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How can SMEs meet Australia’s growing challenges?

By Anna Crabb, General Manager of B Lab Australia & New Zealand

“Australia is at risk of falling into a slow decline if no action is taken”. This is the stark warning from the recently released groundbreaking Australian National Outlook report from CSIRO and NAB, which draws on leading experts and extensive data analysis to forecast the most significant economic, social and environmental challenges and risks facing Australian businesses between now and 2060.

So, what does this mean for smaller businesses and how can you make a change?

Key findings of the report show the major challenges facing SMEs are the rise of Asia, climate change, technological change, trust and social cohesion. Those who reimagine these threats as growth opportunities, instead of resisting or ignoring them, are set to thrive. If tackled head on, Australia could look forward to strong economic growth, ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, affordable energy, and more liveable major cities.

Findings show that by 2030 the Asia–Pacific region will be home to 65% of the world’s middle class. Australian businesses need to think strategically about how they can service these consumers – SMEs like Certified B Corporation Memobottle are focusing providing value added exports that meet the needs of buyers in Asia. Co-founder Jonathan Byrt explains “We are driving an industry shift within Australia (as well as globally) from single-use to reusable products and practices. The emerging consumer desire for a greener world is creating a huge opportunity for businesses to redefine success through more sustainable practices”.

Climate change is nothing new: we know it’s a significant threat. Between now and 2060, SMEs will need to adapt to higher temperatures and more extreme weather events. Those along the coast should prepare for sea level rising and any businesses reliant on natural resource inputs will need to deal with ocean acidification and lower ecosystem diversity.

One SME already making waves here is the Certified B Corporation Global Leadership Foundation, which prepares business leaders to deal with shifts of this nature. Co-founder Gayle Hardie argues that “Taking leaders into environments where many of these challenges appear on a daily basis, for example, the Solomon Islands, brings a realisation that what they consider to be a ‘problem’ pales into insignificance when they are confronted with the reality these countries face”.

There is no doubt that artificial intelligence, automation and advances in biotechnology are also transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless we can reverse recent declines in educational outcomes, it will be harder to access the talent needed for the jobs of tomorrow.

Adopting technology to boost productivity in existing and new industries, as well as making the time and resources available to cultivate a globally competitive workforce that is prepared for technology-enabled jobs, are two practical ways SMEs can prepare. Industries such as education, healthcare, mining and construction are areas of high-growth potential with the increased capabilities of machine learning, augmented reality and predictive data.

In Australia, Certified B Corporation Grow Your Mind gives current and future workers all-important skills that help them to be a healthy, fulfilled part of the Australian economy and society. Co-founder Kristina Freeman believes that “Education is the foundation of our future workforce and as we have seen in both academic and professional environments, when there are good mental health practices there are better academic and productive outcomes”.

In addition to the above, plummeting levels of trust in institutions and a growing, ageing population is putting pressure on our infrastructure. Many Australians are feeling isolated and left behind as our society shifts and changes, with financial stress, slow wage growth and poor housing affordability among the main concerns.

Major institutions are having to earn respect from everyday Australians and SMEs that want to thrive should take (considered) risks, driving innovation across the economy and community. This could be following in the footsteps of accessibility consultancy Intopia,  a Certified B Corporation. Managing Director Stuart Hay explains “Intopia is helping to create an inclusive digital world. This is increasingly important as more people are being prevented from accessing digital services and systems because of inaccessible and poorly designed websites and applications. As a result one in five people with a disability are potentially being prevented from interacting with online services like banking, shopping and government”.

It is clear that government and big business cannot solve our future challenges alone; as a community of Australian SMEs we need to step up to the plate and drive change. We’re encouraging smaller business to implement changes that will really make a difference. Our B Corp Certified businesses are leading the way and showcasing where opportunities lie to grow sustainable businesses – will you follow and make a difference?

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Anna Crabb

Anna Crabb

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