A look back at the trends and new normal of 2021
The two years since the onset of Covid-19 have rocked the global supply chain. The knock-on effects of shortages, pandemic restrictions, and bottlenecks have left few industries intact. The global economy was heavily disrupted, more so for developing countries, which have been hit the hardest, their crumbling economies reducing incomes and shortfalls in infrastructure limiting access to vaccines.
While the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for smaller businesses, many owners have successfully pivoted towards e-commerce to reach out to customers new and old. Digital operations are now the new normal, as online shopping sites replace brick-and-mortar stores worldwide. Such changes may outlast the pandemic.
To mark the end of this eventful year, we take a tour through our most-read stories that have resonated with you in 2021:
The trickle-down effect
According to a survey conducted in March 2021 by supply chain risk analytics platform, Everstream Analytics, professionals from various sectors report that the crisis has been extremely pervasive, affecting almost every industry across different regions (4 March 2021).
From shipping containers to computer chips, the pandemic set in motion a chain reaction that impacted numerous industries, which in turn struggled to keep business going while adapting to remote and online operations.
Confronting these challenges, some countries in the region prioritized their plans for infrastructural development, in the hope of increasing trade connectivity and smoother operations.
China, for instance, did not alter its plans for a global technology innovation center in the Greater Bay Area, with advanced manufacturing and modern services industries meant to rival that of San Francisco’s Silicon Valley (3 March 2021).
On the other hand, Taiwan faced a crisis with Chipaggedon, partly due to being caught in the tech war between China and the U.S. This trade war, combined with one of the worst droughts Taiwan has ever faced, not to mention Covid-19, severely disrupted production in the world’s chipmaking factory.
As the global chip shortage crippled other sectors, logistics partners sought to mitigate the crisis by strengthening supply chain processes, hoping to build more flexible and streamlined operations for the future (13 September 2021).
Consolidating the lessons learned throughout a chaotic pandemic-ridden year, Everstream Analytics annual report, published on 23 March 2021, detailed the emerging risks that need to be mitigated when strengthening supply chains.
Adapting to digital platforms
Soon after the onset of the global pandemic, many micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) accelerated their adoption of e-commerce in the hope of tiding their businesses through Covid-19 lockdowns.
While there were inevitable casualties, the pandemic has also acted as a catalyst for many entrepreneurs to launch or expand their businesses, pivoting towards e-commerce to reach a global audience.
For example, Hong Kong celebrity chef Grace Choy was one of many business owners to take a leap of faith and set up her private dining kitchen in Tokyo. The fruits of her labor, Choy Choy kitchen, has since been bringing authentic Cantonese cuisine to the world, including a new line of savory sauces (27 April 2021).
Traditional businesses have also changed with the times.
For over a decade, Masashi Okamoto has pioneered the digital archival and production of Japanese comics and graphic novels, also known as manga for some of the world's most successful, longest-running manga publications. Our story in October explored how the Manga-Art Heritage project has been leveraging digital tools and an international e-commerce network to mine its rich archives (11 October 2021), turning original manga illustrations into collectible art for an international market unable to visit Japan during the pandemic.
Similarly, Papa New Guinea coffee brand Banz Kofi has evolved from a passion project to a home-grown business empowering local farmers. With over 30 years of history, the single-origin specialty coffee brand has kept on grinding even during a global pandemic, leveraging its strong e-commerce platform to share the beans of their labor with coffee lovers worldwide (2 July 2021).
As the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce becomes permanent, resilience is key for these small businesses as we are not quite out of the woods yet (25 June 2021).
The impact on developing nations
While no country has been spared, the developing nations have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
Sudan, in particular has had a turbulent year. Covid-19 has been a fresh obstacle for a country riven by decades of civil wars, floods and sanctions.
Things, however, seem to be looking up for Sudan as its removal in late 2020 from the U.S. Department of State’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism opened up access to desperately-needed debt relief and foreign investment. After 27 years, local partnerships, a peace deal, and increased connectivity in the world are helping the country move forward to a hopeful future (8 April 2021).
But for many developing countries, a road out of the pandemic is obstructed by the struggle to obtain access to vaccinations, derailing the world’s aim of having ten billion vaccine doses rolled out by the end of 2021.
The great vaccine rollout has been set in motion, but it is happening too slowly for less-developed countries to get them back on track (11 June 2021). With the uneven distribution of vaccines and new virus strains emerging, the war against the coronavirus is far from over.