During the Covid-19 crisis, business leaders have stepped up to support society during in a number of vital ways.

How companies can help society during Covid-19 pandemic

By Noa Gafni

This piece was originally published in the World Economic Forum Agenda on March 19.

  • Corporate social innovation strategies can provide a positive impact on society as well as businesses’ bottom lines;
  • From encouraging mental wellness to ensuring employees are financially secure during the outbreak, corporations including Starbucks and Microsoft are taking a lead in response to the crisis;
  • Other business leaders, including Amazon and Google, are finding ways to support small businesses in their local areas.

As COVID-19 sweeps across the world, all sectors are being upended. In the U.S., the private sector is particularly vulnerable. Local, national and global economies are being negatively impacted by the unpredictable nature of this pandemic.

Historically, corporations took a step back during crises. However, as the role of business in society continues to evolve and stakeholder capitalism becomes mainstream, businesses are rising to the challenge. It’s encouraging to see how, even in the midst of challenging times, corporate social innovation is here to stay.

Corporate social innovation encompasses the many ways that businesses can have a positive impact. Through philanthropy, corporations provide direct donations or in-kind support; through advocacy, corporations have the capacity to shape public policy; through corporate social responsibility programmes, corporations use their many resources toward the benefit of society; and through shared value creation, firms develop profitable new products and services that address unmet societal needs. Corporate social innovation integrates these four pillars into a coherent strategy that provides a positive impact on society as well as businesses’ bottom lines.

"As COVID-19 sweeps across the world, all sectors are being upended...It’s encouraging to see how, even in the midst of challenging times, corporate social innovation is here to stay."

Encouraging mental wellness

Many companies, as well as state and local governments, recommend that those who can work from home do so. In addition, the Center for Disease Control recommends that all gatherings and events of more than 50 people be cancelled for the next eight weeks. This “social distancing” is vital to reducing the spread of the coronavirus but negatively impacts emotional well-being.

As such, leading corporations are supporting mental as well as physical health. Starbucks just announced it will expand mental health benefits to include up to 20 therapy sessions for all employees. Elsewhere, telecoms companies have signed the Keep Americans Connected pledge to ensure individuals maintain access to connectivity.

Providing financial security

As stores close and factories reduce hours in response to the pandemic, corporations are committing to supporting hourly employees financially. Lululemon, which is temporarily shutting down all stores in North America, will continue to pay employees and provide access to a pay relief fund. Microsoft is committing to pay its hourly workers their regular pay, even as demand for their services slows down, and Walmart, Apple, and the Olive Garden are updating their sick-leave policies to provide additional coverage and support for their most vulnerable workers.

Supporting small businesses

According to the Wall Street Journal, small businesses’ confidence has plummeted as a result of Covid-19. Large corporations are stepping in to support SMEs during this difficult time: Amazon announced a $5 million relief fund for small businesses in the vicinity of its headquarters, while Google is pledging $1 million to organizations in Mountain View, California, impacted by the pandemic. Billionaire Mark Cuban has been reimbursing employees who purchase lunch and coffee from local restaurants.

Although the implications of Covid-19 have yet to be determined, it will continue to disrupt our lives for the weeks and months to come. The corporate sector can move the needle during this crisis by implementing strategies and initiatives that benefit society – as well as their long-term success – by supporting their employees, customers and the economy at large.

Noa Gafni is the executive director of the Institute for Corporate Social Innovation at Rutgers Business School.

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