Health

It Takes Two: Humans and Technology Shape the Future of Health at Work

24 January, 2019
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“Fifty-one percent of employees want more flexible working options that allow for extended time off, gym breaks, caregiving, and avoiding rush-hour commutes.”

Imagine this. At the start of his day Mike speaks to his smart phone and his virtual assistant pops up a personalized screen dedicated to his health and wellbeing.  There is a congratulatory message telling him he’s earned a reward voucher for his favorite cycling store for hitting his body composition target. The power of this system is that it integrates work needs with personal health requirements. It shows the morning’s schedule of meetings, and suggests a slot for a lunchtime group run that fits with his day.

There is a to-do list already organized based on Mike’s priorities and deadlines, but also an analysis of last night’s sleep pattern, some suggestions for how to improve his sleep, and a flag that Mike needs to rehydrate if he is to maintain peak cognitive function.

To create this pleasant morning ritual, Mike’s employer uses AI to connect and analyze data generated by his preferences, behaviors and biometric data. The new technology encourages Mike to bring his whole self to work and, by doing so, strengthens the connection to his employer. In the end, everyone benefits. 

The scene described above provides a glimpse of the future of work, one where employers use digital technology, big data and AI to enhance employees’ entire well-being and strengthen that employer- employee relationship. Technology drives engagement, which then improves productivity and company culture.

Employees want careers that complement their personal lives, not vice versa. This is seen with greater demand for role-flexing, which brings benefits to the employee and the employer. Fifty-one percent of employees want more flexible working options that allow for extended time off, for gym breaks, caregiving and avoiding rush-hour commutes (or commuting altogether).1

With this ability to balance, more headspace can be used for innovative ideas rather than worrying about who is picking up the children from school. Indeed, one in two employees wants a greater emphasis on well-being in the workplace.1 Technology is crucial in facilitating that desire.

Technology not only enables employers to provide choice, flexibility and on-demand benefits in a practical sense, but also enhances the overall employee experience by being relevant to the audience of one. Employees now expect the technology experience they receive outside work to reflect the technology they are given access to inside work. Organizations who are slow to adopt will find they are actively disengaging their workforce.

Since 61 percent of employees choose health as their top concern2, it is important to pay attention to this concern. Providing solutions that span the range of true well-being, from meditation apps, virtual doctor visits, biometric-led fitness coaching, and other tools enhances company values, culture and productivity. 

That’s why Mercer acquired Thomsons Online Benefits in 2016 with its leading technology, Darwin. Darwin helps employees connect their benefits with their wider lives by giving them access to personalize their benefits offering. It provides employers with a single source of truth for benefits data, enabling a complete picture of your scheme at a country, regional, or worldwide level, and the ability to make better decisions about how to invest your benefits spend for optimum return on investment. For employers, offering customized solutions using technology helps personalize benefits for employees, resulting in higher impact and engagement.

Companies that are using a technology-enabled approach are having the greatest success. Those with the technology to measure the impact of their benefits program are 80 percent more likely to respond to the employee need for well-being.3

We have only begun to scratch the surface on understanding how technology can be applied to advance well-being. Companies that invest in technology have a competitive advantage because their healthy, happy employees can thrive.4 By placing the diverse needs of their employee at the core of their efforts, employers can drive engagement and productivity to unimagined heights. 

                             

1. Global Talent Trends Study 2018
https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/career/global-talent-hr-trends.html

2 Global Talent Trends 2017
https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/global-talent-trends-2017.html

3 Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/18 Report
https://www.thomsons.com/resources/whitepapers/global-employee-benefits-watch-201718/

4 Thriving in a Age Of Disruption
https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/thrive/thriving-in-a-disrupted-world.html

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Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

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It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. 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With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

