We ask business leaders from Melbourne to Madrid how the good business community is reacting to the economic challenges of Covid-19. Did they feel supported by their national governments, and if so – how?
Henrique Bussacos, Partnership lead for Impact Hubs in Latin America | Co-founder of Impact Hubs São Paulo, Florianopolis and Manaus | Chair of ANDE (Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs) in Brazil | São Paulo
The government was not able to respond, it has created even more crisis as if the health one was not enough although some state and municipal governments were able to respond better to the crisis supporting local businesses. In general the only thing the government was able to articulate with some success was making some new debt capital available.
In terms of public-private responsibilities, a lot has moved due to the pandemic. Many have started to value more the public health infrastructure – even though it has many problems, it’s what most of the population can count on at times like this. Some interesting public-private collaborations have emerged, in which the private sector provides innovations and agile processes to enable the public infrastructure to respond rapidly to this crisis. I believe it became clear that collaboration is key to solve challenges as the pandemic and that not the private sector neither public will solve this alone.
Clifford Moss, Founder, Good Business Matters and Goodsmiths | Melbourne
We’ve had five new ‘leaders’ since 2010 and not one of them was actually voted in by us, the folk who live here and pay their salaries. Bickering across party lines has been almost as monotonous as the internal cat-fighting, which itself has proved only slightly less ineffectual.
And the result of all this leadership nonsense? Truly groundbreaking changes taking shape across the country have amounted to the sum total of precisely none. Yet, in a matter of weeks, the world got turned upside down by this virus, and so, it seems, were our politicians. It’s as if we switched them off and switched them on again and, hey presto, they’re working.
This recent period has offered a profound challenge for every government around the world and I think the Australians have dealt with that challenge remarkably well, even if some may say they were coming at it from something of a low bench mark. The payments and support they muscled into place for the business community may not have been flawless, but it was done at speed and it’s been very effective. The decisions they’ve taken, and the way in which they’ve taken them, have been the difference between businesses being able to hold instead of fold and for large swathes of the population to feel they’ve been treated fairly, as opposed to driven to despair.
I think the good business community holds within it a lot more optimism than confidence.
As Barack Obama recently shared with some of America’s newest graduates “what these past few weeks have shown us is that the challenges we face go well beyond a virus, and that the old normal wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t working”. The long-tail of this miniscule viral dot is bringing our global shortcomings sharply into focus, from the lack of basic healthcare, economic and gender inequalities to sexism and institutionalised racism, to name just a few.
Our national leaders must work with the fast-growing community of good, purpose-led businesses, who exist for more than just the bottom-line. They’re the ones who, in many cases, have the smarts, the hearts and experience to effect the change that so desperately needs to happen. If not, their time at the helm will have been almost as ineffectual as that of their immediate predecessors.
Antonio Gonzalez, CEO, Impact Hub Madrid | Madrid
The health crisis disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable business groups –freelancers, entrepreneurs and small companies –due to the scarcity of resources. They have been able to request support measures. For self-employed people, who have reduced their income by 75%, the moratorium for the payment of tax obligations and the electric social bonuses, which are a special discount to help them pay for electricity bills, are some of the most outstanding benefits.
Measures have also been activated to facilitate access to financing, as well as bonuses in employment contracts, mortgage leases or facilities so that workers can access a work base in the event of a coronavirus infection.
However, these initiatives have not been able to help many small businesses stay afloat, and in Spain 65% of employees belong to this kind of company.
On the other hand, we have also witnessed the closure of multinational companies such as Nissan or Intalco Aluminum Smelter.
We believe that the public reaction towards the business community has itself encouraged good business – a trust in companies as agents capable of creating value for multiple interest groups (workers, communities, suppliers and the planet) instead of creating only economic value for shareholders.
Social entrepreneurs, like the global Impact Hub members, and sustainable companies, like the ones in the B Corp community (to which we belong), help to improve society with our economic activity. People are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility as consumers and how their purchasing decisions can contribute to creating a more inclusive economy.
Susan Basterfield, Member and Foundation Director, Enspiral | Partner at Greaterthan | Wellington, NZ
My personal experience, and other first hand reflections, is that the government has been very supportive. All of the people I know that work in service-based sectors received income support very quickly, and no one I know had significant financial issues.
As a business owner, I also felt supported to ask for help – which I did with an interest free payment tax plan to help with cash flow.
The more interesting time will be now that things have opened back up. With specific regard to funding for Enspiral, there has been a small decline in venture funding for the foundation, and a small decline in our Patreon monthly commitments. It will be interesting to see if/ when they return to pre-Covid levels, but this isn’t alarming enough to raise a flag.
There’s a similar lived experience here with the Christchurch 2011 earthquakes. I was living there and working for a non-profit. After the disaster there was a very significant decline in direct philanthropy and a very significant increase in applications for charitable funding. I don’t have a sense of this now on a national level and there will be lag before we see how it plays out.
Mariemme Jamme | Founder IAMTHECODE | The Good Business Festival ambassador | London
More should have been done for the business community, as they are the backbone of the UK economy. I hope we can slowly start the opening and focus more on sustainable development goals. 2021 will be the year to accelerate humanity.
Chris Miller | Global Activism Strategy Manager, Ben and Jerrys | Burlington, Vermont
There has been tension between the need to follow the advice of public health experts, and those who are saying, “We need to open the economy up”.
It is true in Western Europe that you have a social safety net that we don’t here. So, the pressure around the economy in the U.S. is enhanced by the fact that people’s health insurance is wrapped up in their employment. So far, Americans have received a one-time payment. It was $1,200 per adult. So, at a time of an economic cataclysm in the U.S. – and it’s the same everywhere – the rate at which unemployment skyrocketed was huge. But as you look around the world, different countries have had different approaches.
It’s hard to say that the approach we’ve taken here in the U.S. is the model, because we’ve done two things. We’ve shut down the economy. It’s been great economic hardship. We haven’t provided the support to people – which then means there’s this push to reopen the thing – and we bungled the public health crisis. If you step back and you say, “what are the interests that corporations and businesses have?” they have an interest in stability and predictability. And we’ve got chaos.
As told to Andrew Beattie. This is the second feature in our Spotlight series, an on-going conversation about the impact of Covid-19 on business. If you’d like to contribute, get in touch at email@example.com. The portraits to accompany this piece are by Alex Johnson – @alexjohnson_xx