When the lockdowns were initiated in response to the coronavirus crisis, I assumed that it meant I would get significant time back in my otherwise overscheduled travel and meeting diary. Like a lot of my peers, I thought that for a few weeks the break from the usual demands of our physical world would mean a slower pace, with more daily thinking, planning, and reflection time.
The reality for many of us is quite the opposite. We seem to be scheduled virtually from morning until evening often in triage mode: supporting clients, colleagues, and those under stress, while trying to manage work and home life without traditional support systems. Within the shelter of our homes, we are drafted into the constant news flow of global developments, and left to wonder what the intermediate and longer-term implications are for the world as we once knew it.
The eruption of coronavirus has been a global shock. It is too easy to watch helplessly as events unfold and hope that governments, central banks, and civil society organizations will pull together in a coordinated fashion—as we always expect them to do in a crisis.
In response, governments are pumping out capital to try to save economies and bridge financing gaps around the world, but it is increasingly apparent that government funding alone is likely to be insufficient to solve this immediate crisis. Nor can it be relied on as the only solution for the longer-term investments required to build stable, resilient systems that can manage a planet headed toward 10 billion people within the next few decades.
Over the past few weeks, it has become clear to me that we need to treat this global crisis as a call to action for the private sector to use the power of our for-profit investment dollars to tackle inequities surfaced by the crisis and drive the change we want to see. If we ask ourselves, as individuals or within our corporate capacity as leaders: Can I be more purposeful? Can I be more responsible for the environment? Can I help bridge a social divide? The answer for everyone, of course, is yes. Now might not feel like the ideal moment to think about the long term, but it’s essential that we use what little reflection time we have to rethink how we can direct our capital in a more impactful way.
As the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals highlight, there is a multi-trillion-dollar annual financing gap if we are to tackle the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges by 2030. Until recently, climate has dominated the global agenda, and it is clear that, unless we act with urgency, within a decade we will very likely be past the point of no return. Global CO2 emissions reductions and the consequent blue skies that have emerged in our most polluted cities brought on by coronavirus closures will be fleeting. Without renewed focus, we’ll be back on the same troubling trajectory soon.
In drawing parallels to the pandemic, investment in addressing climate change used to be mostly in the purview of scientists, governments, and committed activists—until it started to tangibly affect us individually. Similarly, investments in social infrastructure be it access to health care, clean water, education, and affordable housing have been predominantly left in the hands of governments, development banks, and a relatively concentrated group of philanthropists.