Director of Corporate Affairs, Public Relations and Business Development at the Ghana Free Zones Authority (GFZA), Jesse Agyepong, has credited the robust performance of the more than 180 companies under the Authority’s purview to the timely dissemination of relevant information.
Despite the disruptions to Global Value Chains (GVCs) – which has seen shipping times grind slowly, with containers now typically spending 20 percent more time in the system for a typical door-to-door trade transaction – Mr. Agyepong says that the impact on domestic export-facing players was softened by consistent access to information on happenings in other regions.
Speaking at the inaugural edition of Brand-CON Africa in Accra, organised by the B&FT and themed ‘Celebrating Versatility and Innovation in the Midst of a Pandemic’, he said this ensured that the export value of all companies operating under the Free Zones regime – which has averaged US$1.5billion annually over the past five years – was not severely hampered.
“Once the GVC was disrupted, production went down and business under the Free Zones could barely export. What we did in our capacity was to reassure businesses of ongoing processes, and kept them informed of global, regional and domestic happenings… we let them know when it was time to return to production and what implications of the changing dynamics were,” he explained.
He added that technology has aided GZFA to keep a comprehensive database of companies, replied to more than 1,000 inquiring emails monthly, as well as organised outreach programmes and online seminars.
Mr. Agyepong stated that to minimise the impact of another sweeping disruption to GVCs, there is a need for both the private brands and public sector institutions to stimulate greater investment national targets for Research and Development (R&D) spending as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Currently, while global spending on R&D has reached a record high of almost US$1.7trillion, only about 10 countries account for some 80 percent of such spending. Worse still is data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which suggests that no country in Africa is spending up to one percent of its GDP for this purpose – with the average hovering around 0.5 percent.
“The pandemic has taught us all the necessity of continuous and close collaboration between the private and public sectors, as neither can fully attend to all the wide-ranging issues that exist. If we invest right in research and development, while we might not have a perfect predictive module for the next disruption, we will be better prepared,” he noted.
Consumers, not merely citizens
The public relations expert further urged state entities to take a leaf out of the books of their private peers in treating the citizenry more as paying consumers than solely as citizens. He argued that such an approach would make government institutions more sensitive to the demands, tastes and preferences of the populace.
“If this approach is taken, it goes beyond a basic social contract to questions such as ‘how are we treating the consumer today; how could we do things differently; are we investing ahead of consumer needs?
“That’s not to say this is not already being done, but a more consumer-centric approach would result in more careful dealings, better results and increased mutual trust,” he stated.
He also urged businesses to go beyond their primary functional offerings to build and improve upon brand wealth and loyalty.