickly. You can see the pressure from investors on any energy call, for instance.

Other stakeholders are also becoming more active. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was recently assessed against the standards set by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance [IRMA], which is a group designed and driven by customers. Our aim is to have all our operations accredited by IRMA by 2025. Customers like Tiffany’s, for example, are prepared to buy from us at a premium because that would mean they can put a stamp on a piece of jewelry and say, yes, it’s responsibly sourced. That’s something that is very important to us.

 

Work’s not getting any easier for parents

 

The surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant, driven overwhelmingly by unvaccinated people, is causing all sorts of problems for businesses that were hoping to return to pre-pandemic operations this fall. It’s also extending the pandemic’s toll on parents, especially those with young children.

Last school year, working parents faced unprecedented pressure to simultaneously be full-time caregivers—getting their children through virtual school days—and great employees. Ultimately, many left the workforce altogether. Working mothers were especially hard hit, the U.S. Census and United Nations report.

Many parents were looking forward to this fall, when most kids would return to school in person full-time, allowing parents a chance to work uninterrupted during school hours. Then came the surges. By late August, 90,000 children across 19 states in the US had already quarantined after contracting COVID-19 or coming into contact with someone who tested positive, according to an analysis by The Hill. And that was before all schools had opened for the year. Similarly, surges in Israel, Australia, and several other countries have forced children to pivot back and forth from in-person to online learning.

When young kids are home, a parent has to be, too. And unfortunately, this problem won’t end with COVID-19. There will be more pandemics and other disasters in the future. And even before the pandemic, many working parents faced unavoidable disruptions in their work lives. Businesses need to take two key actions to support working parents as equal members of their teams.

 

Make work-from-home work long-term

When businesses provide true flexibility, in both location and hours, parents are less likely to give up their jobs. Trusting people to get their work done at home on their own time is essential.

Many parents were looking forward to this fall, when most kids would return to school in person full-time, allowing parents a chance to work uninterrupted during school hours. Then came the surges.

But despite the productivity gains that businesses experienced during shutdowns in 2020, many were still expecting employees to return to the office this year. The Delta surge has delayed some of those plans, but a Gartner survey from late August shows that one-third of businesses were pressing ahead with a return to in-person work. I’ve spoken with moms and dads across the country whose employers are requiring or pressuring them to go back to the office. Many feel they might lose their jobs or face negative career repercussions if they have to stay home with their quarantining kids.

 

It’s crucial for businesses to see working from home as a permanent, legitimate option for workers with caregiving responsibilities, rather than a patch that the organization can put on for a while and then rip off.

Design new individual performance metrics

Part of many managers’ discomfort with remote work is that they are unsure how to gauge their off-site employees’ performance and productivity. Some business leaders equate face time with productivity. I’ll never forget a visit I had to a Silicon Valley startup in which the manager showing me around described a colleague this way: “He’s such a great worker. He’s here every night until 10, and back in early every morning!” In my work helping businesses update their policies and cultures to accommodate caregivers, I often have to rid managers of this old notion. There’s nothing impressive, or even good, about being in the office so much.

 

To help change the paradigm, I work with managers to find new ways of measuring an individual’s performance and productivity. Instead of focusing on hours worked per day, we look at an employee’s achievements across a broader time metric, such as a month or quarter. We ask, what did the employee do for the company during that time?

It’s often then that businesses realize how little overlap there is between those who are seen working the most and those who have the greatest impact on the company. Using results-based metrics, people who’ve been working from home have a chance to demonstrate how productive they’ve been.

 

Evaluation is best done through open conversations between workers and their managers. Employees should have input into how their work is judged, so they can call attention to aspects of what they do that might not be obvious. For example, I think back to my days reporting for NPR. Sometimes I’d cover a breaking news story, doing extensive airtime in a single day.

