Perspectives

Five steps for business to play a wider role in the Covid-19 response

There are five key steps business leaders should be taking when working out how best to contribute to the wider coronavirus response - beyond their own operations, people and finances. Each of the steps have deeper considerations within them.

From donations of cash and medical supplies, to reorienting innovation pipelines and mobilizing volunteers, many companies are taking action to support the response to the pandemic. But in working out how best to respond, business leaders are asking themselves: What will have the greatest impact on containing the outbreak? What do we need to know about working with NGOs? How will the choices I make about how we respond today, impact my business in the future?

1.     Define your objective for contributing to the wider response.

Clarity on your objectives will help you determine the shape of your response, i.e.: a combination of:

a.  Underpin business continuity or resilience

b.  Strengthen or protect reputation and government and corporate relations

c.   Philanthropic objectives, your own or that of employees

2.    Identify the core assets or resources that you can offer to help authorities, people and communities to respond.

Companies have a wealth of assets and resources that can be deployed to aid the wider response. Consider individually and in combination:

a.  Innovation, e.g. Chinese tech giant Alibaba is developing an AI system for diagnosing COVID-19, while its healthcare subsidiary Alibaba Health was among the first to offer free online medical consultations to individuals unable to see or pay for a doctor’s visit. Telehealth systems like NYU Langone's Virtual Urgent Care are being rapidly scaled up and made more widely accessible, helping both to minimize direct contact among potentially infected patients and health workers, and to reduce pressure on already overwhelmed hospitals and medical facilities.

b.  Expertise and capabilities, e.g. Luxury retail conglomerate LVMH’s is repurposing its fragrance production facilities to produce free hand sanitizer for France; Google is partnering with the U.S. government to develop a website dedicated to COVID-19 education and prevention and is leveraging its other platforms—like YouTube, Google Maps, etc.—to disseminate accurate information and best practices in cooperation with public health and governmental authorities.

c.  Products and services

  • Your own products, e.g. Hospitality companies IHG and AirBnB have waived cancellation fees for current and new bookings; e-retail platforms like China’s JD.com and Alibaba, as well as food delivery services DoorDash, Deliveroo, Postmates and others, are offering “no-contact” deliveries. This helps to supply communities with the products they need and supports local suppliers and SMEs, while mitigating person-to-person contact that could lead to spread.
  • Products within your supply chain, e.g. Disney has temporarily closed its theme parks to the public but is donating its excess food to food banks in surrounding areas. This allows for contracted catering and food companies to keep working for the time being, and for families facing food insecurity to continue to be fed.

d.  Cash, to support the general response or for a specific aspect of the response: e.g. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated USD 100 million to fund coronavirus vaccine research globally. Amazon established a USD 25 million relief fund to support delivery service partners, drivers and seasonal employees whose work is disrupted by the pandemic; the fund will also support employees and contractors facing acute financial hardship. Additionally, Seattle-based tech companies have partnered with local nonprofits and government agencies to launch a COVID-19 relief fund; Microsoft and Amazon have each contributed USD 1 million to the fund.

e.  Time, e.g. employees across a range of businesses are volunteering their time to support critical services, such as temperature testing in communities, and delivering groceries. Many companies are also implementing paid sick leave policies to mitigate the strain placed on employees who can’t work remotely and for whom these policies are new. Starbucks, Amazon, Walmart, and Uber are among those companies that have new COVID-19 paid leave provisions for employees.

3.    Tailor your efforts according to the needs of each geography, including gaps in provision. How can you contribute beyond your own operational presence in different geographies to support the response and recovery?

Your response should consider:

a.  Which phase of the crisis is the country in?

  • E.g. preparing for imminent pressure, active quarantine, moving to recovery.
  • What is the local public health guidance and how does that impact your decision-making and communication?

b.  How can you support the existing government-led response? Including:

  • Outbreak detection (e.g. case identification and tracking, diagnostics)
  • Health response (e.g. health systems and capacity, rapid response, training)
  • Support for basic services (e.g. access to food, basic utilities, etc.)
  • Operations and logistics (e.g. distribution networks, infrastructure, etc.)
  • Community engagement (e.g. shoring up livelihoods, (re)building community resilience)
  • Coordination and management
  • Information and data management
  • Research and development
  • Financing

c.  What are the considerations that are specific to that country? E.g., gaps in provision or different capabilities in health systems and communications networks.

4.    Decide how you will deliver your contribution in practical terms.

Working in partnership is critical to optimizing the impact of your contribution, and to avoiding reputational potholes along the way.

a.  In partnership with an NGO or charity

  • National or Local
  • International, e.g. multilateral efforts searching for a vaccine (e.g. CEPI) and drug treatments (e.g. Therapeutics Accelerator, set up by Gates and the Wellcome Trust)
  • Third parties working with NGOs and Charities, e.g. Direct Relief and Give2Asia

b.  Directly, through your own distribution channels, via employee time or volunteering

c.   In partnership with other businesses. e.g. distribution partnership with FedEx

5.    Develop a plan for how and when you will communicate your contribution, and to whom.

It is critically important to ensure your support is clearly documented and searchable in all relevant languages, and that is strikes the right tone. How will your communication impact your reputation and corporate relations with each of your stakeholders? Be sure to consider employees, investors, national and local governments, supply chain partners consumers and the wider public.