The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating in multiple ways, from its impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods to exacerbating systemic societal issues like poverty, polarization, inequality and injustice.
And while we have seen a lot of positive action to help during this time, there’s much more to do. The business world has a rare opportunity to reset the way we operate. We can make significant changes quickly when given the opportunity.
And right now, we have that opportunity.
Now is our chance to use the hard lessons we’re learning from COVID to change our habits and behaviors to shape a better future as we tackle climate change, healthcare, homelessness and more. And not just the easy changes — like letting more of our people work from home — but the changes that will require more intention, renewed purpose, and the unequivocal support of corporate and other leadership.
In the past few months, Benevity has witnessed many companies and leaders (including the vast majority of our clients) act quickly to build COVID-specific initiatives. These companies have seen the benefits of engaging employees and customers around a sense of purpose and meaning to drive business and social outcomes. We’ve got to keep this momentum going when we need it most!
As we rebuild and face new challenges, it’s within our power to keep leading with purpose, even after COVID-19 fades into the past. Here’s why:
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A recent column in The New York Times cites a study that shows that every $1 the federal government spends on preparedness reduces damage by $15 long term. Yet in the U.S., the government typically spends five cents on preparedness for every dollar spent in relief. And as we’ve seen from COVID (and plenty of events before the pandemic) — reacting to threats is the last step in a process that should start with better preparation. We simply can’t ignore or delay acting on every problem or threat until it becomes a crisis. We’ve seen how that works out. While companies and their people are responding now to needs created or magnified by COVID, let’s take that same sense of urgency and be proactive about other issues that require our action, like climate change, social equity and mental health.
- The collective power of your people is limitless. Nothing has reinforced how we’re all but a small part of an interdependent (and fragile) ecosystem more than the pandemic. COVID has stressed the importance of affordable access to healthcare, policies like paid sick leave, worker protections, a strong social safety net and respectful care for the elderly. Collaboration and collective action are the only things that work when we’re coping with so many complex and interconnected challenges. Putting on your oxygen mask first may work in a plane, but a “me first” approach doesn’t work when we’re tackling global issues like climate change, healthcare and the economy. At the macro-level, corporations have the opportunity to think about building more sustainable and equitable supply chains, reduce their carbon and waste footprint and drive relentlessly towards tangible — and sincere — ESG goals. Policies like paid sick leave and worker protections are critical, but so is honoring, encouraging and supporting the power of individual actions and the passions of employees — who want to feel heard and be part of something bigger. Right now, culture is more important than ever. Fostering a sense of belonging and supporting purpose through acts of Goodness will not only result in a stronger company, but also have a network effect on the customers and communities the company serves.
- A strong sense of purpose makes it easier to take action when it’s needed. This crisis has shown that when we acknowledge and embrace a problem, humanity steps up. The power of collective and concerted action that we’ve seen from people and companies working together over the past few months has made a real impact. Factories that manufactured clothing quickly switched to making PPE, teachers quickly pivoted to set up online classrooms and lesson plans, and millions of people around the globe have stayed home to flatten the curve. Now, think of what we might achieve if the same urgency and cross-sectoral commitment were invested in climate change or social equity, or to address some of the underlying issues — gaps in healthcare access, stigmatization of mental health concerns, sick leave policies — that COVID is highlighting. We spend months and years hand wringing over the “right” approach, when any approach is better than doing nothing.
Getting through this crisis and preparing for future events requires an ongoing commitment from the corporate world to continue addressing issues that impact their people, their customers and their communities. It also requires that they embrace a mindset that recognizes the tremendous power they hold in convening and catalyzing broad-based investment in social impact initiatives. This will be even more crucial because social services spending could be constrained due to the massive government spending for economic stimulus.
Purpose, engagement, a commitment to the social good — these aren’t nice-to-have things we can maybe return to after we deal with survival. They are need-to-haves, especially right now. Investing in them must be an integral part of our recovery strategy. Our ability to build an agile, inclusive, resilient and sustainable society depends on them.
Download the Benevity Labs Special Report on COVID-19 Relief to learn how companies are leading with purpose in these extraordinary times.