After a year of struggling to preserve some semblance of normality in the shadow of Covid-19, we’re still trying to process its impact on practically every aspect of life.
For many of us, there’s never been a more visceral reminder that, as a human race, we’re all in it together.
So as we try to adapt to the ‘new normal’, could some aspects of our collective Covid experience catalyse change for the better?
Here are five powerful ways we can push reset post-pandemic.
1. Addressing the climate crisis
In 2020, nations from around the world joined together to tackle the Covid-19 crisis with speed and unity. Could the lessons learned from these experiences reinvigorate our efforts to tackle the global climate crisis?
Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan believes so.
Speaking to the World Economic Forum, she argues convincingly that the post Covid-19 climate can catalyse the ‘Green Reset’ that the world is crying out for:
‘The key is to put the health of people and the planet first. That’s what’s happening on COVID-19, but it has not yet happened on climate change in many cases, because the fossil fuel interests and the large industrial farming interests want to keep things the way they are. And what we’re learning from this pandemic is it is possible to switch it.’
The climate crisis is the biggest threat humanity is facing, but if Jennifer is right and governments, companies and communities can work together, we could have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset our planet before it’s too late.
2. Repairing the social fabric
In the depths of lockdown, when those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home were safely indoors, lots of ordinary citizens in every nation (in roles that were official and unofficial, paid and unpaid) bore the brunt of taking care of the rest of society.
And at times, the gap in understanding and empathy between decision makers and those affected by their decisions seemed greater than ever.
With the social fabric in many societies strained to breaking point, is there a way to offer those who have risked and sacrificed most with something more substantive than kind words?
As leaders and decision makers of the future, many of our very own ARU distance learning students studying online health and social care courses will be tackling these challenges as their careers progress.
But in the meantime, Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane has been reminding us all over the past year that in times of crisis such as this, social capital – people pitching in to help their neighbours and communities – has plugged the gaps left when physical, human and financial capitals have collapsed.
He estimates that the social sector actually contributes more than £200 billion in social value to the UK annually, although only a fraction of this makes its way into GDP. In this report, Andy investigates how social capital can have more impactful societal benefits.
3. Working smarter
Those of us who are working and generating income sufficient to support our needs should thank our lucky stars in the post-Covid world.
According to International Labour Organisation analysis, 1.25 billion workers globally are employed in business sectors at risk of huge increases in layoffs and reductions in working hours and wages.
But setting these sobering statistics slightly aside for a moment, there’s still a worthwhile conversation flourishing about the ways that remote, flexible and hybrid working models can offer employees healthier and happier lives, while still being effective for business leaders.
According to the Institute of Directors, the Covid-19 Crisis has made business leaders prioritise preventative healthcare, with 38% intending to take more physical exercise and rolling out regular health checks, vaccinations, supplements, and even medical insurance.
Combined with enlightened management styles and operational working models with as much flexibility as possible inbuilt, in the medium to long term, the pandemic might result in more balanced and healthy working lives.
Only time will tell if Covid-19 can finally persuade companies and organisations to finally abandon working practices which are relics of the 19th century and move forward with more emotionally intelligent and results-driven systems that prioritise health.
4. Fighting inequality & injustice
Covid-19 has thrown inequality and injustice into stark relief – on a global scale.
Issues like Black Lives Matter and women’s rights have hit the headlines constantly and inequality of wealth and opportunity have affected health outcomes both between nations and between groups within nations.
We’re also interrogating the narrative of what a good leader looks and feels like, thanks to the very different leadership styles and approaches of diverse and disparate nations and the many female global leaders who (arguably) have outperformed their male peers.
A more equal and just world would mitigate the impact of pandemics like Covid-19, as well as having its own inherent value. But how do we ‘build back better’ for a fairer world?
For Stephen Spriggs from Salt Network, a vital part of this mission is creating long-lasting institutions like the NHS which, forged in the fires of crisis, are created explicitly to benefit humanity. Speaking to Christian Aid, Stephen asks:
‘Will we discover new ways of doing business that truly provide a dividend for the planet and all stakeholders, rather than just shareholders?’
It has become clearer than ever that challenging and dismantling institutional inequality wherever it’s found is the shared responsibility of the entire human community. Furthermore, the impact of Covid-19 in developed, but deeply unequal, nations like the UK and US are a stark reminder that poverty and inequality in any nation create the ideal conditions for pandemics to spiral out of control.
Perhaps a return to ‘business as usual’ isn’t nearly as desirable an outcome as it first appears?
5. Protecting mental health
Another vital conversation which has come to the fore thanks to Covid-19 is mental health and its inextricable relationship with physical health and all other aspects of life.
As the world moves into the new normal, millions of us affected directly and indirectly by the pandemic might suffer a kind of collective PTSD which takes years to manage effectively.
In this BBC Worklife article, Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland confirms that a quarter of all calls to the Samaritans during the pandemic have concerned Covid-19 and its effects on mental health, family and finances.
Ruth estimates that half a million more people in the UK will experience mental ill health due to the economic impact of the crisis, therefore it’s vital that society prioritises promoting mental health, rather than treating mental illness, thus focusing on prevention rather than cure.
International organisations, governments and employers all have important roles and legal responsibilities when it comes to mental health.
But there are also practical steps we can take now to make sure that we’re mentally and physically healthy and resilient – mental health charity Mind has lots of resources on this vital form of self-care.
It’s evident that Covid-19 has thrown up many massive challenges and uncomfortable truths for everyone to address.
But if the opportunities which these challenges provide are firmly grasped, perhaps the result can be a world which, at long last, puts all of us first.
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