Lessons for a post pandemic world

by Vaibhav Kapoor

Will we go back to business as usual or will we wise up from what we’ve learnt from these troubling times?

Highlights:

  • A key lesson that could be taken from this outbreak is that we need an increased focus on preventive healthcare, research and medical technologies.
  • The world has also witnessed the power of collaboration to fight this pandemic.
  • The most significant lesson that we can learn is to monitor the impact of our economic activity on our environment.

We are all learning new things from this scary, uncertain and strange time in our lives. Question is, will we take away anything from these learnings or resume business as usual? This column does not intend to show data on emerging trends but is an attempt to note down the lessons that the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing shockwaves have taught us. It will be good to revisit this column in a year or so to see if we, as a global community, did indeed take these lessons on board.

One of the first realities that have hit the hardest is the fragility of health systems around the world. Vulnerabilities pointing at the lack of healthcare infrastructure, medical staff, vaccine research, among others, have been alarming. So, when this outbreak subsides, would governments around the world change their current view on healthcare policies? Public health has not been at the forefront of policymaking for a significant proportion of countries. One of the primary lessons that could be learnt from this episode is that we need an increased focus on preventive healthcare, research and medical technologies.

Local and global supply chains might go through an overhaul. A news article suggests that in Maharashtra, India, the lockdown has acted as a catalyst for a long-awaited agricultural reform that ensures direct contact between farmers and urban households. The world noticed its overdependence on supplies from China as it became the epicentre of the outbreak initially. Should we choose to learn a lesson from this, companies across the world might look at diversifying their supply chains to other manufacturing hubs. Sadly, this could also mean more inward-looking policies for various countries. Alternatively, this might also see an emergence of technologies which enable flexible and sustainable supply chains.

Towards wellbeing

As a significant portion of the world is under lockdown, people are paying more attention to their mental health and personal wellbeing. As pointed out by an ex-colleague, the world is now waking up to the merits of the Indian/South Asian way of living. Routine terms from the Indian subcontinent, like yoga, ayurveda, namaste are now global buzzwords. A renewed focus on personal hygiene would indicate that a lesson was learnt. The emergence of business models that cater to an increased focus on the above activities would be interesting to watch.

Increase in collaboration

In the race to fight the pandemic, the world has also witnessed the power of collaboration. An article in the New York Times highlighted that ‘While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history.’ In addition to the global scientific community, collaboration can also be seen in unexpected quarters. Founders, VCs and investors in India have come together to form the Action COVID-19 Team and a $13 million (Rs 100 crore) fund that invests in start-ups tackling challenges related to COVID-19. Press reports suggest that British American Tobacco is working on a plant-based vaccine. Automobile companies like Tesla and General Motors in the US, Maruti Suzuki in India, F1 teams like Red Bull are working on delivering ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. Sustained willingness to explore global collaborations like we are doing now will be a great ‘side-effect’ of this period.

Pollution levels drop

The last and probably the most significant lesson that we can learn from this is the impact of our economic activity on our environment. It is now obvious how devastating that is. In cities like Delhi and Mumbai, one can see a stark difference in air quality. Some press reports suggest that the water in the canals of Venice is now ‘blue and clear’ given the lack of motorboats, tourist boats. A couple of generations are probably witnessing this natural beauty for the first time in their lives! Anand Mahindra, in a recent letter to his employees, urged them to use the downtime to ‘Reboot, Reinvent and Reignite’ and introspect on how things can be done better in a ‘post-corona world’. While it is tempting to just focus on rebuilding the global economy as fast as possible, it will be a shame to not learn from these few months. As highlighted previously, the power of global collaboration can be harnessed to induce the same vigour we have now to fight climate change, push forward the Paris Accord, implement the Sustainable Development Goals and other such important issues.

If we, as a global collective, take these learnings on board and change the way we work and live, 2020 might well be the beginning of a new age in human history.

Vaibhav Kapoor is a finance and strategy professional with c.12 years of experience divided between financial services and technology/tech-focused roles.

About the Author: Vaibhav Kapoor