We are certainly now in unchartered waters. World-wide people are getting sick and a lot of people will succumb. Although the first case of Covid-19 reared its head in China in November last year, who among us even six weeks ago could have envisaged where we would be now?
The pandemic is a real test in world leadership, both within governments and big business. We need leaders to get us through this crisis as safely as possible, but we will also need our leaders to operate a “lessons learnt” approach after it is over. Unfortunately, history has proven that humanity is not very good at learning lessons. We largely operate as if something is not happening until it arrives on our doorstep. Many of you will now have seen the 2015 Bill Gates Ted talk predicting this pandemic and urging world leaders to prepare a co-ordinated response. Yet nothing concrete was done!
We in the West have been encouraged towards free market economies. Whilst there are definite benefits to such systems, they do not tell the whole story. The current experience shows that a free market model does not necessarily help us in the face of a global pandemic.
Faced with the current crisis it seems ironic that just a few weeks ago Bernie Sanders in the US was deemed unelectable and a “socialist” because he advocates for free Medicare for all. Surely now, though, such a policy resonates loudly. Of course, all governments need to balance health and economic concerns. What this pandemic is demonstrating, however, is that in the absence of robust health systems and indeed a global coordinated virus suppression response, business and economies will suffer hugely.
Experts argue that more could have been done in advance as world leaders had time to put global response measures in place. We had data from the Sars, Swine Flu and Ebola outbreaks yet few steps were taken to coordinate resources. A very recent virtual G20 summit vowed to change this and work together to counteract the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.
So, what needs to happen now? What can we do? Our leaders, both in government and in business, need to do the right thing. If we want our societies and businesses to thrive in the future, we have to set ourselves up for success. The definition of stupidity is to repeatedly make the same mistakes and still scratch ours heads about what went wrong. Good leaders are selfless and have empathy. They have good judgement and we can trust them. They place the interests of the group before self and learn lessons and change course if necessary.
Covid-19 represents a big moment in history. It will, however, pass, but what then will we be left with? We now have the chance to reset some priorities. In recent times social dissatisfaction has been spreading. We have seen this with the growth of populism. It is widely felt that the gap between rich and poor has been widening. Nationalism has been growing and has often been encouraged through government policies. But nationalism will not help us now as we all need to work together globally to beat this.
More generally, in the last few years social value concepts such as climate change, sustainability and diversity and inclusion have made it onto Board room agendas. These issues, however, are often discussed only in a business context i.e. recognising that customers/clients are looking for demonstrable commitment to these concepts from their suppliers.After the storm has calmed both governments and business will need to do some soul searching to try to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. Sure, it is impossible to prevent a new virus occurring, but we can create systems and strategies to limit its impact.
I urge business and governments to champion social value as an end in itself. If this crisis has taught us anything it has taught us that business cannot function and thrive in the absence of cohesive social structures and institutions, including health institutions. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs instructs us that unless basic needs, such as food, water and health, are catered for, we cannot focus on higher needs. Thus, we have to ensure the healthy continuation of a work force before business even becomes a viable option.
We at IACCM have been looking at how government and business can contract with suppliers and customers to add social value into the fabric of their trading relationships. Other organisations and governments are also exploring these concepts. We are currently working to produce a global report about what is already being done and where the gaps lie, you can volunteer to help through this link https://www.iaccm.com/resources/?id=10963&cb=1585309389. This report can then be transformed into a blueprint for business and governments to follow a social value agenda. But much more needs to be done. The world needs strong leaders who learn from the past and lead by example. Let’s grab this opportunity for change.