Over the past decade, many businesses have developed corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to demonstrate their purpose-led commitments to society. However, the ongoing global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has increased the focus on businesses’ response to the pandemic. Now more than ever, corporations must redouble their efforts to positively impact society.
A study on the impact of COVID on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals found that poverty, well-being and hunger have suffered a great blow as a result of the pandemic. A reported 71 million people could be pushed into poverty in 2020 alone, while half of lower-income parents struggle to pay for internet connections and worry their children may not have access to online education resources. The importance of CSR initiatives aimed at tackling these issues is therefore clear.
Deloitte claims COVID-19 has posed society with a “unique opportunity to integrate social value” – an opportunity to effectively integrate CSR initiatives into daily operations. So – how can companies support societies struggling to cope with COVID-19 and its impacts?
According to the World Economic Forum, businesses have so far helped society in three significant ways – by encouraging mental wellness, providing financial security and supporting small businesses. WEF has termed this corporate social innovation: a combination of advocacy, philanthropy, shared-value creation and CSR.
Encouraging mental wellness is a cause I particularly cherish. While social distancing is a must for us to effectively combat the virus, this has also proved detrimental to the emotional wellbeing of some – especially those in vulnerable and marginalised societies.
That is why businesses – whether small or big – must act to support their employees. For instance, Starbucks has expanded their mental health benefits to include up to 20 counselling sessions for all employees as well as their families.
Corporate action will undoubtedly help reduce much of the stigma that continues to linger surrounding mental health, especially among employees. If employers are continuously communicating available resources, employees may feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.
In terms of financial security, businesses have been able to provide support to hourly workers worst affected by the pandemic, even as services slow down or come to a complete halt, including emergency assistance and additional insurance coverage.
Finally, with regards to small to medium enterprises, there is no denying that SMEs have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Companies are increasingly finding ways to support these important parts of the community. For example, business leader Mark Cuban has been reimbursing his employees who purchase food from local restaurants.
We are all feeling the impact of COVID-19. Yet, businesses have the tools and resources to help alleviate a few of the pressures encountered in our daily lives and change the course of corporate responsibility into one that is value-based.