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The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent effects on operations have presented a series of challenges to the engineering, power and utility sectors, writes Dr Suresh Vishwakarma.

The recent coronavirus spikes in several countries can deepen the impact depending on the severity and length of the crisis in those countries. Furthermore, ambiguity surrounding the length and gravity of this critical situation is making it difficult to predict how soon a recovery process can start to revive this sector.

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Impact of COVID-19
Africa’s power sector

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plays a crucial role in the ongoing scenario of COVID-19 spread, where people and businesses alike are trying to breeze through this tremendously challenging time.

CSR is a “self-regulating business model” that implies the procedures of interaction by a business, together with its stakeholders and the members of the general public, create a scenario of being responsible to the community and society at large.

It is, therefore, necessary for the industry to exhibit how it understands the long-term community development as part of its core responsibilities and competencies (1).

CSR plays a key role in the energy sector in demonstrating to its stakeholders that the companies are committed to the community, not only to ensuring profitability.

During, as well as after COVID-19, energy companies worldwide will have to demonstrate that they are responsible corporate citizens, maintaining transparency with their stakeholders, and in-particular customers, about the current status of the business.

Stakeholders will for sure empathise with companies managing the crisis, as long as the communication is transparent. To this end, frontline managers of energy companies must have effective communication skills (2) and an effective communication plan to reach customers and stakeholders with the required information.

Businesses’ CSR activities are no doubt aimed to benefit the general public, but it starts firstly from the employees of the companies. Right now, many energy companies have taken precautionary measures for most of their workforce, allowing staff to work from home where possible.

This practice now needs to be embedded in their long-term policies. Using personal protective equipment (PPE), washing hands, and sanitising the workplace frequently must now be weaved into companies’ CSR policies.

By raising awareness businesses are now requested by their customers, clients, shareholders and other parties of interest to account for their activities on the global scale in a transparent way (3).

Utilities, in particular, need to demonstrate their strategies and communicate transparently with their customers. This is especially true for low-income residential customers in developing regions.

Developing nations have been especially hard hit by the pandemic and lock down and citizens need to know and understand what utilities and energy providers are doing to assist and support them.

Energy providers also need to maintain healthy relationships with their consultants and contractors during this time, demonstrating goodwill and good governance throughout.

Ultimately keeping these relationships running optimally will be easier to accomplish if employees are treated as a valuable asset, managed effectively and kept engaged and motivated. Clearly CSR starts within the organisation and organically flows through every process and person, to the customer and the greater community.

Like other engineering sectors, the power sector is facing one of its greatest challenges. However, not only can utilities survive to see another day, they can learn from the crisis, leveraging the lessons to uncover neglected elements and segments of their business, creating a new set of best practices to drive their future success.

Contributor: Dr Suresh Vishwakarma, Senior Engineer and Postdoctoral Researcher, Vancouver, Canada

Dr. Suresh Vishwakarma is a senior engineer and postdoctoral researcher based in Vancouver Canada. He is associated with energy sector for more than 32 years and has several publications to his credit. Prior to relocating to Canada, Suresh has worked as Manager and Principal Engineer for PUC, Seychelles.

References:

  1. Tyagi RK 2010 Dynamics of corporates and stakeholders perspective of corporate social responsibility: a case of sports goods industry Meerut American Journal of Economics and Business Administration 2(2) 169
  2. Vishwakarma, S. and Tyagi, R. (2017), “Post-reforms training needs of frontline managers in Indian power distribution companies: A top managers’ perspective”, International Journal of Energy Sector Management, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 416-425.
  3. Tyagi Ruchi 2012 study on dynamics of corporate and stakeholders perspective in Sports Goods Industry Meerut Research in Business and Management 1(1) 2012