Business Innovation in a time of global crisis.
As I write this article, the World Health Organisation has declared Coronavirus a pandemic, with over 200,000 cases worldwide now identified.
As a human being, it’s a worrying time, and as a business owner, it’s a potentially fatal time. Many businesses, particularly those dependent on leisure spend, will fold in the coming months, and it’s heartbreaking to see our local pubs and cafes with their blinds drawn. I don’t think that I’m overstating to use the word ‘crisis’ to describe the situation that is currently spiraling for many businesses.
As a Social Impact professional however, I am very mindful of the definition of Shared Value. The concept was co-created by Harvard Business School Professors Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer, and is a business strategy designed to solve social issues profitably.
It does this by leveraging the resources and innovation of the private sector to create new solutions to some of society’s most pressing issues. In doing so, it creates a more prosperous environment in which to operate, making business more sustainable and resilient.
The terminology is new, but the premise is as ancient as time. Businesses have always been a part of their local communities, employing local people, and in times of crisis have pulled together to achieve what needed to be done to protect the community.
Today I’m seeing local businesses offering their staff out into the community, consultants offering free wellbeing support and large businesses extending financial support to supply chain, all superb examples of humanity moving together.
However, let’s consider business innovation within the crisis. I’m also seeing restaurants switching to takeaway services, and call outs from central government to ask for innovation in health supply chain from businesses traditionally operating in alternative sectors.
Innovation is often driven by crisis. Those businesses who are responsive and adaptable to changing needs will find opportunity to diversify and build new supply chain and customer base. This can be done profitably, without profiteering.
It’s important to differentiate between profit and profiteering. Addressing a social need in a responsive and equitable manner enables the most vulnerable in society to access the services and products they need, rather than excluding them because of high pricing or restrictions.
The more that businesses respond to social opportunities, the more that society as a whole benefits.
This is Shared Value in practice. The real challenge will be maintain these practices once the crisis is over. Perhaps Coronavirus will help to change our business culture for the better, who knows? What’s most important at the moment is that we look after the most vulnerable in society and work together to create solutions to protect and support them.