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CEOs urged to rebuild public trust amid innovation boom

As cutting-edge technologies transform businesses, a major global study is sounding the alarm for CEOs in South Africa – the public’s trust in innovation is faltering. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals people worldwide are increasingly wary that rapid technological progress is leaving key ethical considerations in the dust. But there’s an upside – the report spotlights businesses as best positioned to spearhead a course correction by prioritising responsible innovation practices to restore faith.

“This should be a wake-up call for business leaders,” says Cathlen Fourie, Director at CF Communications. “While the public welcomes innovation’s potential, there’s a clear trust gap around how new technologies are being developed and rolled out. CEOs need to step up as ethical stewards.”

The study found businesses are the most trusted institution for introducing innovations compared to governments, media, and NGOs. However, overall trust levels remain below 60% – signalling firms have work to do.

Fourie advises CEOs to urgently adopt strategies that foster transparency, inclusive engagement, and a genuine commitment to society’s greater good.

Make safety and inclusivity cornerstones of innovation

To earn public trust, new products and services must be developed with robust safety testing and input from diverse user groups. The Barometer found apprehensions around innovations being rushed to market without adequate safeguards or consideration for different ability levels and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s critical that businesses take an inclusive, human-centered approach to innovation from day one,” says Fourie. “Cutting corners on safety and accessibility will only further erode trust.”

Businesses should implement inclusive design principles and rigorous quality assurance processes. They must also provide comprehensive user education to ensure their innovations are safe, intuitive, and accessible to all segments of society.

Foster collaborative ethical governance

With concerns around innovations outpacing ethical and legal frameworks, CEOs should take a proactive, multi-stakeholder approach to self-governance. The Barometer revealed an expectation that businesses work hand-in-hand with governments, academia, civil society, and impacted communities to identify and address risks before launching new technologies.

“There’s an opportunity for companies to lead the way in ethical governance of new technologies,” states Fourie. “But it requires genuine willingness to open up their innovation processes to external scrutiny.”

Establishing external advisory boards, participating in public consultations, and funding independent research can help brands develop a holistic perspective on an innovation’s ethical ramifications.

Demystify innovation through transparency

A lack of understanding around new technologies is fuelling distrust. The Barometer showed many perceive innovations as an opaque “black box” with potential for unintended negative consequences. Businesses must prioritise clear, jargon-free communication about how their innovations work and their anticipated impacts – both positive and negative.

“Transparency is the antidote to distrust,” advises Fourie. “Companies need to take the mystery out of their technologies by opening the ‘black box’ to public view.”

Brands can leverage multimedia content, open house events, employee ambassador programs, and academic partnerships to shed light on the science behind their products in a way that resonates with the general public.

Give people control through privacy protections

Data privacy and the implications of new technologies on individual autonomy emerged as a top public concern in the Barometer. To instil confidence, innovations – especially those involving AI, automation or personal data collection – must have robust opt-out features and user privacy controls built in from the outset.

“At the end of the day, people want a meaningful voice in deciding how innovations shape their daily lives,” Fourie says. “Businesses must give control back to individuals over their personal data and tech experiences.”

Publicly committing to privacy principles like data minimization, secure storage standards, and permissible use policies can help dispel fears around the misuse of personal information. Ultimately, people want a meaningful voice in how innovations shape their daily lives. 

The opportunity for business leaders in South Africa

“South African CEOs have a huge opportunity here to rebuild trust by coupling innovation leadership with an authentic concern for societal wellbeing,” notes Fourie. “Those getting this balance right will cement their brands as pioneers helping create broadly shared prosperity.”

As the line blurs between technological possibilities and real-world impacts, the Edelman data underscores an urgent need for responsible corporate stewardship. By heeding the public’s concerns, South Africa’s business leaders can drive innovation that doesn’t just disrupt – but builds an equitable future founded on trust.

About the Edelman Trust Barometer Launched in 2000, the Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual global study exploring public trust in core institutions like business, government, NGOs, and media. It’s considered one of the most comprehensive trust benchmarks worldwide.

Read more:

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Image by Canva.


Media contact: Cathlen Fourie, +27 82 222 9198,,

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CF Communications is a leading marketing and communication agency, dedicated to helping businesses thrive through focused and strategic marketing and communication strategies. With a team of industry experts, CF Communications provides customized solutions that drive brand awareness, generate leads, and deliver measurable results.


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