1. Equality – are we really all in it together?
There are innumerable examples of how socio economic factors have directly affected individuals’ experiences during Covid. From the comparative mortality rates of victims to the extent to which different groups were able to draw upon savings in order to cushion the economic blow, it is clear that Covid has not been a great leveller. Similar effects have been seen across different job functions, where traditionally ‘white collar’ roles have been easier to re-deploy to home-working, whereas factory jobs, for example, demand that employees work side by side on site, increasing the risk of infection. Although legislation exists in most developed countries to protect equality of opportunity, it seems clear that more steps will need to be taken to prevent the vulnerable from becoming even more so in the event of future pandemics. It is beholden both on business and society to seek solutions to this.
2. Information and institutions – truth and trust
It has been a bruising time for governments. With a few notable exceptions, such as New Zealand, the world’s politicians have struggled to present any good news stories in recent months, instead reporting on spiralling deaths, strained healthcare services, and suffocating economies. In an era when political sabre-rattling has been common, and faith in the judgement of world leaders has seemed to decline, many are questioning where to turn and who to trust when institutions are found lacking. Exacerbating this situation has been the flood of information and speculation by the news media, blamed by the World Health Organisation as one of the chief causes of Burnout Syndrome.
3. A world in suspension
In 2020 Covid, combined with regional events such as the US Presidential election and Brexit, created a sense of uncertainty which has perhaps not been seen during peace time in the last century. Whilst populations have become accustomed to gradual political shifts to left and right, and to the undulations of the global economy, the pandemic has directly challenged some of the freedoms and norms that many have taken for granted all of their lives. Some believe that there will be no lasting impact, and that cities and social lives will return to normal at some point next year. Others consider that we have reached an inflection point, beyond which lies a new and more solitary way of life, better suited to containing future pandemics. Whichever is true, the lack of clarity is creating a degree of stress that society is struggling to deal with.
4. Reinventing money and value
The world may at last be slowly waking up to the existential issues it faces if it continues to act as though this delicate planet is indestructible. It is telling that perhaps the most globally recognised face of the battle against climate change is not a scientist nor a politician, but a shy Swedish teenager – the voice of a generation which will be asked to pick up the pieces. As governments gradually wake up to the urgency of climate change, markets are also pivoting and beginning to reflect consumers’ wishes to act more responsibly. This is leading to greater transparency in everything from investment funds to manufacturing. Whilst the planet’s environmental problems are far from solved, we may be living through a time where consumption is questioned, and personal values are re-framed.
5. The future is urgent
However society ultimately responds to, and accommodates, the changes imposed by Covid and the other social issues outlined, the time to do it is now. In some instances, for example the disparities in affluence and opportunity, the intensity of the problem is accelerating. This is evidenced by increasing pay gaps between CEOs and their employees, and the runaway success of the world’s top tier of billionaires. Similarly, the effects of increasingly common fire and flood, and rising sea levels, should be acting as a wake-up call. There has never been a more important time to decide on the kind of world we want to live in.