IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES: HOW COVID-19 IS CHANGING THE WORLD.
by Rashi Goel
To loosely borrow from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, the Covid-19 crisis will be remembered as a phenomenon that paved the way for both, the best of times, and the worst of times. These months of lockdown, of social distancing, of work from home, of stocking up essential groceries, are irrevocably changing the world.
This period will forever rupture each human’s memory and narrative of life into a Pre-Corona and Post-Corona world. Some trends will get accelerated, some reversed and some completely new behaviors will be born.
The World is Flatter, Patriotism is at its Peak
This crisis has impacted 205 countries globally. Not since the Second World War has there been any phenomenon that has impacted each and everybody in the world. Even the second world war was experienced more by UK, Europe and USA in the Western hemisphere, and Japan in the Eastern hemisphere. The rest of the world was colonized, and they sent across soldiers as part of the British Army. Hence, the Second World War is more a part of shared memory in global consciousness. The Corona Pandemic will not be just a shared memory, but a shared experience, globally. This is a giant leap forward towards a flatter world.
The world has never been more united against a common enemy before, at the same time, the feeling of patriotism and nationalism has never run deeper. Each country leader’s actions are there on the world stage for everyone to see and judge. The political leaders who will lead their country through this crisis, with maturity, speed, and empathy will further strengthen their loyal base within their country. But they will also be lauded on the world stage. This will lead to a deep feeling of nationalistic pride amongst the population of the country whose leader will be able to navigate the country out of the crisis with the least damage compared to others on the world stage. Deep patriotism will also emerge because people will realize, while they may learn from the world, at the end of the day, they are in it together with the rest of their own nation.
World Order Has Changed
The optimism bias of the wealthy, and the developed countries, that somehow they are protected from disasters and pandemics have been challenged. 61% of worldwide corona virus cases are in the Developed and Western Hemisphere– USA, Italy, Spain, Germany, and France. These countries are learning from China, Singapore and South Korea, who addressed the pandemic swiftly, and efficiently.
The USA has vacated the privilege of being the “Leader of The Free World” that traditionally shares expertise and resources and takes decisive action to lead the rest of the world with soft power and thought leadership. Will the new world order be a consortium of countries that agree to corporate for the greater good? Or will China rise to the top of the pack on the back of its economic strength? The answer is not clear. But what is very clear is that the USA has left behind a ‘for rent’ sign.
Inequality Gets Even More Visible and Might Reach a Breaking Point
We can no longer pretend we do not see the deep and vast gap between the haves and have nots. We see the stark difference in lifestyles when you see conversations around the lockdown. The poor are focused on survival, they are worried about where to find the money to stock up on groceries during the lockdown. Each day’s wages lost is that day’s dinner forsaken. Small Businesses are struggling to pay salaries. In contrast, the affluent are exchanging notes on which is the best Netflix series to binge-watch next and they are busy buying stocks at discounted prices in a recessionary stock market. The rich are getting richer, the poor are sinking deeper into the hole of economic insecurity.
This chart above shows that in India, the strictest measures of lockdown are in place, but with the least amount of Fiscal support. Strict lockdown is needed with a population of 1.3bio. The medical infrastructure is just not geared up for a possible pandemic of this scale. And as the Indian Prime Minister rightly said in one of his addresses to the nation, if the pandemic spreads, it could take the country back 20 years. But the government is offering pitiful aid, causing jobless migrant workers to start walking to their home cities, as far as 500kms away, kids and luggage in tow, because they just do not have any other option.
I don’t mean to be alarmist, but if this crisis extends for a few more months, with no respite for the underprivileged, there is a real danger of civil unrest. Income inequality, with no hope of respite, becomes a revolution, as history has proven with the French Revolution.
Real leaders are rising above the rest. Real leaders are the ones who have shown empathy to their people, their teams and their community. Those who have not just posted niceties on their LinkedIn or Twitter handles, but have put skin in the game. Through actions. They have donated money, taken salary cuts, supported government efforts and the medical profession.
Leaders of countries who have risen in esteem are the ones who have listened to experts and then taken decisive action. As always, in times of crisis, there is a need for a higher level of unity, higher trust, and demand for authentic leadership. Leaders who have been decisive, clear and have acted fast to contain the crisis have been appreciated. Leaders who have balanced human life with the economic stimulus in equal measure are being respected.
