The corona crisis is a prompt for change – We must “Build Back Better”

6. August 2020 - Marianne Egelund Siig, CEO, Mannaz & Stuart Turnbull, Head of International Consulting, Mannaz Del siden

If anyone ever doubted it, the corona crisis is clearly proving to us all exactly how global and connected we are. In a sense, this is very touching, seeing how we now have a stronger feeling of community and that we are showing increased care and consideration. Still, this reminder is equally daunting as the virus has taken advantage of our efficient infrastructure to travel fast and infect globally. Now, the time has come to use the crisis to create something new and even better, says CEO of Mannaz, Marianne Egelund Siig.

The corona pandemic has placed large parts of the world in a ‘checkmate’-position for months, and the end of the pandemic is still out of reach.

This week a new unfortunate record was made both in the US and in the global number of confirmed cases in a single day.

The risk is that we revert to the old ways of working – it would be too easy to do that. Decide now to make the future better and act now to make that happen.

The 2020’s are in financial shock

At the same time, we are starting to see the contours of a long-lasting financial crisis with bankruptcies and mass unemployment.

The EU commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, states in a press release: “Europe is experiencing an economic shock without precedent since the Great Depression”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made a similar assessment and predicts that “the virus has the potential to lead the biggest recession since the 1930’s”.

Unfortunately, in Brazil and the US, cases are still increasing exponentially.

Lessons from the crisis are not New Year’s resolutions

We learn something from every crisis we encounter, and seeing that the corona crisis is a historical crisis, we can, and we should learn on many different levels besides the most obvious: we use our new knowledge to handle future pandemics.

The Italian author and physicist Paolo Giordano wrote an essay during his quarantine in Rome, that today has been shared more than four million times; “How Contagion Works”:

“I do not want to forget all the things, that the pandemic has revealed to us about ourselves. Once we put the fear behind us, any fleeting consciousness disappears in an instant, that is how it always is with diseases”.

He finishes his essay with the words; “All this suffering must not have been in vain”.

The corona crisis is the collective and global slowdown that invalidates “used to” and has forced us to reconsider decisions, rethink strategies, but also to rediscover what is most important to us.

Right now, it is crucial that we do not treat our experiences and the lessons made as a New Year’s resolution, which we quickly move on from with just a bit of hand sanitizer and increased distance.

We are sailing in the same corona sea, but in different boats

It is time to listen and learn from the diversity of experiences. The crisis has struck everyone differently.

The ones most affected are naturally and without comparison those, who have lost loved ones to Covid19, those who suffer from the ongoing effects of the disease, or those who belong to vulnerable groups and so have been forced to live with significant restrictions. Their lives have changed remarkably within the past four months.

On a day-to-day basis, the corona crisis functioned as a break to some and has been an eye-opener for new qualities in everyday life, stronger family ties, or more time with the kids.

Others have been lonely. Or perhaps even busier at work, and so have had absolutely no time to knit or DIY-projects.

For many, the corona crisis continues to cause significant financial concerns and has resulted in concrete losses, while (fewer) others have been fortunate and developed new businesses.

A magnifying glass on existing problems

On a societal level, the corona crisis functions as a magnifying glass on existing challenges.

It follows a well-known pattern, where any societal crisis affects those, who are already struggling, more than others.

In a POV article in April, I cited a post by Alison Holder, which she wrote in the U.S. News and World Report:

The pandemic has also exposed gaping cracks in our social, political and economic systems”.

Still, as she also points out, the crisis provides us with a unique opportunity to build back better; an expression, which UN launched in 2015 as a concept and response in post-catastrophe times. The concept flourishes everywhere now; from UN, OECD and NGO campaigns and it is the headline on the new financial plan for the democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

Build Back Better

Build Back Better offers us hope, hope that we all need now, a direction that makes sense. Build Back Better means acting now to avert worse crises such as deteriorating social cohesion and climate and biodiversity disasters.

“If we want to build back better we don’t have to look back … to be as a planet as we were in January 2020 – we need to look forward to a whole new reality.” Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada

In February, the decision makers of the world met at the 50-year anniversary in Davos with the theme: “Stakeholder Capitalism”:

“In 2020, companies will shift focus from being centered around the shareholder to a more including role in society – also called “Stakeholder Capitalism”.

Stakeholder Capitalism is the idea, that the business environment should reform capitalism into increasingly serving the whole, and that societal and environmental objectives are prioritized equally with financial objectives relating to profit; that companies should serve a diversity of shareholders and society, and that companies should contribute to solving the global crisis, we are in the midst of, and work towards creating a sustainable development.

Only a few weeks after the worlds power elite left Davos, Covid19 had taken over the agenda of the world. Now is the time to return to this theme.

The importance of social cohesion has rarely been as obvious as it is now. We are connected, and we are dependent on each other and on the central functions in society. The respect for teachers increased as the weeks went by with home schooling. Care workers have become the heroes of the corona crisis, which is well-deserved. The indispensable primary and critical functions, and the people that handle these, now has a higher status.

Hopefully, the crisis can serve as an occasion to give those people the recognition and respect they deserve and allow them to be paid accordingly.

