Tag Archives: business leadership

Being businessworthy in Beirut: Interview with CEO Sarah Beydoun

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah’s Bag is a Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise that empowers women,  employing over 200 prisoners, ex-prisoners and underprivileged women. Their artisan handbags have been spotted on the arms of Beyoncé and Amal Clooney, but now the company is navigating a dual crisis. 

 

In many parts of the world, the economic and political situation was already precarious before the pandemic outbreak. Producing and selling products in Lebanon has not been easy since the revolution began several months ago. This means that the current pandemic forced 2016 Business for Peace Honouree Sarah Beydoun to take on the complexities of a crisis on top of a crisis. We talked with the fashion designer and entrepreneur about how her company, Sarah’s Bag, is responding. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four women doing beadwork in a workshop

CEO Sarah Beydoun and a few of the artisans of Sarah’s Bag

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the situation in Lebanon?

For us, the pandemic has been able to inflict maximum damage on a country already going through one of the worst crises of its history. By the time we started quarantine in March, Lebanon was already months into the worst financial crisis the country has seen since the Civil War ended in 1991. 

As a social enterprise, the human element of our work is at the heart of what we do and everything that we create. We are involved in local initiatives to support the creative sector in Lebanon, because this feels like an existential crisis for all of us here. We don’t know where the country is heading. 

Sarah’s Bag has been in crisis mode for the past five months. We have been in business for 20 years. We have already weathered war and political and economic crises, but what we are experiencing now is unprecedented. I am in a crisis within a crisis.  

 

 

 

How has the pandemic affected your business?  How have you as a leader responded?

I had to be honest with my team and tell them that things are tough and are going to be tough for a while. We had to make difficult decisions as a team and a company. 

During the past five months, hundreds of businesses in Lebanon have gone bankrupt, or cut hours, salaries and jobs. Unlike others, I wanted to avoid lay-offs as much as I could. Now, we are operating at 10% of our capacity, so some of the team and I are on half salaries. However, for employees who are in the lower wage bracket, the salary cuts were less. 

We worked on a strategy to compensate for the local loss in sales by focusing on our online boutique in addition to focusing on the international market. The type of products people are buying are essentials and things for the home. We therefore plan to work on big pieces for home décor rather than for handbags. This way, I can keep all these artisans employed. 

 

Three women standing around a work table weaving

Photo courtesy Sarah’s Bag

 

 

What would you say to fellow business leaders about how to act during these times?

Consumers are more aware than ever of how brands treat their workers. Companies have to be careful not to be tone deaf during a crisis. People will be watching to see how these companies will react, and business as usual will no longer work. I do not think people will go back to this. This is the right time for businesses to think of the kind of impact they can have, and I hope this means an increase in social enterprises. 

Businesses have to find ways to protect their workers, especially in crisis. This means we have to focus on saving jobs as much as possible. This is more important than shareholder profits; these are the people behind the successes of the company. It would be incredibly sad and disheartening if there isn’t any kind of reevaluation of business values after this global disaster. 

I started from scratch. When you start from scratch, you can always do it again. A lot of businesses also are going to start listening to social demands, and other businesses are going to emerge as a response to social needs. 

 

 

Many people worry that this crisis will have a disproportionate impact on underprivileged groups. At the same time, there might be an opportunity to create a ‘new normal.’ How do you hope the world changes in the aftermath of this crisis?

We have to be in tune with what is happening around us. The crisis will impact a lot of underprivileged people. Everywhere in the world, this is going to impact those who have the least. There will be an opportunity to create a new normal. I hope people will emerge from this crisis and extract from it a new way of acting and living. 

 

A lot of nice things come out of a crisis. This pandemic has brought the world closer and people are looking for instances of hope, kindness, solidarity and humanity. These should also be business values and consumers will be watching to see how companies stepped up and had a positive impact during a crisis and these companies will be rewarded for it with loyalty after this difficult time is over. 

 

 

This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to Covid19. For more on Sarah Beydoun, visit https://sarahsbag.com/our-story/

Three artisans weaving and sewing

Sarah’s Bag provides opportunities to Lebanese women who would otherwise not have these opportunities. Photo courtesy Sarah’s Bag

“This is the Olympics for businesses” – Interview with Vladas Lasas

 

 

 

 

The Olympics haven’t been cancelled for this year after all. According to 2012 Honouree Vladas Lasas, this current moment is the Olympics for businesses. Everyone needs to find their inner athlete and put their energy towards recovery and building a new way of life. 

Lasas has been an entrepreneur his entire career. He is Co-Founder of the Carbon War Room, Founder and CEO of UPS Lithuania, and an inventor. He is a leader for many. Always an advocate for quick and responsive action, we spoke to Lasas about the actions that he has taken in response to the crisis. 

 

 

Lasas

Honouree Dean Cycon talks with Vladas Lasas at a Business for Peace Summit. Photo: Olav Heggø

 

 

 

You’ve taken swift action to start new initiatives in response to the global pandemic crisis. Can you tell us what you’re working on? 

“In mid-March, we started Hack the Crisis, which is now a global initiative. It is supported by the European Union and is attracting people globally. In the beginning, only small countries like Estonia and Lithuania were part of the initiative and we were surprised at how productive it was. We had 1000+ attendees joining; everybody managed to work on Zoom and Slack teams. Everything was almost as if it happened in person, even though it was on teleconferencing. It is incredible. We need to stay up-to-speed if we want to make an impact on the world and help people.”

