Today, Prime Minister Narendera Modi, has announced that the country will extend its lockdown to fight the pandemic. As we continue to fight to live and stay away from this virus via social distancing, businesses all around the world are facing the huge challenge of sustainability. Almost all the discussions about the business and economy now revolve around how long and difficult a task it will be, to bring business back on track and to bring our lives back to ‘normal.’ I submit that we will have to have a new ‘normal.’ Things will certainly not go back to being normal, at least not for a very long time. Covid 19 has been a great equaliser, attacking world leaders , royal families . multi millionaires, doctors, the rich and the poor equally hard. Now, status in society, it seems, no protection against this disease.
Large as well as small industries and offices remain under lockdown all across the world. Even when the lockdown starts being lifted in a staggered manner, lack of workers working at factories and offices, lack of movement of freight trains, trucks and flights, and the lack of supplies due to the above will take their toll on businesses operating at all scales. Additionally, the fiscal impact on thousands of factories has been so severe, that even when they are able to open, it remains to be seen what the productivity will be like. Therefore, scale of business operations too, is no protection in the case of a business, societal and humanitarian disaster like this one.
One of the most unexpected outcomes is the realisation among all sections of society and business that we are all interdependent on each other. We depend on each other for mutual safety and also mutual growth. Any society or business that ignores this going forward is certain to face troubles and might even invite disaster for itself. As part of this realisation, we see several examples of business coming together to take care of workers, protect their jobs and pay them salaries so that they are able to survive this difficult situation. A famous swiss company operating in India has made it clear that it will support its workers with 100 % salary and incentives despite sales shortfalls. Other large Indian business groups have announced significant contributions to the Prime Minister’s Fund for helping out the poor and the sick who need basic necessities like food, shelter and medical supplies. They are also contributing equipment for sanitation as well as money for medicines and testing kits. A renowned cab service provider is raising money to pay drivers and help them through this period. Many media companies who have parted ways with their employees suddenly, would do well to follow the examples mentioned above.
The bulk of the efforts being done to fight the pandemic situation are coming from the government agencies. Besides this, many noteworthy contributions are coming in from business, NGOs and even individuals. Many organisations across the country have come together to help provide food and shelter for the migrant workers and help the needy. The contributions are not coming in the form of financial aid only. Recently when the Maharashtra government announced that it needed to create a taskforce of medical and paramedical personnel, over 15000 retired applicants submitted their names and their willingness to help the government fight the virus. Respect for doctors and other professionals is another need of the hour and the prime minister has rightly emphasised this too in his speech today.
During this period, an old colleague of mine experienced a heart issue and I rushed him to the hospital seeing his condition. Doctors told me that he had reached medical help in the nick of time. This for me underscores the importance of care and safety for the elderly population. They are much more at risk, and therefore need greater care. It is important that people of old age who are staying alone, patients with other illnesses, and younger children get special care and attention as they are helpless. Volunteers, welfare organisations and even the police are helping deliver essential supplies and medicines to such individuals and families. Besides the humanitarian efforts in this direction, elderly care will be a new area for business to look at, so that required services to the elderly can be continued without disruption. The seven key asks from the Prime Minister outlined in his address to the nation today have also stressed upon the points of care for sick and elderly, and the need to help workers and migrant populations.
Many of us have already realised by now, that along with digital technology, small business, agriculture and medical facilities are key to protecting our society and our way of life. Protecting and promoting them is vital. In the new world order post COVID 19, society will always accord more importance to these sectors, and governments too will create plans based on this realisation.
Communicators must reflect the same compassion as business and society. There has to be a shift in realisation, that the messaging and narratives that are now being created reflect the humane aspects of brands and companies. CSR and corporate communications by companies and brands must take up issues that have a strong social impact in order to remain aligned with the need of the hour. Brands and companies innovative enough to see this opportunity to provide a helping hand and help financially or medically vulnerable groups, are already crafting their efforts into narratives which are aligned to the requirements of customers, the society and the media and using this as an opportunity to do good and tell their brand story at the same time.
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