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Are businesses acting socially responsible by not shutting down to practice social distancing?

This question has played on my mind following various reports on the vicious spread of the Coronavirus and my observation of how some businesses are reacting to curb the spread.

My personal hypothesis is that post COVID-19, life as we know it will change significantly especially in the business environment. It is perhaps the best time for businesses to consider pivoting and truly embed social responsibility into their corporate strategies to foster sustainability.

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In Sustainability, being socially responsible refers to how organisations think about how they impact humanity/people. As such, for private businesses (big or small) or public entities purporting to be socially responsible, the following questions are fundamental:

1.  How are our actions/activities/operations/interventions/projects etc., affecting people around us (stakeholders)?

2.  Are these effects positive or negative?

3. What is the magnitude of the effect?

4.  How do we mitigate or reduce the negative effects of our actions and vice versa?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses (both big and small) have instructed or encouraged their employees to work from home to curb the exponential spread of the virus acting in the best interest of their employees and society at large. On the other hand other organisations have been rather non-cavalier or slower in their reaction, thus exposing employees and rest of society to greater risk.

While poor structural and technological preparedness to react nimbly to the unprecedented effect of this pandemic is a viable excuse, one cannot help but wonder if it’s also a case of capitalism at best. For instance, some organisations that either have the infrastructure in place to order a work-from-home directive or even offer services that can be delivered remotely are yet to explore this alternative. Such organsiations, depending on the bucket they fall in need a cultural or digital transformation to act appropriately.

It is at times like this that organisations must understand that being socially responsible is beyond stand-alone initiatives to give back to the communities they operate in, but the entirety of how they ensure that their stakeholders (internal and external) are positively impacted by their actions or inaction.

I am particularly optimistic that the aftershock of COVID-19 will usher in a shift in the private sector space, whereby more businesses (small and big) will take social responsibility more seriously and make it an integral part of their overarching strategy and business operations. I believe it will also stimulate the need for businesses to leverage technology and automate processes to ensure nimbleness and adaptability.

Essentially, businesses must start to act more accountable by understanding that their decisions and actions have far-reaching effects on the long-term survival of the larger communities in which they operate.

Ken-Ugwuh is a Social Development Consultant and a Co-Anchor on the TV Show – WAYS (“What Are You Saying”), where she lends her voice to social and topical issues that affect the youth and wider society. She currently works at one of the leading consulting firms in the country, driving the Social Impact efforts for the Country Management Unit.

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