Today’s working population, those aged between 25 and 65, have experienced rapid and dramatic global changes: they have seen the switch from analogue to digital, observed rapid urbanisation and witnessed the rise of the Anthropocene, the era in which human activity has become the dominant factor impacting the earth’s atmosphere, flora and fauna and climate. But few events in the living memory of the past two generations have had such a global impact as COVID-19.
COVID-19 has dominated our news channels and caused worldwide suffering, with over 380,000 recorded deaths at the time of writing. But it has had some positive, often overlooked side‑effects: it has made many of us realise the power of humanity and has strengthened solidarity across borders in our joint efforts to fight the virus.
1) Rise in philanthropy: Many philanthropists and foundations have responded by increasing their giving and being more flexible in making grants available — the Gates Foundation, for example, pledged $100 million for the fight against COVID-19 in February 2020, but by April 2020 had more than doubled its donation to $250 million to boost the effort. In a landmark achievement, the GAVI Alliance Summit raised $8.8 billion from 32 donor governments and 12 foundations, corporations and organisations to immunise 300 million children and support the fight against COVID-19. Individual donors have come forward in large numbers, and charitable acts have come in all shapes and forms. Small cheques to foodbanks, foundations issuing emergency grants to desperate non-profits and, most conspicuously, billionaires doling out big-dollar gifts have almost become an everyday occurrence. Large charitable gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals, including faith-based and other sources, hit $7.8 billion worldwide in April 2020. Data from digital banking alternative Revolut, for example, has revealed a spike in charitable donations of 59% on average in the United Kingdom, across all age groups, regional areas, and causes.
2) Incentives to save the planet: Nations around the world are taking steps to foster sustainable and inclusive growth – incentives on electric cars, sustainable food items, and promotion of small and medium‑sized enterprises to support the local economy. The impact of COVID-19 on the environment has been phenomenal. Billions of people around the world are off the streets, industrial activity has been reduced to a minimum in the past two months, and all forms of combustible modes of transport have almost come to a halt. As a result, global CO2 emissions have fallen by 8 to 10%. The quality of air in some of the most polluted cities in the world, such as New Delhi and Los Angeles, has reached green levels. Rivers have been cleaned naturally and animals have started to occupy urban spaces in parks and open fields. To safeguard these environmental gains, climate-related actions must shape the recovery of the economy. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated: “We must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.” It has become evident how we can help this planet to heal: we humans just need to STOP and do NOTHING for a month or two.
3) Technology facilitating a new work culture: The use of technology and support by giant internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Amazon in helping information flow has been exemplary. Experts say that the pandemic has quashed the stigma around working from home. Twitter will not reopen its offices until September 2020, and employees can choose to work remotely for an indefinite period. Google and Facebook have also extended home-working policies until 2021. Studies show that people can be more productive when working from home. Mobile network companies have been helpful in circulating precautionary measures via phone calls and pre-loaded messaging services. Zoom and Slack have become household names, with current Zoom daily meeting participation more than 300 million in April 2020, up from 10 million in December 2020. New technologies are becoming enablers, such as drones carrying COVID-19 blood samples for testing in remote areas such as Ghana and the Isle of Mull (Scotland).
Post COVID-19 –The future holds promise:
As humanity confronts the threat of COVID-19, the time is right for multilateral engagement to take shape and for us to join forces to address the challenges that adversely affect security and peace in the world such as poverty, malnutrition and excessive spending on nuclear and conventional weapons. As our planet’s eco-system affects every aspect of human life, the importance of prioritising sectors such as agriculture and food production and moving towards green industrial practices and inclusive economic growth is an urgent requirement. Greenhouse gases, like viruses, go beyond national borders and therefore a need for an earth-centric global ecosystem is critical. COVID-19 is a shared threat, and thus it is bringing together global participation and creating platforms for new opportunities. In the words of UN Secretary-General Guterres: ”We now have the opportunity to build back better than in the past, aiming at inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.”
About the author:
Gaurav Sharma works as an advisor for AI at GIZ and is active in several different forums, networks and platforms dealing with the climate crisis and structural unemployment, supporting young leaders in India and fostering exchange of ideas.
Published on June 30, 2020.