“Once upon a time, there was a world where resources abound, where there were spaces to explore and enable innovations and creativity, where there were ‘rulers’ who governed with responsibility and accountability, where greed was just the villain in bedtime stories, and where the people were guided by their values in going after their dreams, all living in comfort and harmony. Then a plague cast a cloud in that world and left destruction and deaths in its wake. And things were never the same again.”
The coronavirus will probably be the first to cry “fake news.” Clearly, that was not the world it descended to and now occupies. Rather, the world is a place where the wealth is in the hands of not even 2% of the population, while the rest languish in poverty and inequality. It is a world bearing the brunt of climate change that causes worsening weather patterns — and all because in the search for progress and prosperity, resources were used without regard for the ecosystem; where carbon footprints are off the chart and where the environment and nature are the sacrificial lambs. It is a world where dissension and conflict, discrimination and distrust, discontent, and disenchantment have become societal norms rather than exceptions.
And then, with just one cough, the virus took over and stopped the world from turning.
No one will dispute that months into the COVID-19 war, that little invisible viral speck is still winning. The numbers are still going up, even as we wait, almost hourly, for a stronger indicator that we are starting to turn the bend. In an uncertain future, the only certainty is that the collateral damage will be huge.
The health crisis has metastasized into the economy and effective management means adopting a treatment plan in stages:
• Palliative (pain relievers or quick fixes). Just like the flu, coughs and colds, fevers, etc., COVID-19 will run its course; the first line of defense is easing the symptoms. The interventions, such as the health measures and restrictions being imposed, financial and social assistance being adopted, are all implemented to control the spread. These palliative measures caused and continue to send shock waves in the economy as it effectively stopped activities that rippled throughout the ecosystem it supports.
• Curative (antibiotics). We have yet to see an easing of the number of cases but obviously, there is an imperative to reopen and resume economic activities soonest to stem the bleeding. A regimen of “medication” is being prescribed not only to treat the symptoms but also to manage the causes. The stimulus plan of the government, the business continuity measures, the safety and hygiene protocols, etc. — these are all parts of recovery and restoration measures being undertaken to “transfuse blood” and get the economy out of the ICU.
• Preventive (maintenance). Steps must be taken to inoculate/vaccinate from future occurrences/recurrences. The pandemic revealed the weaknesses in the structure and therefore, strategies and implementing actions must be planned to ensure that when crisis or disasters will happen again (and they will), these repercussions can be contained. At the very least, we will only be mildly hurt.
For now, we all brace ourselves for what is yet to come. It will be an economic fall-out that experts and opinion makers are already saying will be equal to, if not topping the depression experienced in the 1930s. Judging by the revised forecasts and data coming out, the outlook indeed looks bleak and very uncertain.
The “casualties of war” will tell a grim story of lives disrupted, job losses, business closures, and loved ones forever lost without a chance for their families to say goodbye. The pandemic flipside will also be a narrative of how the health frontliners risk their lives to attend to the sick, of the support army of housekeepers, store staff, delivery force, garbage collectors and many more, who rose to the call for service just when the world needed them most. It will also show how resilient people can become, able to find ways and means to survive and overcome the challenges. In the end, it will be all about who got hit the hardest and who will bear the brunt in the long run.
The fairytale is a world we wish we are inhabiting; that we are imagining. If that world was just in one’s imagination before the pandemic, what will then be the context of the re-imagination? It cannot be going back to where we started. We must reflect on the lessons that we hopefully learned from our months of enforced hibernation: there is no going back to what was, but there is also a huge opportunity to change what will be.
This period in our history highlights the best and the worst in individuals, in leaders and in societies. There are those who helped the disadvantaged — and those who took advantage (in spades); those who put the welfare of others at the core of decisions and actions, and those who are willing to put the health and well-being of people on the line for personal gain; those who got richer riding on the wave of others’ miseries, unabashedly strutting the personal wealth even a small fraction of which could have been a poor country’s entire GDP.
For the business community, the imperative of the dawning of a new age is expanding the meaning of Capitalism. It is time to ensure that CAPITAL will be guided by the ISM — Inclusiveness, Sustainability and Moral Compass. Dov Seidman’s words captured it well: “The business of business can no longer just be business. Everything is now personal; the business of business is therefore society. Mission and margin, profit and principle, success and significance are now inextricably linked. In the fused world, how we behave, how we operate, how we govern, and how we relate to people and communities, matter more than ever. Going forward, businesses are going to compete on trust, on responsibility, and on creating and maintaining deep relationships with their stakeholders rooted in shared truths and values.”
The world is now cautiously reopening its doors — and soon, we will have clear indicators of the extent of damage the pandemic will be leaving (hopefully) in its wake. We are dealing not only with a health pandemic; we are also witnessing the tensions and political posturing that will only exacerbate the problems at a time when we all need to focus on reigniting the stalled global economy.
The question is where to begin. Hopefully, those decisions, solutions, and actions we take today will not become the burden of future generations. And maybe, if we get it right this time, we may have our happily ever after. too.
The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) International CEO Web Conference, co-presented with San Miguel Corp., hopes to offer some insights and ignite a spark in these discussions. Thought leaders were invited to provide inputs that can help us traverse the slow road to recovery. No one will have all the answers, but ideas can surely help. Those joining us on Sept. 15 (8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) are: Dr. Thierry Apoteker, Chairman and Chief Economist of TAC Economics who will discuss “Geo-economic Shifts: Ripples and Waves Across the Globe”; Amal Alamuddin Clooney, barrister, special envoy, Global Media Freedom, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who will discuss “Media Freedom in Global Crisis: News Interpreters or Opinion Framers”; Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General, Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) who will discuss “ASEAN in Times of Crisis: Greater Integration, Unity and Solidarity in Adversity”; Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, Sustainable Development Solutions Network who will talk about the “ASEAN’s Challenges in a New Geopolitical Era”; and, Blair H. Sheppard, Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership, PwC UK, who will discuss “Business in the New Economic Universe: Rebuilding Amidst Changed Global Dynamics.”
No need to register. You may watch the conference for free via Facebook Live (facebook.com/map.org.ph) or YouTube (youtube.com/TheMAPph). For inquiries, please contact the MAP Secretariat via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Alma Rita R. Jimenez is Chair of the MAP CEO Conference Committee, former Undersecretary of the Department of Tourism, and the President of the ASEAN Society Philippines.