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Covid-19: One year on what lessons have we learned?

The pandemic, and the ensuing socio-economic hardship, has resulted in a global shift for corporate social responsibility, writes Natasha Mudhar (pictured), founder of The World We Want.

23 March marks one year since the UK prime minister Boris Johnson delivered the most significant post wartime national address, and a moment which will undoubtedly form a crucial element to the history book narrative in decades to come. We can all recall that day, with the night drawing in and the air thick with uncertainty as to how the rumours of a full national lockdown would come to fruition. When the prime minister made his address, perhaps even the greatest cynic may have been surprised to learn that exactly 12 months on we would still be gripped by a full lockdown. But whilst the tragedy of human loss, the collapse of major high street stalwarts and local business, the social isolation and mental turmoil has been laid bare for all to see – how has the pandemic impacted our progress towards achieving our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the grand scheme of a decade-long countdown to the UN’s targets in 2030? Today we look into the impact on CSR strategies and lost time in education.

CSR

The pandemic, and the ensuing socio-economic hardship, has resulted in a global shift for corporate social responsibility. Prior to the pandemic we were seeing perhaps the largest upsurge of major CSR strategies, whether that be companies announcing new ‘green’ initiatives, profit percentage charity schemes, education and career ladder commitments or local community infrastructure development. Pre-March 2020, CSR was no longer a commendable strategy of the few, but a core element to a business’ bottom-line and brand image. It seemed as though we had finally reached a state of play in which corporates could no longer hide behind profits without bringing to light their purpose – and equally we had learned that the two were no longer considered exclusive concepts, but mutually beneficial business strategies.

Several of the 17 SDGs require engagement from the private sector, as well as their collaborative efforts and initiatives with the public sector, to have any chance of being successful. Business is one of the five key life triggers identified by The World We Want to enable SDGs action and progress, alongside fashion, sports, entertainment and food – all of which are powerful lifestyle, social and behavioural levers to get mission critical messages across.

There can be no denying that the pandemic has impacted the way in which businesses prioritise CSR, given the shift in focus towards battling economic downturn by those within the hardest hit industries and also a much larger focus on COVID-19 related recovery efforts. But what we have learned is that the pandemic has also brought out a new wave of corporate empathy and enriched us with a sense of doing well by others. From major companies supporting the PPE drive, to manufactures supporting the mass development of ventilators, businesses have shown that even in the toughest of economic times, CSR is a 21st century mainstay.

However, when we turn our attentions back to the SDGs and the targets which were set without the additional diversion of Covid-19 recovery, the somewhat solemn truth is that if we are to achieve our goals, CSR needs to regain momentum towards other key issues such as climate change, life below land, gender equalities, responsible production and more. It’s as though efforts must be multiplied to achieve the already challenging targets of the SDGs whilst combatting the impact of the pandemic. The margin for error just became much smaller, with the time left to achieve our goals a year shorter. In short – this wasn’t part of the plan in 2015 when the SDGs were outlined at the UN General Assembly.

The good news is that with the power of multi-stakeholder collaborations, we have the resources to make CSR strategies bigger and better than ever before. We believe that the key to achieving the SDGs lies in the power of collective individualism, utilising cross-sector action-led partnerships between organisations, companies, non-profits, governments and philanthropists.

If ever there was a culture of ‘my CSR is better than your CSR’ – it is no longer. Combining efforts is what can drive awareness of global issues into real, meaningful action.

Education

Education universally has been severely impacted due to the pandemic. Between 1-1.8m children did not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home for home-schooling and the figure for potential loss in lifetime earnings for children in the UK is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. UNESCO reports that almost 11 million girls globally may not return to school this year due to Covid-19, with new research in the UK finding that girls have reportedly taken on a disproportionate amount of household responsibilities during the pandemic and as such have lost out significantly regarding their progress in education over the past year. What’s more, before Covid-19 Plan International UK found that one in 10 girls aged 14-21 couldn’t afford or access period products, a figure which has since tripled since the start of the pandemic.

With the impact to children’s education profound, we are now facing up to a challenge to make up for lost time and provide children with the equal opportunity to the highest standard of education, as they deserve.

Turning the tide

With the UK excelling in its first dose vaccination rollout, and Boris Johnson revealing a roadmap for an emergence out of the three-month plus lockdown, we arrive at the 23 March with an air of optimism for a future far different to the reality of the past 12 months.

Drawing attention to the issues, we are able to see where our priorities lie – and us such are able to use this period to draw up the blueprint for multi-sector action. From members of the public, business owners and leaders, organisation heads right through to top-level policy makers, we must accept the weight of responsibility on our shoulders when it comes to regaining concise, strategic momentum with not a minute to spare. We must take the awareness created by discussions such as this and use it to create real meaningful action to shape policies and define priorities.

The next one to five years and beyond relies on the collective strength of people, ideas, networks and technologies to pull in the same direction. One year on since the UK officially locked down – the time is now.

To learn more about how you can partner, collaborate and work with The World We Want – visit http://www.theworldwewant.global/

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