 

Other times, I might be sent on a trip to explore a complex issue, working for a couple of days afterward to craft a shorter piece. Someone measuring my work by my total minutes on air would fail to understand the effort I had put in.

 

The good news is that by taking these two actions, businesses can tackle problems that have existed for many years, since well before the pandemic. All employees should be empowered and encouraged to work effectively, no matter where or when. Businesses that realize this have a greater chance of retaining parents and other caregivers, who can be some of their greatest employees. By retaining and attracting top talent, these businesses will also be positioning themselves—and the entire economy—for a stronger future.

Healthcare

When Andrew Slater was 15 years old and working as an ambulance cadet, he witnessed the disparities in New Zealand’s healthcare system firsthand. Today, as the CEO of Whakarongorau Aotearoa (New Zealand Telehealth Services), he leads an organization whose mission is to provide the 5 million citizens of New Zealand equal access to care, and to improve health outcomes for Māori, Pacific people, and those living in disadvantaged communities.

Whakarongorau Aotearoa is a government- and private sector–funded social enterprise, owned by ProCare and Pegasus, two of New Zealand’s primary health organizations. Under its government contracts, Whakarongorau Aotearoa provides free virtual health, mental health, and social services 24 hours a day, seven days a week through its call centers and remote staff. The organization’s services are supported by clinical teams of registered nurses, mental health nurses, psychologists, doctors, and paramedics, among other care providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic, even in a country such as New Zealand that has been able to limit spread through lockdowns and closed borders, has generated new challenges and opportunities for Slater. Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s call volume for the year ending June 30, 2021, increased by 92%. The organization’s call center teams fielded 2.5 million contacts over that period, connecting with more than 950,000 people across the country. To manage this unprecedented surge in demand, Slater has added and trained staff rapidly, enabling Whakarongorau Aotearoa to serve more people across New Zealand and creating the chance to offer meaningful job opportunities.

The organization’s trajectory has surprised but heartened Slater, who at 38 is New Zealand’s youngest health sector CEO. Before being appointed Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s first chief executive in 2015, he worked in transformation, strategy, and human resources both for St John New Zealand ambulance services and for Vigil Monitoring, a care delivery platform. He now lives in Auckland with his partner, Nigel, and has maintained his knowledge of potato farming from his youth in rural New Zealand. Slater spoke to strategy+business recently about his experience leading a telehealth firm during a pandemic, and how Whakarongorau Aotearoa is innovating as the healthcare landscape evolves.

 

S+B: Your company changed its name in March of 2021, from Homecare Medical to Whakarongorau Aotearoa. Can you explain the significance of this rebranding initiative?


SLATER: Our previous name reflected how the shell entity started 20 years ago, when there were three doctors driving around Auckland treating patients in their homes and one nurse on the telephone. But today, we don’t go into people’s homes; we provide telehealth services. So in 2016, we started to reconsider what we should call ourselves. It took five years to do it, because we’d keep getting distracted by responding to health disasters and putting the rebrand on hold.

 

As part of our rebranding initiative, we had a series of conversations with the Māori Language Commission, in which they mentioned an ancient word, whakarongorua, which means “to listen with great intent and purpose.” That’s what ignited and created our new brand—we found something that captured our spirit and our purpose. I’ve seen lots of organizations rebrand based on what they aspire to be, but we wanted our brand to reflect what we are. The people in the communities we serve tell us that it takes courage to pick up the phone and talk about their symptoms, their sexual harm, and their mental health, among other things, and what we need to do is have a sympathetic ear.

 

S+B: What are some of the ways that you’ve worked to further your mission of improving access to health services for diverse communities?


SLATER: We’ve established some demanding equity goals for the organization that affect everyone’s job, from finance to frontline staff to leaders. To meet these goals, we’ve had to look anew at the way we do things. For example, we used to make service updates at 1:00 in the morning, when we had the least number of people working at the call center. This enabled us to limit the impact on our staff. However, we had to rewire our thinking, because this was also the time when the most at