Varied conversations between policy makers and stakeholders was what the pandemic period witnessed, which was unprecedented. There was quick response, as the shift to the ‘digital’ was quickly embraced by all. Plus, the urgency of the humanitarian situation loomed large and organizations adopted a proactive approach to reach out to the government too. India had indeed, stepped into an “innovation mindset” to arrive at quick solutions to problems, with limited resources.
Innovation First Online Salon Series 3, which looked at Innovation during and Post-COVID 19 focussed on “The Policy Perspective”. The participants were – Amrit Ahuja, Communications Consultant, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation & Social Finance India; Anasuya Ray, Director – Corporate Affairs, Mars; Bhavna Singh, Senior Director – Communications & Patient Advocacy at Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI); Jyotsna Ghoshal, Senior Director for Corporate Affairs at MSD India; Latika Taneja, Director, Public Policy and Government Relations, South Asia, MasterCard and Arun Gopalakrishnan, Head, Corporate Communications & Media Relations, South Asia, Bayer India. The discussion was moderated by Dilip Yadav, Founding Partner, First Partners.
How has the corona virus pandemic sparked a wave of innovation across the business world? Was it seeking opportunity in adversity, questioned Santanu Gogoi, Founding Partner, First Partners. While this lock-down froze the economy, the Government of India however, has been really active. How has policy communication changed in this environment, what are the changes we are witnessing in the interaction between the stakeholders and the government which has indeed reached a ‘new normal’ wondered Dilip Yadav, Founding Partner, First Partners, who was the moderator.
Recasting of the business environment
How did the pandemic change the order of things? How was the business recast in different sectors?
In the pharmaceutical sector, the entire pandemic brought about a number of challenges, as it happened at MSD India. “The one word that sums up MSD is – innovation,” shared Jyotsna. When the entire pandemic started, they faced challenges on the supply chain side, and they worked closely with government, which was an unprecedented step. On a positive note, “the government was very aggressive and forward-thinking which was a hallmark” and all challenges became an opportunity.
In the education sector, it seemed the pandemic did not hold back the flow of work schedules. In March, when the lockdown was announced, it was exam time, pointed out Amrit but they put together a program called “Ghar pe school” without wasting any time, so that the children did not lose out. The government came forward and the curriculum was put on the Diksha portal. “The swiftness with which government moved to ‘Ghar pe School’ was hugely innovative”, said Amrit. The New Education Policy announced recently, also proposes sweeping changes across education in the country, which we can look forward to.
The pharmaceutical sector also saw everything going on fast-forward. The COVID crisis did wake up a lot of people and institutions. “Innovation is in the DNA of all our member companies at OPPI,” exclaimed Bhavna. As they worked with the members and the government, there was a sense of purpose (which was very relevant and critical), and most importantly, everyone was looking at it from the patients’ perspective. “Innovation is the driver and we are seeing a sense of collaboration,” she added. Policy communication involves many stakeholders and keeping them engaged was very critical.
For the FMCG sector, there were contradictions on what was essential and non-essential, which actually started as a debate when the pandemic started. A great deal of stakeholder engagement followed, and ultimately it got passed and everything started moving for Mars. “We faced numerous supply disruptions and, constant online meetings were happening, so we could get a smooth path for food supply. Innovation was in the game, through and through,” explained Anasuya.
Bayer India, being in the business of agriculture and healthcare, there were changes introduced more than anticipated. “The important takeaway was partnering. We cannot live in silos. What we achieved so far, would not have been possible without the help of partnerships,” noted Arun. He thought that two key points are going to be essential – that partnerships will not come to an end when the normal, as we knew, comes back, and the increased value of innovation that has surfaced.
In the financial services, where technology is employed, how did it actually take a turn for the better? The big challenge was the behavior issues regarding cash and technical adoption. Can ‘Cash’ be a source of infection? How do we track cash? Covid19 has brought these questions on the forefront for MasterCard as a company, and we partnered with the government for new innovative ideas, noted Latika. They worked with various eCommerce websites so that people are tuned to digital payment, so it was a great opportunity to learn. “When we look at healthcare behaviour, it has undergone a very positive amount of transformation. We now have tele-consultations and tele-medicine availability, in a big way, shared Bhavna. “Global collaboration could happen because of digital transformation. Kudos to Government of India for leading this change”, exclaimed Jyotsna. In agreement was Bhavna, as she highlighted the fact that policy communication involves various stakeholders, and the Pharmaceutical sector was highly supported by the government.
‘Efficiency’: the name of the game
The bigger question here was – how much would be the residual effect? How many will adopt the new way?
It was a big behavior change for the government and corporates, as everybody collaborated with their strengths, was what Amrit perceived, and added “as for digital communication, we leapfrogged into that. From a communicator’s point of view, we started thinking about campaigns which could fit to our phone screens!” They had a campaign running – ‘Road to recovery’ which brought together higher funding, skilling and extended work with government. So, along with the ‘Ghar pe school’ campaign, she observed that the simplicity of the messaging was fantastic. Incidentally, she had to go all out to fight for the phrase “Ghar pe school” against “home-schooling” which was commonly being used!
Local vs global debate
With the debate raging on ‘local vs global’, there were many highlights from the government’s ‘action’ point of view. The government understood the challenges in the agriculture sector, as India has 58% dependent on it, and Bayer experienced a positive move ahead. “Nobody was prepared for the crisis. We saw how contact less payments became important. There has been a lot of positivity and openness in terms of policy making”, remarked Latika.
On the other hand, Jyotsna did not perceive it as just local vs global “We are one world. We can fight a pandemic only when we are together”, she affirmed. “It’s an opportunity to explore more. It opens the door for explorations and innovations,” according to Anasuya.
We have experienced how tough life has been due to COVID-19, but what positives can we take away from the pandemic? What are some learnings imbibed?
“Words are the most important drug that everyone uses; as a policy communicator, we need to listen more and talk less. Digital is offering a lot of opportunities for communicators”, opined Bhavna, and added – “As communicators we need to be consistent”. What’s clearly visible is the varied dialogues with the government, who is displaying openness and reaching out to organizations, pointed out Anasuya. Keeping to the same tune, Latika underlined the fact the as communicators, we have to be agile; and trust and authenticity comes into play too, while Jyotsna commented that “Policy communication has to be authentic and as communicators, we have to ensure the authenticity”.
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