Compassionate capitalism can underpin our coronavirus recovery
This Covid-19 coronavirus crisis could all be over by autumn. Or by this time next year. We simply do not know.
What we do know, however, is that we will need to think carefully and radically about how this country is going to recover from the devastation left behind by the coronavirus pandemic.
This pandemic will affect every part of our lives, from the structure of our economy to the makeup of society. It will, sadly, multiply hardship and poverty, with those least able to bear the brunt feeling its effects the worst.
Rebuilding the UK will require action from everyone, but especially from entrepreneurs and businesses who have an ability to innovate and deliver solutions at scale.
The onset of Covid-19 provides a unique opportunity to pause, take stock and think about what kind of businesses we really want for the future. There has never been a stronger case for a more compassionate capitalism that seeks the good of people and the planet, not just profits.
First, they are needed more than ever. Covid-19 will leave in its wake significant social problems, from serious mental health effects driven by isolation and loneliness to whole regions being without work. In just the last two weeks 1m people have signed on for out of work benefits. And this is just the beginning.
When this crisis is finally over, the government will have exhausted its firepower in an effort to soften the impact of the pandemic, and will likely have little left in the tank to get us back on our feet. Good business won’t just be an optional extra, it will be a necessity.
Second, businesses have a greater weight of responsibility on their shoulders than ever before. At the start of this crisis, businesses were supported by up to £350bn. This is money that the public will be paying off for generations to come. It is right for society to expect more from business as a result of this investment.
It also makes business sense for companies to think about more than just the bottom line. Even before this crisis, independent polling found that the majority of the UK public thought that capitalism does more harm than good. And 70 per cent believe the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful – up from 63 per cent in just one year.
There is a great business opportunity for the businesses that get this right – catching the mood of the nation, aligning with consumer sentiment and adopting new practices that set a new benchmark in doing well and doing good.
As things stand, most businesses, intentionally or otherwise, currently contribute to more than just the pockets of their shareholders. Typically, this is through providing employment, paying taxes that fund public services and creating goods and services that the public need and enjoy.
However, we could do with more than this as the world seeks to recover from Covid-19.
We will need companies driven by a desire to benefit people and the planet, such that they would struggle to exist if they were seperated from it. We will need more Brewdogs, who repurposed their manufacturing to make “punk sanitiser” and fewer Sports Directs, who were stubborn in closing stores and opportunistically increased the price of some home gym equipment by half.
It may seem far away now, but a time will come when we are allowed out of our homes for more than just our daily run. And when this time comes, we won’t just have the freedom to reshape our day, but also the way we do business. We would be fools not to do so.