Here’s how to collaborate on a COVID-19 economic reset

by Sally Uren and Leslie Johnston
Wednesday, 14 October 2020 15:32 GMT

People wearing protective face masks walk past office buildings in Lujiazui financial district in Pudong, in Shanghai, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, China June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Companies, governments, investors and civil society all have a role to play as we ‘reset’ our systems and strive for a just and regenerative economy

Dr Sally Uren OBE is the CEO of Forum for the Future, and Leslie Johnston is the CEO of Laudes Foundation

The world is at a crossroads right now and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Will we lock in unsustainable practices or unlock a just and resilient future?

The bad news is that no one yet knows the answer to that question. The good news is that the answer is down to all of us and the assumptions, values and mindsets that we choose to adopt as we move forward.

In our new Future of Sustainability report, we have identified four possible future pathways emerging based on distinct mindsets we are seeing in response to the COVID-19 crisis. These mindsets underpin what we tell ourselves and others about what we believe and value, and the future we want to see. And they will determine whether the 2020s see us descend into a series of ever-more destabilizing shocks, or whether we achieve a reset, with a transition to new economic and social systems that support just societies living in harmony with nature.

These include the ‘Compete and Retreat’ mindset, which says we must retreat to protect our own kind, and is evident in the hoarding of medical supplies, and the closing of international borders. The ‘Discipline’ mindset is about centralising power to control and protect communities, with data and technology used to ‘solve’ global and national problems. The ‘Unsettled’ mindset reflects what we are seeing today - ongoing turmoil and disruption which means societies are unable to find a ‘new normal’, and enter a volatile and strange world beyond human memory.

Each of these mindsets is in play around us today. But there is also a ‘Transform’ mindset emerging. At its heart, Transform understands the deep interconnections between humanity and the natural world and recognises this moment of disruption as an opportunity to ‘reset’ our systems toward one that is just and regenerative, and which leaves us better able to withstand future shocks.

What does this mean in practice? How can we create an inclusive economy that provides equal opportunities for all and distributes wealth fairly across society while also renewing and revitalising our living systems?

It starts with recognising that we do have the power to shape our future. And that each one of us has a role to play in doing that.

Companies need to look deep within to remind themselves what human need they exist to fulfil. They need to move beyond simply achieving profit for shareholders, towards creating positive impact for all stakeholders - from the farmers who grow their ingredients to the people who buy their products. They must use their reach and influence to call for bolder action on the part of governments and other businesses.

Governments, in aiding post-COVID-19 recovery, need to be bold in speeding up progress towards decarbonisation by rewarding and subsidising sustainable businesses and sectors, and ensuring those hardest-hit by the pandemic are supported and prepared for a low-carbon world. They need to include social and environmental well-being in measures of economic success, and to ensure that all voices in society are heard.

Investors and philanthropists need to think long-term and use their investment power to make new, more holistic business and economic models the norm by demanding more accountability for social and environmental impact, leveraging their funding to reward and enable better corporate action and supporting pioneers and innovators to deliver faster, greater change.

And underpinning it all, civil society leaders need to help communities to shift mindsets: from one of competition for scarce resources, to one of collaboration to renew and rebuild the systems we all depend on. Communities have shown they can lead the way in radical change, by testing new models of working and organising, and embracing planetary health as essential for human health.

The COVID-19 crisis has opened a window to new ideas for how we might shape our future. And it has also proven our ability to adapt and change. But the window may not remain open for long. How can we harness this moment of radical disruption to transform the world around us for the better? No one has the full answer to this question, but we at Laudes Foundation and Forum for the Future are committed to finding out.