The extent of the damage that the coronavirus pandemic is causing the world is mind-boggling. However, despite this massive damage, it offers us an unparalleled opportunity.
Right now, the whole world has to address a big question. It is not about how to get the global economy running again. Luckily, we know the answer. We have gathered good experience of managing the recovery process. The big question that we have to answer is: Do we take the world back to where it was before the coronavirus outbreak? Or, do we redesign the world? The decision is entirely ours.
Needless to say, the pre-COVID world was not good to us. Before the coronavirus, the whole world was screaming about all the terrible things that were about to happen. We were literally counting the days until the whole planet would be unfit for human existence due to a climate catastrophe. We were under serious threat of massive unemployment created by artificial intelligence. Wealth concentration was reaching a tipping point. We were reminding each other that this is the decade of last chances, after which all our efforts will only bring marginal results, inadequate to save our planet.
Should we go back to that world? The choice is ours.
The coronavirus suddenly changed the context and calculus of the world. It has opened up audacious possibilities which never existed before. Suddenly, we are at the tabula rasa. We can go in any direction we want. What an unbelievable freedom of choice!
Before we restart the global economy, we must agree on what kind of economy we want. First and foremost, we have to agree that the economy is a means. It facilitates us to reach the goals we have set ourselves. It should not behave like a death trap designed by some divine power to punish us. We should not forget that it is a tool made by us. We must keep on designing it until we arrive at the highest collective happiness.
If at any point we feel that it is not taking us where we want to go, we immediately know that there is something wrong with the hardware or software that we are using. We have to fix it. We cannot find excuses and say, “Sorry, we cannot achieve our goals because our software or hardware will not let us do that.” That would be an unacceptably lame excuse. If we want to create a world of net-zero carbon emissions, we build the right hardware and software for it. If we want a world with no unemployment, we do the same. If we want a world where there will be no concentration of wealth, we do the same. It is all about building the right hardware and software. Power lies in our hands. When human beings set their mind to get something done, they just do it. Nothing is impossible for humans.
The most exciting news is that the coronavirus crisis offers us almost unlimited opportunities to make a fresh start. We can start designing our hardware and software with an almost clean slate.
Post-Corona Redesigning Must be Based on Social and Environmental Consciousness
One simple unanimous global decision will help us tremendously: a clear instruction that we don’t want to go back to where we were before. We don’t want to jump into the same frying pan in the name of recovery.
We should not even call it a ‘recovery’ programme. To make our purpose clear, we may call it a ‘reconstruction’ programme. Businesses will have to play the key role to make this happen. The starting point for a post-coronavirus reconstruction programme must be to put social and environmental consciousness firmly at the centre stage of all decision-making. Governments must guarantee that not a single dollar would be offered to anyone unless the government is sure that it will bring the maximum social and environmental benefit to society. All reconstruction-related actions must lead to the creation of a socially, economically, and environmentally conscious economy at a national and international level.
The Time is NOW
We must start with ‘reconstruction’ packages for social consciousness-driven plans and actions. We must design our plans right now, in the thick of the crisis. When the crisis is over, there will be a stampede of old ideas and old examples of bailouts that will require rushed decisions. Strong cases will be made to alter new initiatives by saying they are untested policies. For instance, when we suggested designing the Olympic Games as a social business, opponents made the same arguments. Now, the Paris Olympics of 2024 is being designed that way and increasing excitement along the way. We will have to get ready before the rush begins. The time is NOW.
Social Business at the Centre
In this comprehensive reconstruction plan, I suggest placing social businesses at the centre. A social business is a business created solely for solving people’s problems, without any personal profit taken by investors except to regain the original investment. After the original investment comes back, all subsequent profits are reinvested back into the business.
Governments will have many opportunities to encourage, prioritize, and open up space for social businesses to undertake major redesigning projects. At the same time, governments should not expect social businesses to show up everywhere they are needed. Where social business options are slow to come forward, governments must first launch traditional welfare programmes to support those who lost their jobs, as well as to revive essential services and support businesses in need.
To speed up the entry of social businesses, governments can create social business venture capital funds, centrally and locally, and encourage the private sector, foundations, financial institutions, and investment funds to fund them. Governments should encourage traditional companies to launch their own social businesses or to create joint ventures with social business partners.
Under the rebuilding programme, governments can finance social businesses to buy companies and tie-up with needy companies. Central banks can allow social businesses, like other businesses, to receive financing from financial institutions to invest in the stock market.
There will be many opportunities arising during the rebuilding process, and governments should involve as many social business actors as possible.
Who Are Social Business Investors?
Social business investors are everywhere. We don’t see them because our existing economic textbooks don’t recognize their existence. As a result, our eyes are not to trained to see them. Only recently have economics courses started to discuss topics like social businesses, social entrepreneurship, impact investment, and non-profit organizations as side issues inspired by the global admiration for Grameen Bank and microcredit.
As long as economics remains a science for profit maximization, we cannot rely entirely on it for a reconstruction programme, based on social and environmental consciousness. The purpose of the whole strategy would be to increase the proportion of social business in the entire economy.
Success of social business will be visible when it grows into a larger percentage of the economy, but also when there is a rapid growth in the number of entrepreneurs that are conducting both types of businesses. This will signal the beginning of a social and environmental consciousness-driven economy.
As soon as government policy starts recognizing these social business entrepreneurs and investors, they will come forward enthusiastically to play the important social role demanded by this historic opportunity. Social business entrepreneurs are not members of a small, do-gooder community. This is, rather, a significant global ecosystem that includes giant multinational companies, big social business funds, talented CEOs, corporate bodies, foundations, and trusts, with many years of experience in financing and running global and local social businesses.
When the concept and the experiences of social businesses start receiving government attention, many hardcore personal profit-makers will be happy to bring out their unexplored talent to become successful social business entrepreneurs and play very valuable social roles in times of social and economic crises.
We Are Born Entrepreneurs, Not Job-Seekers
The reconstruction programme must break a traditional division of work between citizens and the government.
It is taken for granted that the citizens’ role is to take care of their families and pay taxes. But it is actually the responsibility of the government – and to a lesser extent, the non-profit sector – to take care of all collective problems, such as addressing the climate, jobs, healthcare, education, water, and so on. The reconstruction programme should break this wall of separation and encourage all citizens to come forward and show their talent as problem-solvers by creating social businesses. Their strength is not in the size of their initiatives, but in their numbers. Each small initiative multiplied by a big number turns out to be a significant national action.
Social business entrepreneurs can immediately address the unemployment problems created by the collapse of the economy. Social business investors can create jobs for the unemployed. They can also transform the unemployed into entrepreneurs and demonstrate that human beings are born entrepreneurs, not job-seekers. Social businesses can engage in creating a robust health system in collaboration with the government.
A social business investor does not necessarily have to be an individual. They can be institutions, such as investment funds, foundations, trusts, and social business-management companies. Many of these institutions know very well how to work in friendly ways with the traditional owners of companies.
Out of the desperation and urgency of the post-COVID situation, a right call from a government can create a surge of activities that have never been seen before. This will be the test of leadership – to show how a world can be inspired to be reborn in completely unknown ways, coming from youths, middle-aged, and the old, men and women alike.
No Place to Hide
If we fail to undertake a social and environmental consciousness-driven post-coronavirus programme, we will be heading for a catastrophe that is many times worse than what COVID has brought in. We can hide in our homes from the coronavirus, but if we fail to address deteriorating global issues, we will not have any place to hide from an angry Mother Nature and the angry masses all around the world.