Andre Maxnuk | 30 Jan 2020

The megacity will define economic growth in the coming years. Citing Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico, as examples, these emerging centers of business and commerce are positioned to grow quickly and possibly outpace traditional capitals of commerce. They also have the potential to learn from the mistakes of traditional big cities and engineer smart, long-term, sustainable growth. Urbanization is developing at such a rate that nearly half (47 percent) of GDP growth will come from 443 growth economy cities between 2010 and 2025, as Mercer's People First report notes. These cities are also on a trajectory to amass 1 billion new consumers and, between now and 2030, will significantly change the way people live and work. How Urbanization Changes Local Economies   While widespread adoption of the internet and interconnected technologies was predicted to enable people to live and work anywhere, it's actually had the opposite effect. Instead, more people have been drawn into cities for work. Innovative workers are seeking one another to collaborate in developing new industries in today's rapidly evolving global economy. They want an environment in which they can be more productive and more creative with like-minded peers. As all these bright minds flock to growing metropolitan areas, cities have become the crucible of collaboration. Take Guadalajara, for instance. The city's technology industry traces its roots back to the 1960s, when high-tech foreign companies looking for cheap labor moved manufacturing operations there. These companies included Kodak, Motorola, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Siemens. Yet, when many of those operations moved to Asia in the early 2000s, the city still found a way to persevere as a hub for technology. As Andrew Selee from the Smithsonian Institution notes, "Guadalajara reinvented itself as a major center for research and development, programming, design and other high-skilled tech occupations, building on the foundation that had been laid years earlier."1 Guadalajara's highly trained engineers "inverted the model," designing components in Mexico and having them manufactured in Asia, as one engineer told Selee. Today, many Silicon Valley–based tech companies maintain research, development and programming facilities in Guadalajara, and the city — now known for its engineering talent and creativity — is home to a wide range of technology startups. How Cities Can Prepare and Respond   Rapid growth in jobs and economic opportunities is positive yet challenging for cities such as Guadalajara, also known as "Mexico's Silicon Valley." The city's population has grown to include more than 8 million people and is now the second biggest metropolitan area in Mexico, just behind Mexico City.2 The population is expected to expand even more (over 15%) in the next decade. It is also the third largest economy in Mexico, with a GDP of $81 billion.3 Comparatively, Monterrey has a population of 5 million and is the third largest metropolitan area in Mexico.2 Monterrey's population is also expected to increase over 16% in the next decade. Its GDP is valued at $123 billion — making it the highest GDP per capita city in Mexico and the second highest in Latin America.3 Both Guadalajara and Monterrey will continue to grow and expand, as will their workforces, so it will be vital to understand what today's and tomorrow's employees want. New residents don't just bring creativity and an interest in collaborating with other like-minded individuals; they also bring needs for healthcare, education, recreation, infrastructure and security. In order to keep bright individuals in the city, contributing to the growing economy, an emerging megacity must be able to provide the environment and services those individuals and their families want for a satisfying life. While business leaders often assume that a good salary will motivate people to move to a city and stay there, human and social factors are actually more important for the workers making those decisions. To attract and keep people, a city must create an environment for them to thrive across multiple dimensions, focusing on what matters most to them. Most cities, despite their rapid economic growth, are not doing a great job meeting the needs of the people who live there, which creates tension between what people value and what a city is able to deliver. Mercer found a 30+ point gap between workers' quality-of-life expectations and how a city is meeting them. To reverse that trend, city leaders must understand their importance for future economic growth and adopt a new outlook that includes these three components: 1.  Focus on people first. As technology continues to enable people to work smarter and make faster decisions, jobs will continue to change. Technology, automation and digitization will make work more efficient, but unique human capabilities will propel growing cities. If the people needed to operate and manage artificial intelligence don't want to live in a city, all the automation won't matter. Cities — as well as employers — must focus on the value of human qualities and skills and how to help those humans find satisfaction. 2.  Understand what people want. More than a good job and a good salary, people want a high quality of life. That includes the ability to feel safe and access good schools for their children, quality healthcare, recreation, clean air and water, and other lifestyle factors. Companies may be able to attract top employees, but cities must focus on providing the environment and lifestyle that will keep those employees. 3.  Prioritize partnerships. Most cities have big challenges to overcome to provide the quality of life that people want. No single entity can solve systemic problems, so public-private partnerships are crucial to address macro issues and gaps, such as in infrastructure, as well as safety and housing, and overcome challenges before they become exacerbated. Public-private partnerships are essential for cities, businesses and people to succeed. Increased urbanization and the blossom of new megacities will send waves throughout the global economy in the years to come. But to foster positive growth and innovation, successful megacities must acknowledge and act upon the wants and needs of those skilled workers who will call these cities home. Sources: 1. Selee, Andrew. "How Guadalajara Reinvented Itself as a Technology Hub," The Smithsonian Institution. 12 Jun. 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-guadalajara-reinvented-itself-technology-hub-180969314/#kc531GtO4OwhOKDi.99. 2. "World Urbanization Prospects 2018," United Nations, https://population.un.org/wup/DataQuery/. 3. Berube, Alan; Trujillo, Jesus L.; Ran, Tao; Parilla, Joseph. "Global Metro Monitor report," Brookings, 22 Jan. 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/global-metro-monitor/.

