In addition to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, history has also borne witness to the ways in which moments of crisis present opportunities for innovation, reinvention, improvement, and transformation – at the personal, enterprise, and community level.

Along with the more obvious (and worthy of support) Nonprofit relief organizations putting their shoulders to the wheel during this challenging period in world history, a number of commercial enterprises and other private ventures, less accustomed to tackling this sort of circumstance, are rising to the test and inspiring their peers and partners to seek out new models in collaboration, community, and constructive social action. 

Médecins Sans Frontières, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and others are doing the admirable work for which they were founded: providing services and support to the neediest among us, while also offering vital research and data to help enlightened nations accelerate their journey toward community, social, and fiscal health. Other entities are meanwhile also studying and leveraging their unforeseen circumstances in a noteworthy fashion. As we continue to travel along this unpaved path, possessing only a folkloric sense of our destination, and with no knowledge of the distance or time that we will be traveling, the responsiveness and visibility of many brands and entities will become case studies in corporate social responsibility, stewardship, brand positioning, sustainability, customer relations, and even profitability.

Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

The simple yet important early actions taken by numerous grocery brands ( Trader Joe’s, Giant Food, Costco, Target, Whole Foods, to name but a few) to accommodate the higher risk members of our population by establishing special “seniors and immune-system compromised citizens” shopping hours set a tone of thoughtful accommodation that deserves mention. The goodwill garnered was a great bonus, in addition to any maintained or even increased sales volumes. While many questions were still being formed as to transmission, safety, and other considerations, many brands made decisions to welcome, accommodate, and protect those at higher risk, rather than wait and see. Of course, hindsight being what it is, emerging data might have shown the actions to have been somewhat dangerous or foolhardy, but that was not the case this time. Solid protective measures were taken (social distancing, masks, wipedowns, etc), and it was a win-win for all. Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

 

An elderly gentleman, wearing gloves and mask, prepares to enter a grocery store

 

In the absence of clear and timely support action from the Federal Administration, commercial brands such as Crocs, Starbucks, Garnet Hill, and The Company Store  are donating their products to frontline workers, while brands including New Balance, Fanatics, Hanes, Razer, and others have shifted production to making masks for frontline workers. Numerous other companies have donated funds to the cause. This is the best of corporate social responsibility, but it has been necessitated largely because of national government failure to proactively and persistently address a crisis that was foreseen years ago.

 

As and when nations begin the laborious climb out of the present quagmire, it will be important to watch and learn from those infrastructures initiating methodologies that prove most successful at lifting up the social and fiscal health of their citizenry.

Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

Educational systems have meanwhile not been idle. While public and private schools alike scramble to find new models to minimize the disruption to student curriculums in 2020 (and beyond?), some standouts deserve mention: Logitech  is giving k-12 teachers free webcams and headsets as they transition to virtual teaching. Audible  is making hundreds of their audiobook titles available to students for free. Google, Zoom, and Microsoft  are all offering their online meeting and communications tools for free. This is perhaps where we can best see how stewardship and social responsibility can convert fluidly into opportunity. The move by Zoom to take the lead in offering free online learning and meeting facilities to K-12 institutions, notwithstanding privacy and security concerns that they aggressively addressed, skyrocketed the company’s valuation, and it remains strong. At the same time, competitor brands were inspired to not only step up and offer the same deal, but their go-to-market strategies for feature and function improvements were also accelerated and improved. The challenge laid down encouraged a whole fleet of online communication brands to rise together. Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

 

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Schools are scrambling to develop new lesson plans, leverage heretofore peripheral toolsets, and accommodate previously negligible considerations, as they seek to shepherd their students through this challenging period, and give them the best education possible, under the circumstances. Very recently, some school districts have given up  on the experiment, citing overwhelming logistical challenges for both teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, around the world, institutions and programs are refusing to let this crisis compromise their commitment to the highest standards in education they are capable of offering. In “better” times, many institutions struggled somewhat passively under the edicts of bureaucratic regional, State, and even national governments. Today, teachers and administrators alike are demanding the best possible support for their students, and many parents are stepping up to help in ways not seen before. Organizations such as Girls With Impact  and Coursera  are offering their curricula free of charge, and educators are collaborating with impressive transparency and a commitment to high standards in learning and social health alike. Faculty at my daughter’s school, The Ethel Walker School, have been internally sharing best practices and discoveries with enthusiasm and impressive thoughtfulness, and I suspect many other institutions are doing likewise.

 

 

It becomes clear, the more I study the varied brands, industries, and markets impacted by this epidemic, that progress and prosperity will be realized first by those entities (professional or otherwise) that embrace a culture of service and community. Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.

Companies that find themselves in suspension can either close down or leverage their skillsets to innovate and enrich their sector and, by extension, our world. In Australia, enterprises such as Passions of Paradise, Wavelength, Ocean Freedom, Sailaway and Quicksilver Cruises are nurturing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, during the tourism industry’s absence. SodaStream  is donating to global NGO WaterAid  which provides clean tap water for drinking and washing hands. The sparkling water company, based in Israel, also recently announced its commitment to eliminate the use of 67 billion single-use plastic bottles by 2025 and to switch the packaging for all of its flavors from plastic to metal bottles beginning early next year. Meanwhile, a Los Angeles company, Orly  has reconfigured its factory to produce 75% alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and 10,000 bottles will be donated to the City of Los Angeles  for distribution throughout the city’s at-risk homeless population. These are just a few examples amidst a growing collection of case studies in community leadership and industry innovation.

What case studies have you come across that demonstrate laudable examples in stewardship, cooperation, and creative innovation, during this time when many might otherwise trend toward apathy and surrender? Is your organization doing some interesting and inspiring work? Do you have a community-building and uplifting idea that deserves to be realized? Let us know!

Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.