The crisis as a catalyst for innovation

We hear many say that we cannot “waste” this crisis. Clients and partners express that they wish to learn from the extraordinary efforts and conditions of the past months.

The impressive list of CEOs who’ve signed up to the Ellen MaCarthur Foundation’s circular economy commitment “It’s time to step up, not step back”; a testament to the level of energy now being mobilized to innovate supply chains.

Danish business leader, the transverse editor-in-chief of Mandag Morgen and Altinget, Lisbeth Knudsen, suggested that the government instates a post-corona council, so that we move on from the crisis in the smartest and most well-informed manner.

And Danish foundation for innovation Innovationsfonden report that they have experienced how new ideas on how to overcome Covid19 are developing with increased pace:

“The corona crisis has proven, that the force of innovation, richness of ideas, adaptability and new ways of thinking are alive and well in Denmark”. The fund intends to bring every experience from the time of the corona crisis into future processes within the organization for the benefit of all.

Let us continue to inspire one another and share our experiences. We need a strong shared effort, partnerships, and ideas to counter those challenges we were facing prior to the corona crisis that we have not solved yet.

In the same article, Danish Professor Emeritus Steen Hildebrandt says “Let the price of corona-support be a demand for sustainability”, encouraging everyone to take on the responsibility of learning from the crisis, and that Danish businesses, which have received financial aid from the state, should contribute to the implementation of the government climate and world goals agenda.

The house is still on fire

We will consume the Earth’s yearly resources by 22nd of August, three weeks later than last year due to the corona crisis, “Global Footprint Network” informs us. Unfortunately, this is still way too soon.

At that time, most people are back to work after the summer, probably with an expectation that we are back to normal everyday life as it was before the crisis. We need to remind ourselves, that it is not a sustainable “normal” and that we, from a global perspective, are going into overdraft daily.

Because “our house is still on fire”, as Greta Thunberg puts it. And there is a “Fire in the Arctic” as the headline of another article this week clearly stated.

The climatologist, Jonathan Overpeck, explains to the news agency AP: “The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire — it’s warming much faster than we thought it would”.

This situation is also the explanation of the largest oil spill-catastrophe since 1989, when a Russian-Siberian oil tank sank and discharged 21.000 tons of diesel oil into the environment in May 2020. In 2018, UNECSO demonstrated that the world’s oceans are “losing their breath” as replenishment falls below the rate of oxygen use. Since the 1960s, the area of low oxygen water in the open ocean has increased by 4.5 million km2, and over 500 low oxygen sites have been identified in estuaries and other coastal water bodies.

“Flatten the curve”

The entire world has become familiar with the term ‘Flatten the curve’ during the corona crisis.

We have understood that we need to avoid placing more pressure on the health-sector, than what it can manage by remaining on the green curve.

At the same time it is also crucially important, that we both individually and collectively work towards flattening the red biodiversity- and climate curve, so it does not excess the worlds resources – also to prevent a higher number of pandemics in the future. “The infection is a symptom of eco-system under pressure” writes the previously quoted Italian essayist Paolo Giordano.

We are currently borrowing the planet from our children and future generations and not respected the number one rule of any civilization: you have to leave behind more than what you take to maintain civilization, and so forward the daily life that we cherish to future generations.

The corona crisis has shown us, that we can manage an enormous transition process in record time.

But how do we manage to take the experiences and the community spirit of the last few months and ensure that we individually and collectively apply this to the most important “to-do list” of the world right now? The 17 sustainable development goals?

As World Economic Forum states; “The pandemic has revealed some home truths – that disasters do not respect borders, that solidarity brings strength, that science and expert advice matter, and that delay is deadly. The same lessons hold true for our climate emergency.”

Klaus Schwab calls for a Great Reset and observes that governments are already investing significantly in COVID-19 related recovery. If there is the will to invest, why not direct it in a way that benefits our ecosystems and societies?

“Act now to shape the future”

We pressed the “pause” button. As we prepare to press “play”, we are now more aware that we can create massive change and alter habits in a shared effort, when it really matters. And it matters now.

What will you do to avoid reverting to non sustainable ways of working? How can you Build Back Better from where you are? And what help will you need?

Read more about how your organisation can Build Back Better here.

 

This article is a translated and edited version of our Danish version which was published in POV International 

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Marianne Egelund Siig

Marianne Egelund Siig, CEO in Mannaz, is a recognized strategic leader, dedicated to creating value and purpose for people, businesses, and society as a whole. For more than 20 years, Marianne has led successful business transformations in the fields of leadership-, team-, talent-, and organizational strategies and development. Furthermore, she is an expert in the fields of gender equality, diversity and inclusion.
You can write to Marianne Egelund Siig at mes@mannaz.com

Stuart Turnbull

Stuart Turnbull, Head of International Consulting in Mannaz, is an expert facilitator and coach who consults with clients on Leadership, Organisation Transformation and Strategy Execution. He held international senior executive roles in the Technology, Consumer Marketing and Investment sectors before joining a global strategy firm as a Partner in London.
You can write to Stuart Turnbull at stu@mannaz.com