The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown us into a time that can be described as unprecedented for many reasons. For one, businesses across the globe are making quick shifts for the good of workers, customers and society. These shifts for the greater good may prove to be impossible to roll back when the virus blows over. As a result, I believe COVID-19 may be ushering in a new era of social enterprise.
A social enterprise is a business that equally prioritizes revenue and impact. This is typically realized through innovative strategies for hiring, philanthropy, production and supply chain. I’ve spent over a decade researching social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility, and publishing tools such as Models of Impact that have helped thousands of entrepreneurs learn how to prioritize the greater good without sacrificing their bottom lines. As a response to the current climate, we’re seeing many large businesses participate in a phenomenon that I would describe as “inconvenient social enterprise.”
Due to requirements for all nonessential businesses to follow “stay at home” mandates, many office workers and managers have been forced to experience remote working for the first time. This “remote renaissance” has brought attention to new tools and technologies that can help teams work smarter, not harder. It has also shined a light on the complexities of parental care and equitable access to technology and resources that have led to new policies and benefits for workers. For example, Target announced pay raises, bonuses and a new paid leave policy. Shopify is providing its employees a $1,000 stipend to work from home. Starbucks is offering all of its employees access to therapy.
Further, many businesses are standing up in order to help fight COVID-19. This has seemingly forced industries to press pause on the pursuit and prioritization of profit in order to strive for a balance between revenue and impact. For some of these businesses, this change has come by force, through a steady stream of government mandates and calls for participation. For others, this change was welcomed with open arms. For example, Anheuser-Busch is using its supply and logistics network to produce and distribute hand sanitizer. Zara and Hanes are making masks and other supplies for medical workers. Netflix has created a $100 million coronavirus relief fund. Creating impact in the era of COVID-19 isn’t just a job for big business, either. For example, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a property owner is making it easier for local restaurants to stay in business by not requiring them to pay April rent.
Not all of the responses from businesses have been focused on tackling the virus itself. Instead, some businesses are looking to solve the overwhelming number of problems that have been sparked by the virus. Social distancing is a new and confusing term for many people. McDonald’s, among many other brands, revised their logos to celebrate and demonstrate distancing. The homeless and food insecure are especially vulnerable in a pandemic. Upon planning for closure, Disneyland donated its leftover food to food banks.