The word ‘crisis’, when written in Chinese characters, consists of two brushstrokes: one for danger, the other for opportunity. The global community is in the middle of an unprecedented cataclysm as it stares down COVID-19. Stemming the economic and humanitarian fallout requires all-hands on deck. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Jean Case once said, “How companies act in times of crisis can be a true measure of their fearlessness.”
What is the courageous opportunity for corporations in this pandemic?
We are faced with a choice. The world’s leading corporations will play an outsized role in either exacerbating the crisis or rising to demonstrate bold leadership. Even as short-term profitability drops, corporations will find that making the bold choice to value their business along with the needs of society is at the heart of their corporate purpose and the sustained success of their businesses.
The corporate sector has long been a leader in driving social and environmental change and is now poised to bring its resources and expertise to provide relief and to scale innovative solutions to address the pandemic that is impacting almost every area of society. But only if the corporate sector makes the brave choice to do so.
Together, we call on all companies to take four critical actions:
- Care for your workforce during these hard times. A company’s employees are the backbone of daily commerce, and tending to their health and safety takes top priority. But their continued livelihoods go hand in hand with that of the company and society. What do your current and former employees need most? Many companies offer Employee Relief Funds to which employees and executives can contribute. Many executives, like those at Hyatt Hotels, have forfeited or reduced their salaries to provide for the needs of furloughed employees. Some companies are extending health benefits and others have partnered with corporations such as CVS and Amazon to provide temporary employment. Wells Fargo and Capital One have increased wages for frontline workers. For the millions of employees working remotely, HR teams are providing resources and tools for self-care and mindfulness.
- Repurpose, innovate, and collaborate to accelerate and scale solutions. Now is the time for the private sector to mobilize its expertise and resources for the greater good and to collaborate as never before. How can your company use its capabilities in service of relief and recovery? Companies like 3M and General Motors are activating their supply chains and manufacturing capabilities while Abbott, Sanofi, and Regeneron are speeding creation of tests and treatments. Gap, Hanes, and Zara are converting factories to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). UPS is chartering flights with FEMA. Companies that were formerly competitors are now partners. Innovations are now open source.
- Lift-up the most vulnerable through cash and in-kind contributions and volunteering. Last year, corporations collectively provided more than US$26B in funding to nonprofits and NGOs, many of whom are now struggling to stay afloat. How can your company bring its financial and human resources to bear for those who need it most? Bay Area tech companies including Workday, Salesforce, and NetApp raised more than US$20M to support communities in need. Bank of America is committing US$100M to support local communities and an additional US$250M in capital for struggling small businesses. Walmart announced a US$25M commitment to support organizations on the frontlines, including those leading testing efforts. AT&T and Comcast have reduced and removed restrictions on internet access, and Adobe and Discovery Education are offering free access to students. Companies are mobilizing their employees to provide their unique skills to help others, and partnering with community foundations, governments, private foundations, and nonprofits to coordinate efforts and deploy resources.
- Use the corporate voice for public good. Employees are looking to sources of information they can trust. Edelman’s 2020 special report found that employers are the most trusted communicators after health authorities. How can your company speak out for the common good? Viacom and the Ad Council created the #AloneTogether campaign. Kaiser Permanente has begun a texting campaign about supplemental nutrition assistance programs. KPMG created COVID-19: Responding with Resilience and Readiness. With contradictory information proliferating, companies have an opportunity and obligation to spread accurate information.
In his 2020 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote, “Companies must be deliberate and committed to embracing purpose and serving all stakeholders – your shareholders, customers, employees, and the communities where you operate. In doing so, your company will enjoy greater long-term prosperity, as will investors, workers, and society as a whole.”
Companies must act courageously and find unique opportunities to lead with their strengths. Those who act with fearlessness will be remembered for their contributions long after the pandemic ends. By taking these four actions, corporations are making the choice for shared prosperity.
Carolyn Berkowitz, President and CEO, Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP)
Daryl Brewster, CEO, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)
Kathleen Enright, CEO, Council on Foundations (COF)
Natalye Paquin, President and CEO, Points of Light (POL)