- SMEs are key drivers of the global economy and sustainable development objectives.
- The Forum’s Future-ready SMEs report focuses on a global assessment of future-readiness and identifies key drivers for success.
- Members of the Forum’s New Champions Community have taken a wide range of approaches to create future-ready companies.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are integral to the global economic and social fabric. As such, it is important to understand how these companies can build resilience to external shocks, while also setting themselves up as generators of long-term value that benefits society at large.
After an in-depth analysis of more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and engagement with over 300 chief executive officers and founders of SMEs, a report published by the World Economic Forum established three pillars of future-readiness: sustainable growth, societal impact, and adaptive capacity. SMEs can also assess their companies’ future-readiness using the World Economic Forum’s benchmarking tool.
The World Economic Forum’s New Champions community is a group of mid-sized companies championing new models, emerging technologies and sustainable growth strategies. These organisations are leaders in using the three pillars to become future-ready.
We asked some of their CEOs to share what they think about how to be future-ready:
1. Sustainable growth
Digital strategy drives growth
Mohammed Akoojee, CEO, Imperial Logistics, South Africa
As an Africa-focused provider of integrated market access and logistics solutions, we are becoming a larger player in our industry. We are faced with challenges, such as intermediation and the entry of new competitors with highly innovative and disruptive operating models.
Our digital strategy is foundational to our ability to capture new opportunities, become data-driven, amplify value, differentiate, meet and anticipate our clients’ needs, and innovate.
R&D at the core of the business
Zhao Yan, CEO, Bloomage Biotech, China
We are a company that applies biotech inventions for better health, with basic research and development at our core for more than 20 years. In 2011, our scientists invented enzymatic digestion, which enables the controlling of molecular weight of hyaluronic acid and unlocks more possibilities for industrial adoption.
We believe there are two core elements to being future-ready: we continuously push our innovation capabilities while maintaining a strong operating profit. These two aspects combined are major drivers of our continued vitality and growth as a company.
Identifying and de-risking market gaps
Joost Zuidberg, CEO, Cardano Development, the Netherlands
As an incubator, developer and fund manager of scaled and pioneering financial risk management solutions in frontier markets, our services and products aim to absorb risks and remove barriers for domestic or international investors to participate in inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
We believe that well-developed and resilient financial markets are key to ensuring future-readiness for local businesses and society. Our work focuses on dealing with the urgency of addressing the SDG funding gap, which is estimated at $2.5 trillion and has increased by around 70% since the start of the pandemic. Enhancing these capital flows is essential for long-term inclusive growth.
“We believe that for internet business, it is by anticipating change and by innovating that we stay ahead and grow.”
—Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic Group
Driven by innovation, staying ahead and continuing to grow
Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic Group, the United Kingdom
We have been at the forefront of the digital revolution, helping businesses, governments and even some nations to realise their aspirations online. We believe that for internet business, it is by anticipating change and by innovating that we stay ahead and grow.
The very nature of innovation is to do things differently from how they have been done in the past. One strategy to improve innovation culture is to recruit from other industries such as fashion – an industry that reinvents itself every season. I see that as an ongoing opportunity to drive innovation.
2. Societal impact
Embedding SDG goals in strategies, culture and operations
José Carlos Junqueira S. Meirelles, Partner, Pinheiro Neto Advogados, Brazil
We are a Brazilian law firm engaged in social responsibility initiatives. As a signatory to the UN Global Compact, we have upheld our commitment to 10 universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, alongside the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This has enhanced our future-readiness by embedding practices, values and SDGs into our strategies, culture and operations, while also increasing transparency in our corporate social responsibility actions, and generating long-term value for our firm and society at large.
“We believe focusing our business on a major world challenge makes us future-ready.”
—Zhang Xiangdong, CEO, Organic & Beyond
Focusing on a key challenge to carbon neutrality
Zhang Xiangdong, CEO, Organic & Beyond, China
We pioneer the business of organic agriculture in China. Agriculture is one of the eight key areas for achieving carbon neutrality, with approximately 21-37% of total greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the food system.
The challenges to the development of organic agriculture include a lack of awareness of this sector’s contribution to carbon neutrality, a lack of structural big data and unscientific carbon emissions calculations. At the same time, there are many opportunities. Organic agriculture makes up for the shortcomings of traditional agriculture in terms of protecting biodiversity, improving soil quality and preserving water quality. We believe focusing our business on a major world challenge makes us future-ready.
3. Adaptive capacity
Thinking long-term and acting fast
Henrik Ekelund, Founder & CEO, BTS Group, Sweden
In times of crisis, the default approach can be to think short-term but still act too slowly. When COVID-19 spread to Italy in February 2020, I knew our company – a global consultancy for which in-person workshops represented 70% of our business – would face a survival crisis with huge long-term impacts.
Our action plan surprised many people and was different from our competitors. We committed to keeping 100% of our 1,200 people employed with no salary cuts, we pivoted our business to digital, switched sales strategy, and built a big reserve of cash by postponing dividends, bonuses and taking loans. While we initially lost 70% of our revenues, 2021 became a new record year, with a 20% increase in revenue and profit compared to 2019. Agility and resilience were key to our adaptive capacity and made us future-ready.
Measuring the impact companies have on society and the planet is essential if practices are to be managed and improvements to be made.
To promote alignment among existing environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks, the Forum, with partners including Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, has drawn on existing frameworks and identified a set of universal disclosures – the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics.
During the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2021, the Forum announced that over 50 companies have begun including the Stakeholder Capitalism ESG reporting metrics in their mainstream materials, including annual reports and sustainability reports.
Contact us for more information on how to get involved.
Using technology as a force for good
Stanislas Bocquet, CEO, PALO IT, Hong Kong
We are a global innovation consultancy and agile software development company dedicated to helping organisations embrace tech as a force for good. The last two years have represented a massive challenge for most businesses, but crises are always a history accelerator
I believe what makes us unique is our market position at the intersection of two megatrends – digital transformation and the circular economy. By shifting our own priorities and skillsets, we have started to inspire others with much bigger footprints. What was initially a challenge led us to a greater long-term opportunity to become a game-changing actor in the much-needed area of transformation.