 

 

 

How has the crisis affected your core business? How have you as a leader responded?

I am trying to help our CEOs with what can be done. In a time of crisis, there is a lot of opportunity to grow new leaders, to help them, to encourage and mentor them. I think it is better for everybody and for the future if you use the situation as an opportunity to grow leadership in your young colleagues.

 

 

 

You’ve previously told us that sometimes one has to be a rebel to make change. Is that what you’re doing now?

Yes absolutely. People are reluctant and, as always, a little bit afraid of change. One thing that institutions and officials do not recongise or understand is that democracies and their resources are optimised for an ordinary way of living. We are right now in a completely unprecedented situation. It is understandable that governments do not have resources to deal with this on their own. We have exponential growth of our enemy, and therefore we need stronger exponential growth in order to break the barriers. 

 

 

 

What sorts of collaborations and partnerships are needed in order to respond quickly? 

Institutions should not have any objections to accept help from professionals, academics, and the private sector, and let them do things that institutions in the government cannot. Sometimes in business the best people are outside of your company. 

In democratic societies you can easily mobilise people. If you communicate in the right way and are open. That is really the test as to how democratic a country is, if you can accept help from people and let the professor work next to the minister and have a level understanding that the academic knows better in this situation.  The Lithuanian National Health Authorities at first were really slow at communicating. The data was handled mostly manually. No system was prepared for this. In a few days, we managed to get the best IT guy next to the Head of Authority, and within a few days we got these pain points fixed. It’s only one example but I remember 30 years ago, early in Lithuania’s independence, we had some code to take over from the Soviets at that time. I worked with no official authority but I was working with the Parliament to help communicate and translate for journalists about what was going on. That was also without any approval or order or law for that. Red tape that is usually useful in ordinary times, needs to be cut. 

 

 

What would you say to fellow business leaders about how to act during these times?

Use this situation to make your organisation stronger, to grow new leaders. Look for new opportunities. These are really huge right now. It is hidden as a crisis, but actually we can handle the crisis and build up more new and good things for the future. 

Thank you so much for your insight and time, Vladas! We are feeling more confident in winning at the Olympics now. 


This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to Covid-19. For more on Vladas Lasas and his rebel leadership, see: https://vimeo.com/404685461

All businesses that can step up, need to step up immediately

 

 

Dear friends in the business community, 

The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused mass tragedy and disruption in many parts of the world. With the world’s economy in disarray, we are all wondering what the future has in store for the global business community. As the challenges seem insurmountable for many, it is becoming increasingly clear that our collective response to this crisis will likely be a defining moment of our generation.

 

The impacts of this crisis tear at the very fabric of our societies. Countries without the means for massive stimulus packages, effective distancing initiatives and adequate health care capacity may crumble under civil unrest. According to the International Labour Organization, current lockdown measures affect the livelihoods of 2.7 billion people, over 80% of the global workforce. For most countries, measures to address the pandemic will lead to a sharp decline in economic activities, with potentially the largest GDP declines in a century. 

This is a call to the global business community to step up and accept significant sacrifice in order to see us through this crisis, and help pave the way for a rapid recovery once the pandemic is brought under control. I know this is an extremely challenging time for many businesses, with many of you facing imminent bankruptcy. However, all businesses – and governments – that still have the means to step up need to step up immediately and do everything in their power to help avoid societal breakdown.

 

Inject liquidity into the market. Anyone that is able to contribute to this process needs to, even if it means significant sacrifices to your own wealth. If we don’t stop the economic devastation, many businesses may not have any profitable markets to operate in for years to come. Many governments understand this and are doing what they can, but businesses must make sacrifices for this purpose as well. As much as possible, make sure your staff have income and can continue to work safely. Investors and large corporations should continue to produce goods and pay staff to keep the economy going. On the bright side, much innovation can come out of instability, as we adapt to new modes of consumption and delivery.

Make smart use of the money you have. This is not the time for profiteering, it is the time to help our collective economic survival. In a recent survey of asset managers, nearly every second investor said it was a good idea to use corporate money to buy back shares. This is not only tone deaf in this moment, it is a mockery of the hundreds of millions that have lost their livelihoods. Every able company and investor must do what they can to secure jobs, inject liquidity into local communities, and ensure supply chain security. If there ever was a time to prioritise businessworthy leadership, it is now.

Ensure the security of critical goods and services. Supply chains of essential goods and services must be protected and maintained. Whatever your businesses’ role is in the chain, do your part to ensure consistency of delivery. We are already seeing encouraging examples of companies shifting their production to medical equipment, while essential workers put themselves at risk every day to keep us healthy. Think about what you can do now to ensure there is a supply chain to restart once this crisis is over.

 

If we rise to the occasion, we can get through this together. If we don’t, we risk dismantling entire markets and infrastructures. There are countless examples around the world of business leaders choosing the ethical route and being businessworthy by making personal sacrifices and doing everything they can for the greater good right now. I encourage all of you with the means to contribute to do so. If the Business for Peace team can support you in any way, let us know. We can get through this together, but only if we collaborate for the greater good.

 

Keep distancing and stay safe,

Marius Døcker

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