The Budapest Business Journal 2021 Wish List

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For the third year running, Kester Eddy rounds up a gathering of the great and the good, including voices that tend to get less coverage in a business publication such as ours, to ask them what their wish for 2021 is.

Follow the Green Path

Gellert Gaál, senior equity analyst with Concorde Securities, Budapest

2020 was an awful year in many aspects, however amongst the results of lockdowns and the abrupt stop in economic activity, we can find something positive: global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel and industry are expected to drop by a high single digit compared to 2019.

This annual decline is the largest absolute drop in emissions ever recorded, and the largest relative fall since World War II.

Additionally, policy makers across the world seemed to put more and more emphasis on fighting climate change. As an example, the European Union aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. This sets Europe on a responsible path to becoming climate neutral by 2050.

Similarly, after the U.S. presidential election, the United States also announced its first-ever climate envoy for national security, replete with a USD 2 trillion climate-change plan.

So the new directions have been set: My wish for 2021 is that all these initiatives make real progress.

Ecological Footprint, Education, Creativity, Children

Mónika Imreh-Tóth, assistant professor at the University of Szeged, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, and founder of Innoversity, a consultancy that supports enterprise development using academic knowledge.

In recent years, I have been pondering the above four areas of life. I would venture to say I was doing so somewhat aimlessly at first, but, as in many cases, it has since been proved that everything is interconnected.

Environmental protection and the reduction of our ecological footprint are crucial issues because our children’s futures are at stake, in addition to our very own.

We can foster our children’s awareness of this issue through education, but this is impossible, or at best ineffective, without creativity,  a factor which is often forgotten, unfortunately. Children are themselves both the creativity and the future.

Having two of my own and experiencing home office and home schooling simultaneously in 2020 has taught me several things: we need a lot fewer material things than we think; creativity helps problem-solving in all areas; education is not bound to location; and without children, the first three may not make any sense.

Environmentally conscious consumer behavior is crucial to reduce our ecological footprint.

Today’s world has accelerated enormously, and we are affected by numerous impulses every day, a result of advancing technology, consumer pressure, travelling and a very human compulsion to conform.

Yet the home office has made the world slow down, even if only a little, and real values involving family, the natural environment, time and care have become more visible.

Thus, for 2021, I wish we do not forget what 2020 has taught us and we pay attention to what is really important.

If we can leave a smaller ecological footprint behind us, we can preserve the ecosystem of the earth, but it requires young people to understand the importance of their role, and to cooperate in preserving natural capital through their creativity.

Artists Forgotten in the COVID Pandemic

György Szabó, artistic director, Trafó House of Contemporary Arts

For decades we have been witnessing an expansion of services in Europe. People have been forced to find jobs in the gig economy via an ever growing matrix of bars, gyms, restaurants, webshops and delivery services.

Most classical artists, such as actors, musicians, visual artists and dancers, have been freelance workers for centuries.

What kind of people do employers need as their workforce in these fields? They need you to be flexible, adaptive, always available, international, talented, unique, and cheap. You must be ready to jump at any request. Day and night. It is very insecure and stressful.

Artists are in an even more precarious position than most. Since much of their work has been supported by public money, that makes them open to accusations of being of no use, lazy and of wasting taxpayers’ money.

And then came COVID. No more parties, no music, no performances, no dancing on the stage, or in bars. No concerts. No fun! Now, only silence remains.

We must realize that artists are especially vulnerable. But in times of crises, there are no rules, nor regulations. Artists are considered mere puppets of our spare time. But they are real people, like airline pilots, hoteliers and restaurateurs. And they too, are suffering.

The crisis has shown the need for stronger labor codes for the world of arts, codes which guarantee some protection and assistance in future crises.

My wish in 2021 is for parliament to take this issue seriously – as seriously as the tourism industry – and not to leave people adrift, with no income for physical security, nor work for their mental health and self-esteem. A society without a thriving arts sector is no society. We need to look after artists now for the sake of a happier, healthier, culturally rich future.

Fight Bias, Because Diversity Pays off

Edina Heal, co-founder and leader of Egyenlítő Foundation (Equalizer Foundation), a Budapest-based NGO working for gender equality at work.

Times changed in 2020. The last century was closed, stopped, killed, and we finally made the move to the 21st century.

I’m saying we became digital. It’s long overdue, by 20 years. We brought in the gig economy, again overdue by 20 years. And we are just about starting to figure out how to manage our companies not by moving and watching over “bodies” in office buildings, but by setting targets for experts, wherever or whoever they might be, and only worry about their results.

