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The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward

The social enterprise, as defined in our 2018 Global human capital trends report, embodies a “new social contract” that proposes a more human-centred rewiring of the relationships between the individual and the organisation and the organisation and society. Since 2018, we have seen the speed and scale of change continue to accelerate, with technological advances bringing bigger and bolder changes in shorter windows of time. But as new technologies and digital transformations dominated conversations in boardrooms, human concerns were considered separate from, if not directly in conflict with technological advances.

In this year’s report, we challenge organisations to re-examine whether humanity and technology were truly in conflict and to consider how it is possible to resolve the seeming paradox of finding ways to remain distinctly human in a technology-driven world. In each chapter, we show how organisations that embrace a new set of attributes anchored in purpose, potential and perspective can create lasting value for themselves, their workforce, and society at large.

As we deal with the impact of COVID-19, lessons that are coming through from our respond strategies reinforce our conviction that human concerns are not separate from technological advances at all, but integral for organisations looking to capture the full value of the technologies they’ve put in place.

As organisations looked to adapt their ways of working in response to the crisis, they found that, where technologies have been available, one of the biggest barriers was the difficulty of building models to integrate humans with those technologies: to create new habits and management practices for how people adapt, behave, and work in partnership with the technology available to them; to fulfill distinctly human needs such as the desire for meaning, connection, and well-being at work; to maximise worker potential through the cultivation of capabilities; and to safeguard ethical values.

This crisis presents a unique opportunity for organisations that can overcome the instinct of treating humans and machines on parallel paths to instead build connections that can pave a path forward, one that can nurture growth and innovation in the weeks, months and years to come. It also serves as a window into what can happen if the intersection of humanity and technology and the opportunity to operate as a true social enterprise are not fully embraced. In light of COVID-19, the opportunity (and risk) may never be greater for organisations to transcend this paradox and see possibility in what lies ahead.

I hope that our readers find our 2020 South Africa Human Capital Trends Report titled: The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward useful and insightful as we all move to recover and thrive amidst COVID-19. 

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