5 Tips To Ensure Business Continuity and Resilience During A Dangerous Political Crisis

Last week, soldiers in Mali seized power from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, setting off a regional crisis that sent shockwaves through African political circles. As of this writing, only a few lives have been lost, but the country has been suspended from the African Union and significant security restrictions have been imposed. This is just the latest example of the dangerous crises that so often impact business owners and entrepreneurs in the developing world. Succeeding despite these setbacks requires a deep understanding of the importance of business continuity and resilience when doing business in emerging markets.

The typical advice for most expats in these situations isn’t particularly helpful for business owners – it’s usually just to avoid demonstrations, shelter in place, or leave the country. Although this may be sufficient when only considering your physical safety, it says nothing about the continuity of your business or the safety of your local team. In this post, I’m going to outline five tips I’ve learned for keeping your business going during a dangerous crisis.

1. Develop as much flexibility with your cost structure as possible.

When working in a potentially unstable location, you should think hard about the exact modalities of your cost structure. Consider if it makes sense to rent a business location where you can pay rent month-to-month rather than committing to a long commercial lease with an extended notice period, even if the total cost of the longer lease would be less than a monthly arrangement. If local law allows, include a suspension clause in your employee contracts allowing you to reduce pay or furlough the employee in case of an emergency – remember that clauses like this should only be invoked when absolutely necessary for the survival of the company. Ensure that you can suspend SLAs or other ongoing commitments in case of civil unrest. It may sound silly and overcautious at the time, but these kinds of precautions can prevent your business from entering a death spiral when something bad happens.

2. Cross-train employees on basic critical business tasks.

As your company grows, your headcount will expand and team members will specialize. In a crisis, some team members may not be able to perform their duties as needed, so you should ensure that those remaining can keep things running and ensure business continuity. Multiple employees should understand the business’ overall needs related to regulatory filings, rent and other financial obligations, and any other important tasks which are necessary to keep the business in good standing.

3. Maintain an accessible stash of hard currency.

A lot of business involving larger amounts of money or cross-border trade is done in hard currency like the US Dollar or Euro, and you need to ensure you have the uninterrupted ability to meet your payment obligations. During a crisis, foreign exchange in-country may be restricted or the local supply of hard currency may run out, so it’s important to keep some emergency funds in an accessible place. Depending on your circumstances and the amount required, you can store the cash in a foreign bank account or even just a secure cash box in your local office. Consider how you can access the cash and pay your vendors if you can’t get to the bank in person – then develop your contingency plan.

4. Develop detailed security, evacuation, and continuity plans for local and foreign staff.

You should keep your local and international team members safe by developing comprehensive plans that may involve local or international restrictions or relocation of team members. Many international organizations and companies operating in unstable environments have security plans including different levels of restrictions that are implemented based on a location-specific risk assessment. A simple example could look something like this:

Level 1: No special restrictions, life continues as normal with basic common-sense precautions

Level 2: Nighttime curfew is implemented for all staff, specific no-go zones are set and specified

Level 3: Non-essential personnel are ordered to depart immediately; remaining staff are relocated into temporary accommodations in areas protected by security forces

Level 4: All essential personnel are evacuated using all available methods Monitor the political situation, including local and international media and other social media channels like Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter. It will often be challenging to find accurate information, so you need to be willing to go with your gut and act decisively before it’s too late. Remember that your first priority is to ensure the safety of your team and their families, and you need to be a leader and take charge. In a crisis, you can’t rely on anyone else, including diplomatic representation, to take care of you, so think about what kinds of circumstances should trigger certain responses.

Consider ways to get your staff out of country, including using unofficial routes if borders are closed. Note that formal evacuations using military assets are often only for the most extreme circumstances; and if such an option is available, you may be required to sign a promissory note promising to reimburse the cost.

5. Communicate early and often with international partners, clients, and other stakeholders.

The international media will often fail to report situations until they have escalated to an extreme level, so it is extremely important that you communicate with your international partners, clients, and other stakeholders early and often if you sense that problems could start to develop. It’s better to be too cautious and overcommunicate than to cause surprise and alarm when a situation appears to come out of nowhere. By communicating early, you will develop trust and understanding and will make it easier to readjust or renegotiate agreements and commitments if needed.

I hope you found these business continuity tips insightful and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. If you want to learn how I can help you implement these concepts in your company, advise you on other topics related to business in emerging markets, or solve Grand Challenges; or if you want to contact me for any other reason, please reach out via the contact form on this website.

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