Future of Work

Innovation helped entrepreneurs and small businesses survive COVID-19. Here's how it can drive future prosperity

Solutions that drive prosperity for entrepreneurs can tackle a range of big challenges through skill building, increased economic growth and strengthened resilience.

Solutions that drive prosperity for entrepreneurs can tackle a range of big challenges through skill building, increased economic growth and strength. Image: ABInBev

Michel Doukeris
Chief Executive Officer, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV
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Future of Work

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda

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  • Mindsets that drive prosperity can build a future that everyone can celebrate and share in, while strengthening and protecting the natural resources upon which local communities rely.
  • Platforms BEES and Tienda Cerca provide real-world examples of how tech can help small business owners improve their financial literacy.
  • Collaborations and solutions that drive prosperity can tackle a range of big challenges through skill building, increased economic growth and strengthened resilience.

What if more leaders came together to set a path for the future – a future that everyone can celebrate and share in? What if together we could do all of that while strengthening and protecting the natural resources upon which local communities rely? If we could do both, businesses would be more competitive, more responsive to the changing needs of consumers, and better prepared, helping improve the livelihoods of everyone, everywhere.

As we’ve learned from the creation of a special digital platform that took flight during the pandemic, that sort of collaboration is possible and is critical to underpinning shared prosperity.

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Driving prosperity: Digital platforms and lessons learned

1. Tienda Cerca

AB InBev operates in more than 50 countries around the world. For many small, neighbourhood grocery and convenience shops, it was never necessary to offer delivery or online shopping options. That was until the COVID-19 pandemic and strict social distancing rules arrived. Overnight, lockdowns and a shifting set of local regulations meant that small businesses could not operate as they had for decades, allowing customers to enter and browse. A change was needed to help entrepreneurs survive and ensure that the residents who depended on these shops could access much-needed goods.

With millions of stores facing closure, AB InBev quickly developed Tienda Cerca, a free online delivery platform that kept small local stores open across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Panama and Honduras.

The platform enabled shoppers to place online orders for all their groceries via the Tienda Cerca mobile app or online, at no cost to them or the business owner. It also enabled small businesses – the heart of most communities and many people’s livelihoods – to survive during one of the biggest economic downturns in history.

This programme was possible only in regions with digital access. The regions that could benefit from this tool already had the digital tools and infrastructures in place for users to incorporate the platform into their business models.

2. BEES e-commerce platform

Access leads to other opportunities for growth as well. For instance, AB InBev offers its retailers access to the BEES e-commerce platform. This platform is – at its simplest – a tech product where small and medium-sized retailers can browse products, place orders, earn rewards, arrange deliveries, manage invoices and access business insights all from one place.

BEES was launched at the end of 2019 in the Dominican Republic as an investment in a digital future. That investment unexpectedly became a lifeline for many retailers during COVID-19. Today, BEES is one of the largest business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce platforms in the world with 1.8 million active users each month.

Programmes like BEES and Tienda Cerca help small business owners gain access to personalized educational content that enables them to, among other things, improve financial literacy and leadership skills, and harness the power of technology, growing their businesses and growing opportunities for their communities.

Of course, such growth is not created by any one company or organization. Digital access is enabled by technologists, investors, entrepreneurs and government leaders, whose collaborations and big picture thinking create the platform for even bigger growth and ideas.

Drive prosperity in the years ahead

The type of collaboration that led to these solutions will be needed for other big challenges as well.

Take water as an example. More than just a key ingredient in our products, water is a critical resource for the health and wellbeing of every community around the world. Climate pressures, inadequate infrastructure and poor governance magnify water resource challenges. The growing scarcity of freshwater resources is not just an issue for our company; it is a global risk to our communities' economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

That’s why we’re committed to improving water availability and quality in 100% of our communities facing high water stress by 2025. One way we’re doing that is by helping to drive some of the collaboration needed to tackle these challenges. We’re working with Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, an organization in Germany that partners with governments and other key stakeholders to provide services that support international development. Through our partnership with GIZ, we seek to advance water efficient and regenerative farming practices in the framework of the funding programme develoPPP, which the GIZ implements on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

More specifically, we are supporting farmers in the implementation of drip irrigation technology and conservation agriculture, as well as access to affordable financial services to make these changes. We are also implementing nature-based solutions to increase water infiltration into the aquifer, helping to improve long-term water security for communities.

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Those are examples of how we can dream big to deploy innovative solutions to meet the demands of tomorrow. But we know we have more work to do – the pandemic isn’t over, and even when it ends, many of the issues revealed during the past two years will remain. And if we’re to succeed genuinely, we need more people working together to break down silos and promote a sustainable and inclusive recovery. The fact is that these challenges are more significant than any individual organization. That is why we’re looking outside our operations and forming unique partnerships. The more minds we apply to the challenges of ending the pandemic, of improving the livelihoods of everyone, everywhere, and of strengthening and protecting the natural resources upon which local communities rely, the better.

Beyond these partnerships, we must use our scale and capabilities to help drive transformational change in the communities in which we live and work. As the world focuses on building back and recovering socially and economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must understand the opportunities related to economic empowerment in a fair and inclusive recovery. We recognize that we must work to build resilient communities, we must also empower the change-makers in our communities to create sustainable impact.

That is what people everywhere are demanding. That is what they are searching for leaders they can rely on to give them a little peace of mind in a turbulent world. And now, more than ever, we must design a better future for all.

We do that by working together. By refusing to accept “good enough.” By looking to serve up new ways to solve the world’s biggest problems. And by having the vision to develop solutions to problems that don’t yet exist.

Our shared future depends on it.

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