These advances should all help disadvantaged groups to get more equal work opportunities, at least in theory. Color, gender, accent and ivy league schools should become unimportant when companies hire for results. No more chats around the water cooler and choosing the successor based on similarity to the previous one.

Similarities, looks or different looks, clothes and styles should not be so important when the teams are remote, when the results are objective and measurable, meaning achievements are not just perceived by biased individuals.

I wish that companies can now figure out how to set these targets fairly, how to close their eyes filled with unconscious bias to differences they have been unable to overcome until now.

At the Equalizer Foundation we wish to help more companies this year educate their talent about these biases, and how to fight them. We wish they experience the great advantages that diversity and inclusion bring to business (as has been demonstrated by numerous studies), such as increased innovation, better engagement of all employees, tackling bigger markets, better understanding of real demands and opportunities, and last, but not least more loyal clients and employees.

Keeping Hungary in the Fold

Imants Lieģis was Latvia’s Ambassador to Hungary from 2012-2016, a former Latvian Minister of Defense and is currently senior fellow at Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He is pictured in front of the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia, built with contributions from the Latvian population in the 1920s. Later, under Soviet occupation, Moscow realized it was too risky to knock down, but tried to push it into the background by having public transport circulate around it.

My work involvement with Hungary concluded almost five years ago, but the fond memories of the country and its people have stayed with me. That’s why my main wish for 2021 is that Hungary stays within the European democratic fold, even with the self-proclaimed illiberal leanings (and other shenanigans) of the current leadership.

As a retired Latvian diplomat, my stint in Budapest convinced me of the unique cultural and historical importance of Hungary’s place within Europe. Retaining joint European values is crucial if the European Union is to achieve its aim of being a global power.

Unity among the 27 member countries is a pre-condition for the EU to move towards such a goal. This unity was effectively maintained at the end of 2020 by Germany’s Chancellor Merkel ensuring that Hungary, together with Poland, accepted a compromise on money matters.

The EU goes into 2021 with an agreed seven-year budget worth EUR 1.1 trillion. In addition, a one-off EUR 750 billion fund was agreed to support recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. This latter injection of much needed cash has a proviso: if a qualified majority of members agree, the disbursement can be blocked to recipient governments suspected of corruption or other forms of foul play.

Finger pointing is not the best way of achieving unity. This time it seems to have worked. Just as in Latvia, my wish is that the much-needed EU recovery fund monies will be spent wisely in Hungary on projects in the digital technology and climate friendly spheres. In that way there will be long-term benefits for the people of our countries following the disastrous consequences of the pandemic.

Taking People Back to Nature

Ildikó Prónay is co-founder and guide of Proko Travel, based in Szeged.

What did 2020 bring to my family business? Fewer smiles. Briefly, that’s it. But we were also able to find a silver lining.

We got inspiration from observing the natural world. Last year the slump in tourism resulted in wild animals that had been hiding for so long peacefully grazing in previously noisy, disturbed areas. And the meadows and mountainsides were greener than ever.

Experiencing this affected our goals going forward. We intend to organize more relaxed, close-to-nature programs, very different from traditional mass tourism, in the Alpine countries.

Surveys have shown that people who travel regularly are happier. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish this year. I want to see smiles on the faces of our clients, co-workers and my family.

Let’s Start Rebuilding, There’s a lot to Be Done

Merrill Oates has worked as an IT consultant and trainer to non-profit organizations, social advocacy groups, EU Grant projects, and professional services companies. He is also chair of the Hungary committee of American Democrats Abroad.

My wish for 2021 is that we can begin to see a sustained recovery and start rebuilding from the devastation of last year.

In terms of economics, I fear that we have only begun to register the damage and displacement that the pandemic and the subsequent reduced economic tax base will bring.

A sustainable recovery will take much greater social investment in public services, from strengthening healthcare services, to helping sustain small businesses and expanding the social safety net. The increased government role needed for this recovery must, however, be guided by policies that address issues of equity, that ensure greater social justice, that reinforce social and civic participation and that restore trust in our public institutions and political leaders.

These kinds of social policies also directly benefit the business community by providing the stability of a healthy workforce, ensuring that consumers are economically secure, and delivering certainty that governing institutions can be relied upon as fair and trustworthy in applying rules and regulations.

I have real hope that with the right kind of leadership and policies, we can build back the economy and restore the livelihoods, the businesses and the social wellbeing that have been so damaged by the COVID pandemic.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 15, 2021.

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