A lot of people are writing or tweeting or talking about how Covid19 might change the world.
Common ideas include:
- a growth in work-from-home now that companies and workers see that technology and work ethic allows this in many sectors (similar for learn-from-home)
- a romantic rebalancing of man and nature, with governments taking scientists including climate scientists more seriously, and people temporarily seeing the benefits of low-carbon living
- an increase in hygiene practices and physical distancing in public and work spaces
On many aspects of how Covid19 might change the world, or just your town or work places, there is still too much uncertainty and very little pattern from which to already deduce or project trends. This can be seen in the range of different positive and negative trajectories predicted by topical experts in the politico article below.
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How else might we think about change, and what can we do to influence its direction?
When we know things are uncertain, it can be helpful to think about the different pathways or “histories of the future” that could occur, think about what would have to happen to make those true, and then prioritise our strategies to preventing the ‘worst’ outcomes and advancing the ‘best’.
Here are some examples.
Right now, I see more chances of us going in the wrong direction on these two elements of safety in South Africa. We don’t see much evidence yet, but the “signals” I identify are worth keeping an eye out for.
What types of interventions would pull the dial closer to the left?
- Intervening early to reduce fake news that has been shown previously to contribute to unrest (here, the SA government has done well to introduce new regulations. We are yet to see how they will be enforced, particularly with the potential for hyper location specific rumours)
- Creating places of safety, and ensuring ongoing access to essential goods and social safety nets (such as support for families who are usually dependent on school feeding schemes)
Government action will be as important as community action.
On the economy, we know it will be bad. We just don’t know what recovery will look like. Some are talking about the potential for stimulus packages to be directed at the green economy, using the opportunity to direct recovery towards a more sustainable future, for example.
A lot was learnt after the 2008 financial crisis and the ways in which different countries offered bail outs. The “Iceland model” (where they bailed out people not banks) was frequently contrasted with the big bank bailouts of the USA. South Africa has announced an SMME relief fund, and there are murmurs about UIF and other forms of relief aimed at people not companies, but we’re yet to hear the final call on this — largely because government hasn’t yet crunched the (highly assumption driven) numbers on the size of the cheque they would be signing.
Still, even if we see stimulus packages aimed at income protection and keeping money circulating in the formal and informal economies; we’re likely to see some structural shifts in specific sectors — there will be “winners and losers”. We also likely to see some sectors use this moment to propel them into the “4th Industrial Revolution” with a lot less noise and push back on retrenchments.
How to intervene? My hope is on the macro-stimulus being correctly balanced between protecting the large institutions that enable big, long term investments critical to development, with keeping money in flow and households stable. There are a few things we as ordinary upper-middle income people can do in our own right, but I also think it's time to seriously upscale our digital skills development — at a macro level, but also through projects like Quirky30.
The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order
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Like every other segment of the economy, the illicit economy — both small local gangs and global organised crime — will not emerge unchanged. On this one, I can see a dip and then recovery, rather than an outright permanent decline.
Finally, many people are talking about the potential for Covid19 to reshape education. Schools and Universities have sent learners home with work, and are using everything from whatsapp groups to sophisticated online education tools to keep the “classroom” active. There’s been a lot of discussion about the additional burden of care this can place on parents, and in particular how this might fall disproportionately on mothers. There’s been less said on how this could advance inequality in education — with many kids digitally excluded. There has been a global trend seeing the increase in technology-aided home schooling, and covid19 may well be a catalyst for this trend to become even more widespread. But let’s be sure we don’t leave any kids behind.
For many of the above — and so many more factors of life that might change — I can see the role of both top-down regulatory and budgetary responses as well as community driven actions to protect the most vulnerable, demonstrate new ways, and build community strength.
And that might be the biggest impact of all — will we emerge from this crisis with less or more trust in one another?