This is the question many thought leaders have been raising in the last weeks. Will the world post COVID-19 bring a new opportunity for a reboot and a positive change both for companies and society as a whole? Or are the consequences of this crisis so tough and urgent that the fight for survival in the short term will prevail?

On an attempt to address this question and draw some insightful conclusions on the topic, the Center for Responsible Business and Leadership at CATÓLICA-LISBON, just launched its most recent Research Note (RN): The Impact of COVID-19 on the Sustainable Development Agenda. A business opportunity to reframe the future.

COVID-19’s consequences are devastating and it is the biggest crisis the world is facing in a century, after the Great depression of 1919. World GDP is dropping by an estimated value of 3-6%, bringing half a billion people into poverty and causing a volume of 40 million jobless in the first months of the year. Governments are deeply committed to act decisively in this crisis and to raise their debt level significantly to save lives and recover the economy. However, the speed of the economic upturn depends on a globally concerted action, where the private sector plays a critical role. Companies’ ability to act quickly and efficiently will be decisive to achieve the desired human and economic recovery. Moreover, “the way companies respond to this crisis is a defining moment that will be remembered for decades” (Kramer, 2020).

At this point the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is critical. The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They  were established in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intend to address the most important economic, social, environmental and governance challenges of our time, until 2030, through the open cooperation of public, private and social sectors, alongside citizens.

To face the current crisis, Humanity needs to establish a common roadmap for the future, and the SDGs represent, more than ever, a consistent and unifying language, able to bring together all the key players – Governments, companies, citizens. As the economic model before COVID-19 seemed to be already dismantling, due to its critical social and environmental consequences, a recovery into the old system is not enough. Instead, a reboot to a new system has to be established and many leaders and civic movements are claiming for a new, greener and fairer world after COVID.

In this context, companies also need to revisit their strategies and the SDGs emerge as a powerful strategic tool to bring the global agenda to the core of their operations. They are not only able to align companies with the so-needed sustainable agenda, but also bring them an undisputable competitive advantage. This, in a new context where investors, customers and employees are already standing for companies that, more than profit, place their ambitions around a higher purpose.

“Covid19 can mark the rebirthing of society as we know it today to one where we protect present and future generations” (United Nations, 2020). Companies’ role on this process is being evident and crucial, as we highlight in the Research Note.

With this in mind, we strongly believe now is the time to stand united around a common purpose for ONE humanity. The SDGs are the best roadmap we have to guide us into this better future where business align with states and their citizens to construct a future for everyone. Where businesses are profitable and resilient and communities prosper and reinforce the markets. COVID-19 is an undisputed disaster, but it is also a tremendous opportunity for a reset. A stand up from the ashes, from a short term vision that destroys and segregates to a new economic model where prosperity is large because it is for all, and more importantly: “it leaves no one behind”.

On the Research link above you will find all these points detailed.

Have a great and impactful week!

Filipa Pires de Almeida
Center for Responsible Business & Leadership 
Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics

This article refers to edition #35 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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