• Elena Rossi

SOCIETY RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISES

Updated: May 27


A young boy rides his bike past a deer wandering around the shopping area in Nara, Japan.



On 9 March 2020, my mother turned 70 years old. As I was planning a surprise trip to Milan to celebrate her birthday, worrying news started to come out of Italy: the Covid19 virus was spreading fast and furious and the country was shutting down. Within the following two weeks, the entire World was sent ‘home’, with Governments choosing measures appropriate for their local populations, ranging from ‘social distancing’ to complete ‘lock-down’.


In this blog, I am attempting to give a snapshot to what is happening, with no presumption to be an economic expert but to simply offer a reflection based on the information gathered on various media and by talking to some of the amazing people I know, who are involved on the ground as medics, community workers and business owners.


EU RESPONSE TO THE CRISES


This crisis has hit every facet of our society and challenged people’s cognitive abilities to process and adapt to change. Besides the human and natural’s capitals, the economic aspect is, appropriately to say, the other side of the coin.


The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that half billion people in the World stayed at home in March and April 2020, and the good news is, the only one concerning this crisis, that CO2 levels have dropped everywhere giving us the cleanest air in a generation. A new-found ecological appreciation is taking hold and particularly here, in Europe, there is certainly a drive to implement the recently drafted Green Deal, the EU blueprint to reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The European Green Deal Investment Plan, looking to boost the Green Recovery and a Just Transition for all sectors, it is now being embedded into the post-pandemic recovery plan for the region. As the European Central Bank has allocated the equivalent of 7.3% of the entire EU’s GDP to rescue its Economy, an impressive €750Bn bond-buying programme, it is more clear than ever that global problems need global solutions as national or even regional responses won’t be enough.

HOW COMPANIES HAVE ADAPTED TO CHANGE


The biggest casualty of this crises, besides those who have fallen ill, are the small (less than 50 employees) and medium (less than 250 employees) companies, the engine powering the economy for employing most of the workforce (over 70% in OECD countries). SMEs, for their very nature of operating at small margins and for generally being cash strapped, are now literally fending for survival. As a rescue-measure, most EU countries have issued Temporary Wage Subsidy packages, to support struggling companies to retain employees, by paying 70% of their salaries.


In a slightly more fortunate position, big companies (up to 1000 employees) and corporations (+1000 employees) are tackling the crises by allocating funds, expertise and assets to support their employees and the wider community. With remote working having become a reality for most employees, HR and Management teams have been focusing on four main aspects:


1. Ensuring a safe working environment;

2. Assessing and implementing remote working capabilities;

3. Issues related to job and business continuity;

4. Dealing with uncertainty and emotional distress.

After two months of economic-freeze, businesses are now looking to re-open despite the uncertainty of finding new markets’ conditions. The service-industry is perhaps the most impacted as restrictions on how to accommodate customers in small spaces will remain for the foreseeable future. Tourism-related activities will cater largely to local guests for the coming months, while Governments figure out how to ease restrictions on air-travel. Online shopping will likely become a more prevalent choice for shoppers, while providing additional offerings, especially around food and fitness options.

Consumers life, as we knew it, has been disrupted with the effects of resetting our needs and habits towards more conscious living.

BUSINESS IN THE COMMUNITY


Business response to community needs has been wide-ranging, separating conscious leaders from those who are not. In some cases, we have seen Executive Directors taking considerable pay-cuts to adjust to financial difficulties and avoid staff lay-off, like did Schroders Assets Management in the UK or Dan Price, CEO of Gravity, in the US. Dan Price famously slashed his pay from $1.1 million to $70,000 to make as much as his employees. During the pandemic, he cut his pay to $0.

Bigger companies are naturally better equipped to provide support, especially those with CSR teams in place and philanthropic programs. Sectors like ICT, Finance, Food and Pharma are known to have such structure in place.


In the IT sector, most of ‘the giants’ committed to protecting their employees working conditions and not restructuring organigrams until the summer-time. Furthermore, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube are collaborating against misinformation about the spreading and safe dealing of the disease. Some others, like Salesforce, have increased the technology support to NPOs & Healthcare organisations. Amazon is the only big tech that received wide-spread criticism for a lax attitude in protecting its staff, while financially gaining from the crises. CEO Bezos’s wealth grew by a total of $34.6 billion, or 30%, over the past two months.

Vodafone, through its 27 Foundations, is responding with large charitable donations and widening the reach of its digital learning platforms to young people.


The High-Street Fashion industry, from Prada to H&M have turned their production lines to make facemasks and some, like Armani, have donated funds to hospitals and local institutions. With clothes-making already scrutinised for its environmental cost and supply-chains powered entirely by low-income workers in developing economies, this industry is under-pressure to display some ethical behaviour.


Supermarket-chains stepped up the support household charities like Alone and FoodCloud with much-needed funds and free food for those in need. Lidl reacted quickly to the crises by being the first chain to allocate early shopping times for the elderly, besides promoting the use of local, sustainably sourced and certified food.


IRELAND’S COMMUNITY SECTOR


Ireland’s first response to the pandemic was announced on 12 March with the closure of educational institutions and commercial spaces. This date marked the beginning of a period of social distancing, culminating in the stricter isolation protocol remaining in place until the 18 May.


Some categories of workers, like medics and front-line staff, came to be hailed ‘as heroes’, as they put themselves at risk to ensure the virus is controlled and lives are protected. Similarly, community workers and teachers focused to maintain a level of service by reaching out to the most vulnerable in society.


The charity sector, and in particular voluntary agencies like Volunteer Ireland (VI), came to be recognised for their vital support to the Irish community.

Test centres, like the one in Tallagh stadium, was set up and run by the South County Dublin Volunteer Centre, one of the 21 volunteer centres spread around the country. Charities and community organisations bridged the gap between a paralysed state and societal needs.


The Department of Rural and Community Development announced €35m Covid-19 Stability Scheme for the Third Sector, which will grant financial support towards operational and overhead costs, excluding salaries. This package will provide a lifeline to this industry, which is traditionally financially constrained and under-resourced.


The Wheel, the National Organisation for the Charity and Social Enterprise Sector, has set up a comprehensive platform which includes a free help-desk and an array of practical and legal tools, and the Social Innovation Fund is supporting innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis with different grants.


CONCLUSION


For anyone studying anthropology, the last couple of months must be offering an incredible opportunity to run the most complex and widespread social experiment in modern history. Only time will tell what effects self-isolation is having on the collective mindset. With the suspension of medical and social services, troubling news regarding the rise in domestic violence and mental illness have started to emerge. By the time schools will re-open in September, students will have been out of school for six months, a relatively long time in the life of a child which will likely have some consequences in their character formation.


The biggest opportunity this crisis is giving us is time to reflect on our future, to realise that life on this planet is interlinked and eco-dependent, humans included. Also that decisions taken on the other side of the World have almost immediate repercussions into our backyard. Extraordinary times like these are highlighting once again the absolute need for businesses, as well as Governments, to align with the Global Framework given by the Sustainable Development Goals.

If interested to learn more:


EU Nations back Green post recovery: https://bit.ly/3c9Bk1d

After Corona Virus how will Europe rebuild: https://bit.ly/2M4yG21

Covid19 Stability Scheme: https://bit.ly/3c7tRj2

Volunteer Ireland: https://www.volunteer.ie/

We Found the One Moral CEO in America https://www.pscp.tv/w/1djGXQlMlzdJZ

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