The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Children across the world are home from school, flights have been grounded, borders closed, big and small businesses shut down, and humanity has altogether been upended.
The spread of the virus seems to borrow heavily from the permutations class in mathematics. Sadly. According to data by the United Nations, it took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection. The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days: the fourth, only one and a half.
“We are at war with a virus – and not winning it,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres during a G-20 Virtual summit on the Covid-19 pandemic on 26th March. “This war needs a war-time plan to fight it”, he added.
That means a whole lot. The Secretary-General went ahead to appeal to conflict protagonists to stop. The world is at war with coronavirus, and conflict – now more than ever before – doesn’t make any sense. During a BBC TV interview the Secretary-General added that this is the time for international cooperation on global supply chain issues, best practices and managing the movement of populations.
But the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves, affirm the critical point that was made in 2015 at the launch of the UN the Sustainable Development Goals: that humanity needs to pull together and stand together. Governments, civil society, businesses, and representatives of various interest groups need to join hands driven by purpose rather than profit, interests, and short-term gain to ensure that no one is left behind. There can’t be a time that this reality has become starker than this poignant moment when humanity faces an enemy who is choosing neither class nor race nor creed.
As government and policymakers move in to shore up the public health infrastructure to take care of the ill, businesses and other interest groups must step in to offer the secondary and tertiary lines of support and defense so that we can all come out of this stronger.
Right around the world, different businesses are stepping in different ways. Manufacturing lines have been adjusted to produce the much-needed medical equipment to support the frontline soldiers: The medical professionals. I’ve also seen those who are literally buying food packs and distributing them to the most vulnerable.
All these efforts are commendable. Yet so much more remains to be done, and the requisite assessments by all of us need to be continuous.
In the immediate aftermath of the reportage of the first case in Kenya, we at Safaricom took it upon ourselves to see how we could pivot our network, assets and products to respond to the pandemic both in the short and long term.
We offered to reduce the cost of moving money but dropping what we charge for sending anything under Ksh1,000. We doubled, at no cost, the fiber-to-home capacity to support those working or studying from home or seeking alternatives means of keeping themselves busy at home via the Internet. We also partnered with KCB to announce a Ksh30 billion stimulus package that will go to supporting individuals and SMEs who draw a financial lifeline from KCB-MPESA.
Several other businesses and non-governmental organisations are beginning to evaluate the situation and identify possible areas where they can offer interventions.
Granted, the aforementioned responses will take shape in the fullness of time as the very fluid situation evolves, but every little additional help counts for our collective future. No one can tough this one out alone.
This is the one time when all businesses must discover the meaning of purpose; that we exist to place people before profit; that companies cannot thrive when the very communities we conduct business in are not thriving.
Right now, the consumers of the goods and services we provide are facing an existential threat as we all are. It behooves us to stand with our communities in every way, big and small, if we are going to save our collective future.