The corona crisis has provided further evidence of just how interconnected we really are. This period is prompting people to look beneath the surface of our society and question some of the pre-existing conditions that the corona crisis has brought into focus.
Rising inequality, climate issues, and even human well-being are among the by-products of a system narrowly focused on maximising shareholder value in the short term. Too often, the impact on other stakeholders is an afterthought. That needs to change.
The corona crisis hit us all suddenly, but for the 10,000 people impacted by the homelessness crisis in Ireland, their suffering has been playing out for years. Too many of us just kind of accepted it as an unfortunate situation and parked it for another day.
A pandemic is unique in the way it can become exponentially worse at breakneck speed. The other crises we face – housing, health, environmental etc. – simmer away beneath the surface of what appears to be a well-functioning economy and so get far less attention. However, they too require a crisis level response.
Discussions of this nature tend to gravitate towards a capitalism/socialism debate, as people rush to one side or the other. There are no sides. We all share the same planet and so we need all stakeholders to work together to build a new system. Supporting business – small and large – and fostering innovation does not have to be at odds with having a strong social system and respecting the environment. They are not mutually exclusive outcomes.
Governments must think bigger; it is time to throw off the shackles of ingrained and conventional thinking. Change has to happen much quicker. Individuals can play their part by aligning their votes with the right people rather than a historic party affiliation. We need to elect people of character rather than characters.
There are a lot of good people working in the civil service, but there is a bureaucracy that has to be addressed to attract more free thinkers and to empower them to progress and lead. We must move away from focusing on years of service, but instead focus on bringing people in from different backgrounds and experiences. An organisational model that focuses too much on linear progression breeds a linear mindset.
Bureaucracy is not limited to the public sector. Inner circles pervade the private sector too and for a small country like Ireland they have been cemented over time and are difficult to break. This form of concentrated power – through its influence over government and society – tends to feed the status quo and constrain the speed of change. We need to restore the independence of government.
Even leaving aside climate change and the destruction of the environment, a potentially life ending inheritance for future generations, a lot can also be done now to create a more liveable society for the current generation.
The corona crisis has perhaps reminded people of what is most valuable in life – good health, a safe living situation, healthy food and people. Even little things like going for a walk and the joy brought by nature, the sound of the birds or the power of the ocean.
We are not separate from the environment; we are part of it. By protecting the health of our planet, we are protecting our own health. We need all stakeholders across the world to become more socially conscious and move away from a mindset of dominating our environment and a model focused on extracting from our planet, its resources and its inhabitants.
Employers can also play a huge role in improving well-being and sustainability. CEOs should employ more creative ways to put social responsibility at the core of their business; challenge and empower employees to find mutually beneficial solutions. Long commutes at peak traffic hours are a mindless waste of energy. The last six weeks or so have forced us all to raise our digital IQ and has shown we can change.
We cannot just look to others for solutions. Government and business can help lead change, but taking individual responsibility is the only thing that can catalyse and sustain change. Our way of living and our individual decisions – how we vote, how we work, how we eat, how we spend, how we invest etc. – all shape our society. We can all make a difference.
Founder, ESG Ireland