The global community is in the middle of a cataclysm that is unprecedented in modern times as it stares down COVID-19. The humanitarian and economic toll is staggering, and the future is unfathomable.
While all sectors are pivotal throughout this crisis, the world’s leading corporations play an outsized role in either exacerbating the crisis or rising to demonstrate bold leadership. In her bestselling book “Be Fearless,” Jean Case says, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” She continues, “How… companies act in times of crisis can be a true measure of their fearlessness.” The word ‘crisis’, when written in Chinese characters, consists of two brushstrokes: one for danger, the other for opportunity.
We are faced with a choice. What is the courageous opportunity in this crisis? Corporations must play arole by helping stem the economic and humanitarian impact, even at a time when their revenues may be grinding to a halt. To embrace their corporate purpose and to sustain themselves for the long term, companies must make the bold choice to value their business needs along with society’s. They will find that the two go hand in hand to help us through this crisis.
A longtime leader in driving social and environmental change, the corporate sector is now poised to bring its resources, innovation, and expertise to bear to provide immediate and long-term relief and to rapidly scale solutions. But only if it makes the brave choice to do so.
Together, we call on all companies to take four critical actions:
1. Repurpose, innovate, and collaborate to accelerate and scale solutions: Now is the time for the private sector to mobilize its expertise and resources for the greater good and to collaborate as never before. 3M, Ford, GE, GM, and Medtronic are just some of the companies activating their supply chains and manufacturing capabilities. Abbott, Sanofi, and Regeneron are speeding creation of tests and treatments. Gap, Hanes, and Zara are converting factories to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). UPS is chartering flights with FEMA. Companies that were formerly competitors are now partners. Innovations are now open source. How can your company use its capabilities in service to relief and recovery?
2. Care for your workforce during these hard times: A company’s employees are the backbone of daily commerce. The health and safety of employees and their families takes top priority. Many companies offer Employee Relief Funds and others are matching the donations to nonprofits. Executives from Hyatt Hotels and Hilton have forfeited or reduced their salaries to provide for the needs of furloughed employees. Some companies have extended COBRA benefits. Others have partnered with corporations such as CVS and Amazon to provide temporary employment. Wells Fargo, Capital One, US Bank, and more have increased wages for frontline workers. For the millions of employees working remotely, HR teams are providing resources and tools for self-care and mindfulness. What do your current and former employees need most, to get through this crisis?
3. Lift-up the most vulnerable through cash and in-kind contributions and volunteering: Last year, corporations collectively provided more than US$26B in funding to nonprofits and NGOs (CECP Giving in Numbers: 2019 Edition), many of whom are now struggling to stay afloat. Corporations are partnering with community foundations, governments, private foundations, and nonprofits to coordinate efforts, streamline distribution, and deploy resources. Bay Area tech companies including Workday,Salesforce,and NetApp raised more than US$20 million to support communities in need. Walmart announced a US$25 million commitment to support organizations on the frontlines, including testing efforts. AT&T, Bank of America, Google.org, and Novartis are offering free online learning tools. AT&T and Comcast have reduced and removed restrictions on internet access, and Adobe and Discovery Education are offering free access to students. Companies are mobilizing their employees to provide their unique skills to help others. How can your company bring its financial and human resources to bear for those who need it most?
4. Use the corporate voice for public good: While anxiety and fear abound, employees are looking to sources of information they can trust. A 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirusfound that after health authorities (72%), employers are the most trusted communicators (62%). With contradictory information proliferating, companies have an opportunity and obligation to spread accurate information. Viacom and the Ad Council created the #AloneTogether campaign. Kaiser Permanente has begun a texting campaign about supplemental nutrition assistance program. KPMG created COVID-19: Responding with Resilience and Readiness. How can your company speak out for the common good?
In his 2020 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote, “Companies must be deliberate and committed to embracing purpose and serving all stakeholders – your shareholders, customers, employees, and the communities where you operate. In doing so, your company will enjoy greater long-term prosperity, as will investors, workers, and society as a whole.”
Especially now, companies must act courageously and find unique opportunities to lead with their strengths. Those who act with fearlessness will be remembered for their contributions long after this pandemic is over. Now is the time to commit to stepping up for the benefit of our nation and the world.
Carolyn Berkowitz, President and CEO, Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP)
Daryl Brewster, CEO, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)
Kathleen Enright, CEO, Council on Foundations (COF)
Natalye Paquin, President and CEO, Points of Light (POL)
*image credit: Stephen JB Thomas