Covid-19: catalyst for change

November 2020

Before Covid-19 changed the world, some businesses considered social impact and sustainability nothing more than a nice-to-have programme. In other words, social impact programmes were not strategic to their business. The pandemic, and corporate responses to it, have highlighted what is important in guiding a business’s choices during a crisis.

Many senior executives, partners, clients, and employees are noticing that robust social impact and sustainability programmes are key to a company’s credibility. It has become akin to a community buy-in or an unofficial licence to do business. This social commitment is crucial in good times but becomes even more important during a crisis.

Covid-19 reveals a business’s core values

Most businesses have mission or vision statements. Decisions made in response to the pandemic have revealed such statements as either mere window dressing or as strategic and core guides for the business. When a mission or vision statement is a central tenet to a business, it directs all decisions a business makes in response to this crisis or any future crisis. Doing the right thing now, based on a business’s purpose and values, will contribute to its success in the post-Covid world.

“We can and must see this as an opportunity (albeit a forced one) to adapt and change for the better,” said Richard Susskind, a legal technology advisor, during a webinar hosted by Legal Geek in April. “Companies can improve and recast themselves, using CSR best practices to help guide process, policy, and procedure decisions in this Covid world and beyond.” Behaviour and decisions during the coronavirus pandemic illustrate and highlight a business’s values, vision, and purpose – or not.

Calling on social impact programmes to manage crises

Some may assume that they can set aside their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes during this crisis. However, a robust CSR programme is an integral component of crisis management.

Consideration and discussion of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues become increasingly important as we navigate the pandemic. After a slight drop in ESG news coverage during the early stages of the pandemic, April had almost double the news coverage of ESG issues than November, according to Bloomberg News. And, since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, UK independent financial advisers reported a sharp rise in investor interest in the ESG performance of their investments.

Evidently, the pandemic is reminding or teaching us how critical social impact and ESG issues are to a successful and sustainable global economy. Rather than setting aside social impact and sustainability programmes during this crisis, we should amplify and enhance their components to help inform decisions.

The coronavirus is changing public values

Mark Carney, the former governor of The Bank of England, told The Times of London, “Companies will be judged by what they did during the war, how they treated their employees, suppliers, and customers, and by who shared and who hoarded.”

In Carney’s view, people changed their values as unemployment rose and the economy faltered during the pandemic. The pandemic could reverse the slow transition from a market economy to a market society by exposing a gulf between what markets value and what people value.

In other words, a singular focus on short-term shareholder returns at the expense of all other stakeholders’ interests is no longer sustainable (if it
ever was); nor does it serve the long-term interests of business or society.

This is our moment

Perhaps personal and professional lessons learned as we deal with this pandemic will make us better prepared for the next global crisis: climate change. This pandemic and the challenge of climate change have the same characteristics: they are global in scope and intangible. Both require preparation, as well as coordinated global responses.

Will lessons we have learned from Covid-19 help us address climate change more successfully? Will the clear, blue skies that followed the pandemic’s travel restrictions become permanent? Will we work now to flatten the curve of the coming climate crisis before we run out of time?

Will we work to rectify many of the injustices of the economic system that have existed for decades, injustices that the Covid-19 pandemic has so painfully revealed? Rather than just recover from this pandemic, will we change for the better?

Interestingly, #BuildBackBetter is a trending hashtag on social media. How will current and future generations judge our behaviour and decision-making during this time?

Now is our moment. Let’s ensure future generations celebrate our actions for being progressive, rather than view them as missed opportunities to create long-term sustainability for our businesses, employees, clients, customers, and communities.

About the author

Pamela Cone
Seattle, USA

Pamela is founder and CEO of Amity Advisory. She helps organisations strengthen their social responsibility and sustainability programs to achieve holistic, compelling, and profitable social impact that is core to their business, consistent with their purpose, and collaborative with stakeholders.

Author: Pamela Cone - Amity Advisory, Seattle, USA

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