Credit: Victor He
A new calendar year often feels like a fresh start, and there is certainly plenty about which to be hopeful. But just as every industry in the world was affected by COVID-19 in 2020, we’ll continue to see the effects play out in 2021 as economies rebuild and the world adjusts to a ‘new normal’.
To understand what this could look like, we asked a range of experts for their insights into the impact COVID-19 will have on 2021 and the challenges that will need to be solved.
Diversity & Inclusion
As COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, shutting down offices and forcing workers to shift to remote home offices, Palladium Chief Diversity Officer Rosanna Duncan notes that organisations may want to consider the skills their teams need in order to best function under remote circumstances.
“Instead of thinking about leaders and line managers pre-COVID-19 and the diversity of skills that they brought to the table, we now need to consider our ‘new normal’ and whether we have to re-evaluate those skills,” she says. “This could mean providing training and upskilling for virtual management if companies are going to be successful long-term. Training isn’t always considered to be a matter of diversity and inclusion, but ensuring that everyone has the tools they need to succeed is a key piece of the puzzle.”
Procurement and Logistics
Julian Neale, Deputy Director of Procurement and Logistics for Palladium’s Humanitarian Stabilisation and Operations Team, expects that flexibility and increased resiliency will continue to be key for those working in logistics and humanitarian supply chains.
“The reduction in transport capacity, resource shortages and the associated competition for these highlights the need for resilience planning in supply chains with a greater emphasis on overall supply chain capability and perhaps less on direct cost,” he explains.
This also applies to the magnanimous task of managing the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The traditional nexus of cost, speed and quality is increasingly, rightly, augmented by environment and at no time have these considerations been as important in the provision of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Neale notes. “The focus for vaccine distribution needs to be beyond the vaccine itself to the ancillary requirements such as syringes, as well as care with regards to environmental impact of distribution and provision to a global population.”
According to Christina Shim, head of Palladium’s Commercial Innovation Practice, the unexpected fallout of COVID-19 threw many executives off and in the short term, she says, “created a lot of waste.” From a sustainability standpoint, for instance, she notes that remediating the waste created by single-use plastics will be a challenge. “The challenge is that obviously people don’t want to be reusing things right now. There was a market demand reaction and though the problem is temporary, it will create a mess that will last for at least the next year.”
But in the long term, she expects that COVID-19 will force executives and leaders to stop and think about their strategies moving forward.
“I think 2021 will be the year that we start to see a lot of the organisational sustainability commitments come to fruition,” Shim predicts. “Just this year, we’ve seen big names like United Airlines and Amazon go public with their sustainability commitments. But how they will integrate the commitments into their core strategy and operations will be the real testament to change.”
Palladium Chief Medical Officer Dr. Farley Cleghorn is hopeful that the results of COVID-19 may improve cultural understandings around the value of health and the impact on the healthcare system. “The focus on inequity in health, health as a human right, and preservation of wellness will continue to cause tectonic shifts in how we run our disease-based health systems,” he says.
Cleghorn adds that placing value on health will create fairer systems by “closing the enormous gaps in remuneration in health teams, which includes highly compensated physicians, overworked nurses, and underpaid health aides and assistants. Plus, the chronic shortages of all classes of health care workers must be addressed through training and further certifications.”
On the other hand, HIV Director and Nurse Sara Bowsky has concerns about the lingering effects on adolescent mental health. “Developmentally for adolescents, this is a time of self-identity development from sexual to racial development and everything in between,” she says.
“This is all heavily influenced by social interactions with peers which for most has shifted entirely from in-person to online. The increase in anxiety, depression and suicide as a cohort will have lifelong consequences. The traumatic effects of COVID-19 on this generation is something we must not take lightly but rather rally, to harness and scale-up support and solutions as they are our future.”
As the world shifted to remote working, industries that are highly reliant on in-person relationships and travel, such as impact investing, needed to find new ways to do business. Now that we’ve seen what’s possible, Palladium's Alistair Mackie hopes that the industry will continue to include a degree of remote working and a strong reduction in travel.
“Investors are likely to further stretch their processes out to allow for more of the investment process to be conducted remotely,” says Mackie. “We have real-life examples where investors have responded incredibly well to remote due diligence, including virtual site visits and meetings with microfinance branches in the field.”
“There’s also an industry-wide recognition that many excluded but worthwhile investments were already undercapitalised when the COVID-19 crisis began. The road to recovery to a truly ‘post’-COVID impact investing world will see investors doubling down on the impact and target groups they were already focused on, and for good reason.”
COVID-19 has not yet gone away, and while the world continues to adjust to the ways in which the virus affects daily life, its impact will continue to play out well into 2021.
Whether it’s the rapid acceleration of some sectors, the adjustments across supply chains to accommodate a vaccine rollout, or the need to provide mental health support to a generation of students, the coming year will set the foundation for a post-pandemic world and perhaps even a ‘new normal.’
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