Our CEO, Richard Crespin, moderated an interactive Virtual Roundtable for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on how and when to restart global and local economies in the wake of the COVID19. He was joined by:

From our discussion we identified several key takeaways and immediate actions that cities, civil society, companies, and other organizations and governments can take. In this blog we recap the discussion and share these very actionable steps. To frame the conversation, CECP’s Brewster highlighted three phases of dealing with COVID19:

1. Response Phase

Most organizations — and in fact most individuals — still find themselves in the throes of this stage: just dealing with the crisis as it unfolds.

2. Recovery Phase

Some of us have carefully moved to this stage, trying to rebuild broken supply chains and get products and services back online. 

3. Reinvention Phase

A small number of us have started to think about this stage and how our organizations might contribute to our businesses, our communities, and society once the crisis ends and we start sorting out the “new normal.”

This phrase, “the new normal,” has been much overused in the past few years but the panel agreed that it actually applies to this situation. Life will be fundamentally different and this crisis presents both hazard and opportunity.

Takeaway #1: Diagnose

Determine where you are in the three stages of response, recovery, and reinvention. Develop an action plan for moving from one to the next.

Response Phase

NLC’s Steinfeld pointed out that normally the League plays the role of identifying and sharing best practices. But there are no best practices for this situation. Instead, NLC has looked at how it can create and share rough-and-ready insights for its members. One example: working with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the League set up a Local Action Tracker, a searchable database of policies, declarations, and other actions taken by member-cities. It also includes CitiesSpeak, an assemblage of “the latest COVID-19 analyses, case studies, and best practices for local elected officials.”

Takeaway #2: Share Rough-and-Ready Insights

Don’t wait to share “perfect” content with your employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. 

Example: Host a conference call with them and share what you’ve done and tried and invite them to do likewise. Publish the results on your website or in a newsletter/blog (similar to this one). Learning Personalized, an online publication for teachers and administrators did something similar by gathering insights from Hong Kong schools on how they’ve dealt with COVID19 and sharing it with American schools.

Editor’s note: if you do end up sharing these kinds of insights, please share them with us. We’re happy to amplify them. 

PMI operates in some of the hardest hit countries, with critical operations in China and Italy. PMI’s Nanni recounted the fast action the company took to form cross-functional teams to ensure employee safety and diagnose problems in the supply chain. Similarly, Comet Bio’s Troyer indicated they have taken steps to ensure continued safe operations for its employees and suppliers, rapidly and continuously communicating with them. Both companies also indicated they have taken steps to ensure the financial health of their suppliers.

This reflects a broader trend. Bank of America recently argued that how many companies have responded to COVID19 exemplifies the “Social” in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) decision-making, observing that, “companies allocating resources to the COVID19 crisis are likely to foster employee and community goodwill and to enhance brand and reputation… [In the US] the initial round of corporate giving amounts to more than $875 million in cash donations while forbearance and deferred collection of interest, rent, and telco/utility bills could dwarf this amount.”

Takeaway #3: Stay Safe, Stay Sane, Stay Stable

Start by ensuring the physical and mental health of your employees. Then make sure your organization remains a stable presence able to continue paying them and your suppliers. As an example, PMI’s CEO recently announced that no PMI employee would lose their job due to COVID19. 

One of the kindest things you can do right now is to accelerate payments to suppliers or by offering other favorable commercial terms. Government assistance is helpful (if and when it arrives) but as their supply chain partner, you can play an even more immediate role in ensuring their continued survival. 

Recovery Phase

NLC’s Steinfeld expressed hope for a rapid recovery:

Therefore, as we emerge from immediate response and turn toward recovery, CECP’s Brewster recommends:

1. Identify and stay in touch with your local emergency response points of contact wherever you have critical operations. Continue to comply with local ordinances and declarations while also working with them cooperatively to assess if/when to reopen.

2. Make coordinated philanthropic investments. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Often in crises charities find themselves overwhelmed with unneeded donations (e.g., winter coats after a hurricane in a tropical country). Instead, PMI’s Nanni highlighted how his company has worked with local governments and charities to identify their needs and then donate appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), space in factories, and make other targeted contributions. Steinfeld noted that she’s seeing aid coming from unusual corners with many local tattoo parlors offering up their PPE for use in local hospitals.

3. Get in touch with your defining purpose. Brewster recommends using this time to get in touch (or back in touch) with the defining social purpose of your organization and then start thinking about how to make progress on your key values as we enter the new normal.

Takeaway #4: Coordinate your giving with purpose

Make donations and contributions that align with your core purpose and only after communicating with local charities and governments.

Reinvention Phase

Brewster’s point about getting in touch with your defining purpose provided a clue for how to start the reinvention process. For Troyer and Comet Bio, this has meant focusing even more on how they use their products and services to lessen the climate impact of agriculture. They’re now starting to think about consumer products as well.

As another example of getting back in touch with your defining purpose, consider this: a debate has emerged in financial circles about whether COVID19 will spell the death of ESG as a lens for corporate decision-making. Some analysts say in desperate times when survival is job #1, ESG issues will fall away. In contrast, new Barclays research argues that COVID19 will accelerate ESG-decisions, “even further — creating a greater sense of urgency and responsibility toward everything from consumer behavior to climate change, supply-chain practices and the future of work and mobility — and potentially alter the nature of the investment process as a result.”  

For Nanni and PMI, getting back in touch with their core purpose has meant a continued emphasis on their “Unsmoke” program and more immediate efforts to ensure the stress of COVID19 doesn’t cause people to start smoking. They want people who smoke to quit and those who can’t or won’t quit to switch to less risky products. 

Takeaway #5: Get in touch with your core purpose and build your brand

Use this opportunity to reflect and double-down on commitments that align with your values. Doing so will naturally accrue benefits to your brand and reputation. 

Advice: Final Takeaways 

We closed the roundtable asking for specific advice:

Takeaway #6: Stay calm

For cities and other governments, Steinfeld said, “Don’t jump the gun.” Closely monitor the data and follow the advice of public health officials on when to loosen restrictions. She also recommended keeping an eye on emerging practices and checking back on their policy tracker. For individuals she continued to recommend staying home and washing our hands.

Takeaway #7: Know your niche

For civil society organizations, Brewster recommended staying in your niche. Don’t run to the frontlines of the crisis if that’s not your niche — you’ll do more harm than good. Instead, work on convening people within your designated community and use that time to help them think through the recovery and reinvention stages. 

Takeaway #8: Let your employees guide you

For businesses, both Troyer and Nanni recommended listening to and trusting employees about when to reopen. That’s the best way to follow the “stay safe, stay sane, and stay stable” advice.

We invite you to check out our Menu of Virtual Services! And to join one of our upcoming virtual roundtables (or listen to a recording of a past recording), which we’re holding as part of The CollaborateUp 2020 Collaboration in Crisis & COVID-19 Interactive Roundtable Series.

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