Changing our ways – for good? The Global Goals in times of COVID-19

Post author image. Maria - Jose Subiela

Maria Jose Subiela, Director for Global Goals-Business in the Community, on how businesses can use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to build a better world post-COVID-19.

COVID-19, with all its dreadful consequences, may in fact be the turning point of the 21st century.

My hope is that we do not waste all this global suffering and uncertainty to hurry back to a world that we were not satisfied with anyway, or even worse that COVID-19 accelerates our trajectory to growing inequalities and destruction of the planet.

The pandemic is a natural experiment on a mind-blowing scale. It shows us not only how interdependent and connected we all are, but also how much we can change our ways of living if we decide to and there is a political will to do so.

No leveller

We have seen that COVID-19 touches us all, but not in the same way. A few months in, COVID-19 is reversing progress1 being done on reducing extreme poverty by pushing millions into poverty and hunger. Just imagine the impact of the virus on the billion people living in slums2 or the challenges for the four billion people who do not have access to the internet to work, learn or socialise3.

But it’s not just the developing world; global unemployment is growing at a scary scale and lockdown is increasing violence against women worldwide4. Seeing the increase in unemployment and use of food banks in the UK is disheartening. The same can be said for the stories of US citizens without access to healthcare.

A blueprint for a better world

As COVID-19 forces us to rethink how we live, we already have a blueprint for a better world: the UN Sustainable Development Goals also known as the Global Goals, with targets to last us until 2030.

What we need to focus on in the unfolding of COVID-19 is new ways of living – a new normal. We must organise our world to meet these goals that define a world without poverty and hunger, and a healthy planet with peace and prosperity for all.

“What has astounded me throughout is the level of flexibility
large corporates have shown”

Businesses around the world have been responding to the crisis in different ways. Some are only able to fight for survival, while others have been able to lead relief efforts. There is no doubt that there is a correlation between being a purpose-led business before the crisis and making a real difference now, and it does not surprise me to see Business in the Community’s (BITC) members and participants of the Responsible Business Tracker stepping up to help. BNP Paribas is using the Global Goals to make sure its charitable donations and initiatives are meeting the many needs of communities in the UK. We have seen AXA supporting BITC’s National Business Response Network. Boots UK is supporting the testing of NHS staff and IHG is providing free accommodation to health workers and supporting food banks.

What has astounded me throughout is the level of flexibility large corporates have shown, switching production, ways of working and implementing new initiatives in days. Proving that change is possible.

Business will be crucial in building back better

Of course, not all businesses can act in a time of emergency, but I passionately believe that all businesses can look to the Global Goals to build their visions in this new world we find ourselves in.

Here are some steps that every business leader can take:

  • Involve your business in the very heart of the rebuilding process.
  • Learn from and engage with your customers, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
  • Make sure the decisions you take now on the size, shape and operating model of your business are considered through the lens of your purpose and your social and environmental criteria as well as the economic pressures you are under.
  • Take part in policy debates – not just at a national level but as global citizens.
  • Ensure that capital is allocated to investments that will rebuild a more sustainable world.
  • Lead by establishing useful partnerships within industry, across sectors and with government to make responsible business central to the effort to #buildbackbetter and meet the #GlobalGoals.

Interestingly a recent trust report by Edelman5 flags the high expectations people are placing on brands during the COVID-19 crisis. Stakeholders will ask and expect more from business. “What did you do during COVID-19?” is a question future employees will be asking in interviews.

At BITC we will be working with businesses and employees to understand their role in the recovery, imagining and co-creating a vision and collectively taking action to make this change.

To be part of the change you want to see please get in touch.
Contact: Maria Jose Subiela.

Join our webinar on engaging employees on the Global Goals in the time of COVID-19 at 12:00-11:00 on 12 May 2020.

References

  1. Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to The socio-economic Impacts of COVID-19 (2020); UN; available at un.org
  2. A Billion People Live in Slums. Can They Survive the Virus? (2020); Lee W Riley et al; New York Times; available at nytimes.com
  3. 4 reasons 4 billion people are still offline (2016); Arwen Armbrecht; World Economic Forum; available at weforum.org
  4. COVID-19 and violence against women What the health sector/system can do (2020); World Health Organization; available at who.int
  5. Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic (2020); Richard Edelman; available at edelman.com

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