As we settle back into working life in 2021, it’s almost a year to the day since we first heard of a virus, spreading rapidly and appearing across the world. In the past 12 months, the Covid-19 outbreak has impacted on the lives of every one of us and there’s barely a facet of our societal ecosystem that’s remained untouched. For social entrepreneurs and change agents the impact has been especially noticeable and it’s clear, 12 months in, that this pandemic has the potential to fundamentally disrupt not just our personal and work lives, but our wider society and the fabric that holds it together.
Disease has often been a backdrop to social change and SARS, influenza, Aids and HIV have all taken their place, alongside the global financial crisis, in birthing entrepreneurial activities that address both social and economic concerns. The current outbreak of Covid is no different, bringing together crisis funding, entrepreneurial activity, community and volunteer work and both the public and health sectors…all whilst keeping a good proportion of those people at home.
Here at Arena Partners, we’ve noticed a number of changes that can be grouped into 4 key areas, with winners and losers in all of them.
Who would have thought, as we returned to work after the 2020 New Year that in just a few short months we were going to be packing our desks into boxes, frantically trying to set up remote working spaces in our bedrooms and dining rooms and hoping that things would soon get ‘back to normal’. In what we now know to be a long-term disruption to our working lives, we quickly realised that those with space, reliable broadband and spare devices were going to be the winners in the Work From Home revolution, whilst those whose jobs required their physical presence (often women, often low-paid), risked their lives to deliver parcels, keep our essential shops open and care for the vulnerable. While many anticipate a return to office work at some point, the chances are, we’ve seen an enforced revolution in working from home and many people will be reluctant to give up that flexibility.
Social entrepreneurs are not immune to the structural challenges of Covid-19, often facing inadequate software, problematic connectivity and productivity drop-off, whilst wrestling with the wider issues of home-schooling, stress, anxiety and loneliness. The digital divide has become all too obvious and the long-term, knock on effect on our young people’s education will be felt for a generation, as they struggle with exams and entry into a rapidly shrinking work-force.
As social entrepreneurs and changemakers, we’re used to experiencing the passion and drive to change the world. We’re certain of the problems, even if we haven’t yet worked out the solutions. But what happens when those problems are changing day by day, when uncertainty and anxiety become the norm and when the sound of a Breaking News alert on your phone quickens your heart rate? It’s easy to become overwhelmed, when uncertainty and fear are the new normal and it’s taken this past year to remind us that we may all be on the same sea, but we’re all in very different boats. Not judging the reactions and actions of those around us is hard, but we now know that the psychological impacts of isolation, redundancies, disparity in financial support available, childcare and home-schooling are significant. Experts are predicting that whilst some may have acclimatised to the changes in our daily lives, we’re not in the clear yet…burnout is on the horizon for others.
The financial impact of a global pandemic is almost too significant to comprehend and governments around the globe have stepped up, in greater or lesser degrees, to support the businesses, large and small, and the families and individuals affected by Covid-19. Here in the UK, the government has been slow-to-act and the worst of the health and financial impacts have been felt by lower-income households and smaller businesses. Previously secure, economically active consumers suddenly find themselves having to claim Universal Credit and, all of a sudden, they have become more vocal about the punitively small figures available to them. Many large businesses have thrived (think Amazon and the big food retailers), while others have succumbed to the arms of the Administrator. Some small businesses have been generously supported, while others are yet to see a penny of government funds. Some charities have benefitted from significant new grant funding, while others have had theirs withdrawn entirely. The disparity has been noticeable, and this has played into the increasingly antagonistic and fractious nature of the various ‘camps’. We’ve been drawn into an even more unfair society than ever before and it’s not hard to see why some feel aggrieved at their lot.
During this year of uncertainty, social impact organisations have moved heaven and earth to respond to and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. They’ve scaled up, shifted priorities, changed deliverables and managed a huge influx of new volunteers, all whilst trying to keep themselves and their families safe. Communities have played a significant role in the efforts to beat this virus and from the Thursday night ‘clap for hero’s’ to the more practical efforts to support those who shielded, people have risen to the challenge of looking out for one another and getting stuff done, when the government couldn’t or wouldn’t step in.
Arena Partners has worked along-side social entrepreneurs, Housing Associations, Local Authorities and High Net Worth individuals on projects from housing the street-homeless, providing food to those sheltering at home, setting up neighbourhood community support networks and planning to Build Back Better, as the pandemic subsides.
And one thing is certain…subside, it will. We may have to live with Covid for some time to come but, at some point, things will start to get back to normal. Here at Arena, we’re excited by how many organisations are re-thinking what ‘normal’ should look like and whether what we had before hasn’t been improved, in some way, by what we’ve been through together. If you’re wondering what might come next for your organisation, why not get in touch to see if we can help?