Collaborative Moves in Business Model
Numerous organizations have pivoted and have started manufacturing hand sanitizers, from Louis Vuitton to Beiersdorf. Mahindra has pivoted and has started manufacturing Ventilators. All these decisions are commendable and right up there on the Corporate Social Responsibility Scale. But let us not forget that this also makes business sense. By pivoting, these organizations are utilizing their dormant fixed assets, hence increasing return on Capital Invested. At the same time, they are motivating their workers to come to work and get paid.
A crisis is also a time for breakthrough innovation. The collaboration of ITC and Dominoes is an example of two innovative CEOs who took brave decisions and pivoted their business models for win-win-win growth. This collaboration helps consumers get access to food essentials like flour and spices during the lockdown. It increases ITC into new households, and it keeps the Dominoes employees economically engaged and productive. What’s more, households that are buying food essentials might just end up buying a Pizza or two to liven up their quarantine mealtime and get a rest from cooking.
This is a live example of the future of business. The future of business will be secured through partnerships and collaboration. Organizations that unite to add value to end consumers and balance sheets through collaborative business models will win the future.
The Slowdown in the Shared Economy, Acceleration in the Knowledge-Economy
The Gig and Shared Economy companies, that were the darlings of venture capitalists and CEO superhero narratives, have been disrupted. If people stay at home and the economy comes to a standstill, wheels of the shared economy grind to a stop.
On the other hand, the knowledge-worker based economy has received a growth hormone infusion. Knowledge work can be done from anywhere. During this lockdown period, knowledge workers are discovering the efficiency, speed, and efficacy of work from home. Companies might become more open to allowing their employees to work from home more often.
Online education and training have already accelerated. People have become used to studying online, asking questions over chat, collaborating over Slack and co-writing documents in the cloud. People are even working out with live workout sessions online. Peloton in the US and Cult Fit in India are offering high energy workout sessions over live video and are thriving. This new normal of imparting education at scale, anytime and to anyone who cares to invest the time will continue. There will be an upsurge in this behavior, not just in India, but globally.
Proof of Concept for Climate Change
West or east, poor or rich, white or brown skin, homeless or world leader. No one has been spared. This crisis has been a rude awakening for humankind in general and naysayers of climate crisis in particular. Just a few weeks of billions of humans staying at home, millions of cars being off the roads and numerous factories not producing goods, have delivered Proof of Concept (POC) that human activity is responsible for the climate crisis. The air is cleaner, birds are back, dolphins are back in sea waters.
While this relief is temporary, can we make this permanent? If we do not want the next global crisis to be climate change-related, planet-friendly living like more frequent work from home, and a faster shift to alternate fuel sources should continue even after the crisis is over.
People have experienced what it means to be at the complete mercy of nature and biology. People should understand that nature is more powerful than the 7 billion people inhabiting the planet. I hope this leads to a new realization that unless we learn to respect nature, environment, and biology, pandemics will become more frequent, as nature’s way of correction. Unless we change our behaviors, we will not be leaving a healthier world for our children and our grandchildren.
Phone Surveillance Might Become the Norm
“All is fair in love and war” – John Lyly’s Euphues. The problem is when the liberties we take in wartime continue beyond the war. It may be fair for countries to monitor movement and trace contacts via our smartphones during Corona time. After all, it is for our own good. But if this new normal becomes the norm even after the pandemic risk is over, we will find ourselves living in the dystopian world of Big Brother watching our every move. Will we be comfortable trading every piece of our private information for commercial interests, mind-bending messages delivered to us via programmed machines? I think not.
For now, what I do know, is that this will be over soon. This period of fasting with be followed by a period of feasting. Isolation will end, and close social interactions will begin. Stockpiling of groceries will reduce, factories will start working normally again and Louis Vuitton will go back to manufacturing designer bags. We will all go back to work, children will go back to school and airlines will fly again.
But I sincerely hope we do not waste this crisis, but use this to wash away all that holds us and the world around us back. I only hope that we come back to an improved “new normal”. A “new normal” that is more mindful of our community, more respectful of nature, more grateful of medical professionals and more loving of our families and friends. A “new normal” that is less acquisitive, less impatient and less selfish.
Rashi Goel is a marketer with 22 years of experience with FMCG majors. At present, she is a consumer communications head at Nestle. Disclaimer –Views expressed in this article are her personal and not the views of any organization she is affiliated with nor of stirfrymba.com.