1. Prioritize containment
Above all else, companies should safeguard lives. They should follow the recommendations of the national health authorities and WHO to contain the virus. Promote understanding among employees, their families, customers and broader business network of transmission and prevention and put in place policies and guidance, e.g. on travel, telecommuting, social distancing, reporting symptoms, non-contact methods for doing business etc. Countries have started off with similar trajectories, but curves showing confirmed cases (and deaths) diverge based on the range of measures taken.
2. Keep operating – as long as it is safe and possible
Government restrictions and employees’ safety permitting, businesses should keep operating. Like everyone else, companies too need to monitor the situation, learn from countries that are ahead in responding to the epidemic and adjust their operations accordingly. Updating the business continuity plan is important. Better data and forecasting also allow the company to address changes in demand and supply more effectively.
Changing circumstances require flexibility, for example by cross-training and reallocating employees to different tasks and leveraging digital tools that enable remote work. Companies should refrain from laying off people, but rather keep employees on payroll - it will otherwise be very difficult to start returning to (the new) normal in a few months.
3. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
COVID-19 affects everyone – people, businesses, societies, nations. As companies use their resources for the common good, they should look at doing so together with others. CBi supported networks have demonstrated the power of collective private sector action in response to crises from earthquakes to typhoons and measles epidemics. The same principles apply in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) raised 1.5 billion Philippine pesos (approximately US$30 million) from companies to fund the distribution of grocery vouchers to urban poor residents who were economically affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila in response to COVID-19. This scale of impact on people’s lives would not have been possible had companies not joined forces. All response activities should be guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Ensuring communities are at the centre of, and driving humanitarian action, is critical to ensuring appropriate and timely aid and protection reaches the people most in need.
4. Innovate and find solutions to new needs
Upstream and downstream supply chains are both affected, though the type and timeframe of challenges differ. Those dealing directly with consumers are seeing new consumption habits being formed as people practice social distancing. Interesting examples have already started to emerge. Companies have for example introduced coronavirus-related coverage for health insurances, developed online education services and introduced semi-finished dishes to address the increased need for home cooking. Parfum and alcohol brands have refitted their production lines to make hand sanitizers. Car manufacturers are partnering with medical equipment companies to build ventilators. Textile companies have converted their factories to making hospital gowns. Mobile money producers have implemented fee-waivers to reduce the physical exchange of currency while banks are providing payment schemes to help small business owners get through the difficult months ahead.
5. Look beyond response and start planning recovery efforts
Government enforced control measures would ideally be planned together with the private sector. In addition to lives, companies need to safeguard livelihoods. Larger companies with liquidity should help smaller ones. As supply chains are interrupted, the impact on SMEs is particularly severe over the coming weeks and months. In areas that are dependent on imports from the most affected countries, the availability of goods have sent prices plummeting, making it expensive or impossible for smaller SMEs to restock. Companies can also lobby for public funding and support be it medium- to long-term loans, rebates in social security contributions, rent relief or something else (economic stimulus packages). Regardless of their size, all companies should make a detailed plan on how they will resume and/or scale their operations as the pandemic passes.
6. Make financial and in-kind contributions
While business continuity is the best way for companies to contribute in any given crisis, their support to broader societal efforts can help save lives. Unrestricted cash donations to relief organizations allow aid professionals to procure what is most needed in a specific location at a given time. The UN issued US$2 billion appeal to combat COVID-19 on 25 March and is calling for people, organizations and countries to make donations to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. As the capacity and resources of healthcare systems around the world get stretched, providing certificated medical equipment and personal protection equipment also becomes increasingly critical.
7. Join advocacy efforts
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, people have low trust in government and media, whereas employer communications is the most credible source of information about the coronavirus.1 Companies should use their voice for good. They can help fight stigmatizing those that have fallen ill and rather speak up about the importance of solidarity. With the words of the UN Secretary-General “As we fight the virus, we cannot let fear go viral”. As countries close borders and restrict travel, companies can also play an important role in advocacy efforts to help ensure that people dependent on humanitarian aid continue to receive life-saving supplies. Humanitarian supply chains are critical, and corridors need to remain open for humanitarians to deliver aid.
8. Participate in policy dialogue
Businesses involved in private sector networks have a stronger collective voice and an avenue to include their voice in the policy dialogues on disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Through a collective approach they may be able to participate in national policy dialogue and contribute to key decision-making processes.
Photo: UNDP Eurasia/Karen Cirillo