OP-ED BY HILDE VERNAILLEN
CEO OF P&V GROUP
MEMBER OF SSE INTERNATIONAL FORUM
The Covid-19 pandemic has now been going on for more than a year. While writing these lines, more than 120 million people have been affected by the coronavirus, all over the world, and more than 2.7 million people have died. The consequences of the pandemic, in terms of health, social and economic impact, are already dramatic and will be felt for many years to come.
The magnitude of the pandemic and the speed of its spread have surprised citizens, scientific experts and political leaders alike. The gravity and resurgence of the virus have stunned our entire societies. The pandemic has challenged many of our certainties, habits, norms and behaviors.
As dramatic as it is, the Covid-19 epidemic has also given solidarity a new lease on life. It was too often ignored, even mocked, but now it is highlighted, respected and revitalized.
The Covid-19 crisis has first of all reminded us of the importance of public mechanisms of solidarity and social protection. It is these public mechanisms that guarantee access to basic health care for all individuals, rapid access when the medical situation requires it, reduced costs for the patient and equal care regardless of wealth or place of residence. This institutional solidarity has also made it possible, in many states, to provide replacement income to all those who have lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, because of the economic slowdown and the business shutdowns that were necessary to curb the spread of the epidemic.
The current pandemic has also led to the appearance, reappearance and development of a multitude of acts of civic solidarity. The clapping of residents in the windows of buildings, intended to thank health professionals during the first containment, has spread throughout the world: from India to Italy, from Canada to New Zealand, from the United Arab Emirates to Colombia, from Thailand to Turkey, from Israel to China. This applause created a strong symbolic solidarity between citizens and their caregivers, fighting together to defeat the disease.
Other forms of active community solidarity have emerged within families, in circles of friends, between neighbors or towards those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. They have taken the form of home delivery services for everyday goods, online exercise lessons to keep in shape during periods of confinement, cooking classes to be carried out with children, or handicraft tutorials of all kinds.
The pandemic has encouraged citizens to consume more locally, to frequent small local shops, to favour food products from short circuits, all of which are economically, socially and environmentally responsible choices.
Many companies and universities have set up internal programs to promote mutual listening in order to ensure the mental health of workers and students.
There is no doubt about it. We are experiencing a rare momentum in favor of solidarity. Let's seize it to expand, in the long term, a respectful and caring vision of the world.
No one knows today when or how the so-called new normal will come about. But let's make sure, right now, that this next world develops, deepens and encourages new forms of solidarity.
And who better than SSE enterprises to lead this exciting fight? Their expertise, their experience, their knowledge of the field give them the legitimacy to show the way forward. They did not wait for the current crisis to concretize a commitment that privileges collective interest over individual profit. They did not wait for the current crisis to be concerned about the social and environmental consequences of any economic activity.
The same is true for the cooperative movement.The cooperative principles established by the International Cooperative Alliance meet the aspirations often expressed within civil society for a more democratic, transparent and accountable corporate governance in the world of tomorrow.
The actors of the social and solidarity economy and of the cooperative movement must multiply their efforts to inform widely and convince people of the validity of their model. They must address first and foremost young entrepreneurs and start-up creators, students in economics, law or applied sciences faculties, and workers who want - by obligation or by desire - to reorient their careers. They must address all those who are building or will build the new world and who seek to make it more equitable and fairer to all. The actors of the social and solidarity economy and the cooperative movement must show them that the tools to build a world of solidarity exist, that they work and that they only need to be used more.
On a broader scale, we need to rethink the indicators that guide our societies. Too often, today, those in power focus on economic growth and GDP to measure the health of a country.
The need to widen the criteria for guiding society has long been understood by some. The concept of Gross National Happiness, for example, which measures the level of happiness and well-being of citizens, has been enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan since 2008.
Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics, and Mahbub ul Haq, contributed greatly to the development of the Human Development Index, which is used in the annual Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and which ranks 160 countries according to this indicator.
A society can't content itself with economic growth rates and GDP alone to guide its future. Harmonious development requires a composite index that integrates multiple criteria, particularly social and environmental. Life expectancy in good health, per capita income, and school enrolment rates are all relevant criteria for measuring the progress of our societies, as is the effectiveness of measures adopted to combat poverty.
In a similar sense, given the current social and environmental challenges, the calculation of the value of a good or service cannot be reduced to the remuneration of labor and capital that have been invested, but must take into account a variety of indicators of prosperity and well-being relative to all stakeholders. These macroeconomic indicators must take into account not only what is produced, but also what is destroyed in order to produce a good or deliver a service.
As we can see, the challenges of the post-coronavirus crisis will be numerous. This horizon opens up new perspectives for building a fairer and more united society.
It is up to us, actors of the social and solidarity economy and of the cooperative movement, who have these values at heart, to make them grow and triumph.