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Lewis Garrad | 30 Jan 2020

Employee engagement has become a critical topic for HR over the last 10 years as leaders have become convinced by two fundamental management ideas: having the best talent is essential to the future success of any organization, and having a highly engaged workforce is the most effective route to mobilize that talent to deliver what is needed. The result is that many organizations now invest in programs to boost engagement — mostly via an annual employee feedback survey. Yet, many organizations struggle to improve engagement and productivity in their workforce — no matter how much attention leaders and HR teams pay. Organizational inertia (or "drag") is a widespread phenomenon impacting progress on multiple levels.1 Most organizations find that people prefer to maintain the status quo rather than push for real change. This has led many HR leaders to explore what factors create more relevant and meaningful employee engagement. What Does the Science Say?   In a recent meta-analysis, scientists set out to understand how much of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality.2 With so many organizations focusing on cultural and environmental factors, they wondered to what extent individual differences influence the way people engage with their organization. Their analysis showed that around half of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality — with enthusiastic, upbeat and conscientious people generally displaying higher levels of engagement. This finding helps us understand why engagement can be so difficult to change. If half of engagement is predicted by personality, then organizational initiatives targeting work practices or work environment can only succeed if they include some impact at the individual level. If engagement is driven by both employee perception and personality, a shift needs to occur at the manager level. Initiatives should be implemented to target the individual employee to help create a stronger connection between that person and the work they do. Cultural/collective changes should also occur to improve conditions, like wellbeing, collaboration, creativity and productivity. This does not mean that hiring "engagable" people is a strategy for success. Diversity in an organization is an incredibly important resource. People who are more skeptical and critical might be more difficult to engage — but they are also far more likely to challenge the status quo. These people are just as important to have in the workplace, and screening them out is not an effective approach. Job Design Can Make Work More Engaging   Recently, the Facebook HR team published research that examined some of the reasons people at the company quit.3 The main reason is that employees find the day-to-day work they are doing less interesting and engaging than they want. For Facebook, it's not managers that are disengaging — it's the jobs. However, job design is typically something that managers do, and they often do it poorly. Managers are rarely given any guidance about how to do it, especially compared to the amount of training they are given about other factors, like performance management. But job design has the potential to be a more important function in people management. As AI becomes more accessible, organizations will outsource transactional work. This creates substantial opportunities to rethink how work gets done, which means we can actually use technology to help us redesign work to make it more interesting and engaging. The second opportunity in this area is adopting evidence-based management. The science behind effective job design is well established. Implementing a simple process and framework is important in empowering managers to assess current job design and improve the quality of work they create. While designing work might seem like an easy task for managers, very few employees will stick to their specific job description. By making job design a collaborative process between manager and employee, research has shown that people who craft their roles are more engaged, productive and see more meaning in what they do. Careers Can Connect Employees With the Future of Your Organization   Most organizations have been focusing on career trajectory for years. Talent reviews, internal job boards, career development conversations with your manager — all these things are designed to enable a more optimistic view about career progression. The problem is these actions do not work as well as they should. Why? Because many people are not clear about the realistic career options available to them at any one time, and the careers that are available now quickly become outdated as the organization changes structure and requirements. Carefully planned careers end up becoming irrelevant as talent demands shift. This is a really challenging topic. Even educators in schools and universities struggle with this problem — what jobs and future careers are available to students now and in the future? Constant social, technological and economic changes make this question impossible to answer. Businesses have the best opportunity to help with this challenge — but it requires a shift in focus from jobs to skills. If organizations can move from thinking of jobs as a list of functions to a bundle of adaptable skills that provide value to customers, then we can start to understand where the valuable and transferable skills are in the business. Making this shift also helps leaders talk to employees in a different way about career progression. Using technology, we can help people see the valuable skills they have, the skills that are decreasing in value and skills they need to stay relevant. Technology can also use individual engagement data to help advise employees which experiences excite them and coach them in a direction that will be the best fit for their personality. In addition to technical skills, organizations also need to think about talent for leadership. Maximizing leadership potential is a topic that many organizations care about but that few do well. As the volume of people data increases, helping people build stronger self-awareness is critical, so those who are best fit for people leadership roles can focus on developing the necessary capabilities. The Benefits of Building a More Holistic Employee Value Proposition   Work needs to be elevated from a list of tasks to be completed and instead viewed as a set of actions that have both personal meaning and commercial value. This shift isn't possible unless the HR function starts to think of the employee value proposition in a vastly different way. The most effective value propositions appreciate the whole employee experience rather than just the narrow "economic" role that work plays. It's relatively easy to make a living but it's hard to do work worth doing. A compelling employee value proposition makes an effort to do both. This means thinking past the transactional elements of the employee (pay and benefits) to incorporate more future-oriented elements of the relationships — the opportunity to innovate and create, experience a sense of sustainable wellbeing and develop new skills. The Value of Thriving at Work   Currently, many engagement programs are focused on answering how to get employees to do more for the organization. But the question that should be asked is, "How can the organization and the employee create a shared future together, using technology to create a healthier and more productive experience?" This changes the relationship dynamic and starts to value the contribution people make in a much broader way. HR leaders should look at building tools that help improve employee self-awareness, connecting what employees think about their work and how they behave in a powerful way. In summary, employee survey programs have been failing for years, in part because they have been so narrowly focused on outcomes, like an "engagement index." As technology starts to democratize the way we use employee feedback data, there is an opportunity to use it in a more two-way fashion to coach both individuals and managers. Keeping improved personal experience at the heart of innovations in employee surveys and feedback can help HR leaders make better decisions in adopting tools that will really work. For more information connect with us here: https://www.mercer.com/what-we-do/workforce-and-careers/talent-strategy/allegro-pulse-survey-platform.html Sources: 1. Garton, Eric. "Your Organization Wastes Time: Here's How to Fix It." Harvard Business Review, 13 Mar. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/03/your-organization-wastes-time-heres-how-to-fix-it. 2. Young, Henry R.; Glerum, David R.; Wang, Wei; Joseph, Dana L. "Who Are the Most Engaged at Work? A Meta‐Analysis of Personality and Employee Engagement." Wiley Online Library, 23 Jul. 2018, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.2303. 3. Goler, Lori; Gale, Janelle; Harrington, Brynn; Grant, Adam. "Why People Really Quit Their Jobs." Harvard Business Review, 11 Jan. 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-people-really-quit-their-jobs.

Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

China is fostering a culture of innovation throughout its society — but most notably in its startup businesses. Multinationals can take advantage of this increased energy by investing in Chinese startups or taking a cue from how the successful ones — the "unicorns" — are meeting the demands of a growing Chinese consumer base. Multinationals must also be mindful of what Chinese workers desire most from employers, which is the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study. Currently, this is a very real challenge for employees working at tech startups. Developing a Culture of Innovation   To foster this culture of innovation within its industries, the Chinese government is making it easier for entrepreneurs to experiment and grow by implementing more "benign" business regulations. It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. The two companies will also collaborate to develop more insurance products and attract more customers on both of their platforms.3 These insurtech partnerships exemplify how China is now setting the stage for experimental collaboration and innovation that challenges the status quo. Taking a Cue From Chinese Unicorns   Across many sectors, thousands of Chinese startups are disrupting industries — and stealing customers from established companies — by developing innovative business models to sell even more innovative products.4 Indeed, China has 120 successful startups, more than half of the 234 unicorns globally.5 Chinese startups are excelling because they can quickly reach scale in the large market, and they can tap a growing talent pool, particularly professionals with PhDs — twice as many as those in the U.S. They are also exhibiting a higher risk tolerance that's enabling them to conduct "fearless experimentation" to push out new products as fast as possible. With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

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