For the future of humanity, society must grasp this opportunity to evolve, rethink broken systems, remove corrosive business cultures, and right deep inequalities
While it is distressing and lamentable that the chaos spread by the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed the life out of countless businesses across the gamut of industry and restricted liberties we all previously took for granted, I am optimistic that society will be reborn for the better. The darkest days will prove the catalyst to drive meaningful change for a brighter future, I sincerely hope.
Despite – or perhaps because of – being locked down, minds have been set free. Concepts that were considered radical at the start of 2020, such as universal basic income, have gained tremendous momentum. It has been liberating to discuss how to solve some of humanity’s most significant challenges, together. But the time for talking is over: we now need to act on the promises to improve life for more people and repair the planet.
The events of 2020 have exposed that society is gravely poorly, traditional systems are broken, and inequality in all its forms is growing. If the COVID-19 fallout has accelerated various trends and catapulted businesses into the digital era, now we need to reboot the world.
“The coronavirus pandemic has taken an X-ray of society and shown us where we are sick,” an Australia-based chief executive told me recently. “It’s also like a time machine and has taken us forward to where problems that were latent are now acute, whether that’s the glaring reality that to be successful businesses need to be as good at generating clicks as they are at bricks, or deep-rooted social inequality.”
It was galling to learn, via an Oxfam report published at the end of January, that the world’s ten wealthiest people according to Forbes – all men, bar one (Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton) – have seen their fortunes grow by $540 billion since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic took hold.
However, I sense there is a genuine groundswell to rebalance inequality, in all its forms. It won’t happen overnight, but there will be an inexorable and seismic shift to the point where it is no longer morally acceptable to turn a blind eye to, for instance, racism and gender disparity. The same goes for environmental issues.
One of the few pleasing long-term consequences of the pandemic is the proof of concept of collectivism: if we act together, we can achieve remarkable things. Millennials and younger generations weaned on social media have always considered themselves part of a global community. If we can apply that drive and discipline to matters like the environment, sustainability and equality, we can deliver colossal change.
We must begin thinking beyond ourselves, where we live, to create the sort of future that we all need. Whatever happens, if we go back to how things used to be and forget the tragedy – as with happened after the September 11 attacks – would be a huge failure. As a society, we must grasp this unique opportunity to take stock, look at what’s worked and what hasn’t, and move forward to address some of the most expansive cracks.
How lockdown has affected my working experience
As I’ve typed from home as a freelance journalist since 2014, there were no sweeping changes required when lockdown was enforced, fortunately. However, one key difference was that my family members were suddenly also around, and in particular my young son required homeschooling (and entertaining). Over the last year, it has been fascinating to chronicle the significant changes society has undergone so far. I have found, though, that not relying on the black and white of email and speaking to clients and contacts – thus allowing the time and space for nuance and being, well, more human – has greatly benefited both parties and strengthened bonds.
This article was first published in Beyond the bylines report by Farrer Kane in March 2021