social impact

Grief during covid-19

Society is grieving: How can we make meaning of it?

USB News

Society is grieving: How can we make meaning of it?

Grief during covid-19

  • JUN 17
  • Tags Opinion, Society, Meaning, COVID-19, Values, Emotions, Pandemic

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This opinion piece was written by Prof Arnold Smit, Associate Professor of Business in Society at USB, and was used as an exclusive on Fin24.

In a gripping poem, Warsan Shire[i] narrates how, one night, she was sitting with an atlas on her lap with her fingers running across the world while she whispers the question, “where does it hurt”. In return, the atlas answered “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere”.

Since discovering Shire’s poem I used it as a lens on people’s experience of the current context we are in. Not a day goes by without an update on the statistics of the Coronavirus sweeping wildly through countries, communities and households. Nor can we avoid the scenes playing out in hospitals, the mourning of the bereaved and the preparation of graves for what is yet to come. Where does it hurt? Everywhere.

Exactly two weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I used it to open an online workshop on values. Not only did this group of men and women associate the poem with the rising tide of anger and grief across the world, for them it ripped open their own painful memories of what apartheid did to them, their families and communities.

Where does it hurt? Everywhere.

In a workshop with a group of executives from one of South Africa’s leading retail groups, I listened in on their narratives of coming to terms with the impact of COVID-19. The initial business projections for 2020 turned into a nightmare as budgets had to be revised while doing everything possible to soften the impact for employees, suppliers, tenants and customers.

Where does it hurt? Everywhere.

Dealing with students in a remote learning environment becomes a window into their domestic challenges during lockdown. For some, job loss is already a reality. Many have to cope with work, their studies and familial responsibilities at the same time. Some had to alter their wedding arrangements while others are dealing with bereavement in their families and social networks. For many it feels like a curtain has been drawn on their future plans.

Where does it hurt? Everywhere.

Life as we were used to, has been extensively disrupted, whether we look at it from an individual, relational, organisational or societal perspective.

COVID-19 was certainly not in our script for 2020. Suddenly it has become the code word for an all-encompassing experience of change and loss sweeping through everything that previously felt familiar, comforting and even predictable. Life as we were used to, has been extensively disrupted, whether we look at it from an individual, relational, organisational or societal perspective. It will not be an overstatement to say that we are a society in grief at the moment.

It hurts everywhere.

Tough as it is, it may do us well to make to make sense of what we experience at the moment. One way of looking at it, is from the perspective of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model of what people experience around death and dying[ii].

Although her idea of a grief cycle as such has been criticised by many, there is sensibility in the five core emotions that she identified.

  • Denial is often the first response and expressed in the assumption that something is either not true, or as bad as reported.
  • Anger represents the desire for a scapegoat, the possibility that something or someone is to blame for the challenge that you are facing.
  • Bargaining is to look for a way, some sort of compromise, to avoid or soften the impact, to be able to continue with what you were always used to.
  • Depression represents a despairing realisation that the crisis will not dissipate, that circumstances will not change, that the change is permanent and that there will be no turning back to what was before.
  • Acceptance is about embracing either the loss or the inevitable change that is going to occur, making peace with what you cannot change, and focusing on that which you can influence or have some control over.

Making the COVID-19 connection with the Kübler-Ross framework is not difficult at all. Since the start of the pandemic, and especially since the announcement of lockdown, you may have experienced some or all of these emotions as well. You may have experienced some sort of sequence, going from the one to the other as if they represented stages in your experience. You might have experienced different ones at different times depending on what kind of COVID-19 related impact you have been dealing with. You may find yourself somewhat stuck with a particular one, due to a variety of challenges you have to deal with at the same time.

Applying the Kübler-Ross framework, we may say that we experience these emotions because of grief resulting from loss: loss of future certainty, loss of employees, loss of suppliers, loss of income, loss of normal connection and socialisation, loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of dreams.

Where does it hurt? Everywhere.

So how do we make meaning of the COVID-19 challenge?  David Kessler, a world-renowned expert on grief work, co-wrote with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and added a sixth element to her framework, namely meaning. In this context meaning refers to coming to terms with and integrating the impact of the change or loss and finding new courage and direction for what may be yet to come. In discussion with a group of Harvard Business Review staff[iii], Kessler said that “acceptance is where the power lies”.

Once we have accepted what is, we can start working on a balanced approach in terms of what we think and do.

Once we have accepted what is, we can start working on a balanced approach in terms of what we think and do. We can take precaution for not getting affected, we can appreciate the things we still have access to, we can reach out to those who are sick or suffering bereavement, we can use technology to stay connected, we can share and help others as well to express the emotions that we are feeling.

It hurts everywhere. There is no use in fighting or denying it. But we can make meaning through how we deal with it. In a webinar[iv] aimed at leaders and managers in business, I shared the following guidelines:

  • Make sure that you have those things that provide the foundation of your organisation under firm control. Inasmuch as it is under your control, plan carefully, stay creative, spend wisely. You and your people need this for stability.
  • Make sure that you stay in touch with every individual, even daily if you can, so that you may know where they are, how they are, what they experience, what they can or can’t cope with. This is not just about their continued performance, but about their personal and relational wellness. They need to know and feel that you really care.
  • Do not try to talk people out of how they feel, or prescribe to them how they should feel, or sell them cheap comfort. If you do this, you only create unnecessary distance and resistance. You may have felt the same and now it is your turn to take them seriously and show them that you understand what they are going through.
  • Be prepared and available to be cared for by your team members as well. There may be times some of them may be better equipped to deal with certain emotions and experiences than you are. There may be challenges that some of them have already worked through that you still need to deal with. Allow them to be helpful.
  • Maintain the necessary safety disciplines, keep the workplace clean, make sure everyone wash their hands, wear masks, and keep the right distance. Keep the virus out; once it is in it is already too late.

It hurts everywhere. Life will never be the same again.

It hurts everywhere. Life will never be the same again. We will have to rebuild our dreams for ourselves, our communities, society and the economy. Inasmuch as we are hurting together, even if in different ways, we’ll have to learn how to rebuild together. While the pandemic, and its related effects, will leave us with an indelible collective sense of grief, it can also become the rebirth of imagination for a better, more balanced and more compassionate world.

References

[i] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5431334.Warsan_Shire

[ii] Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04015-9.

[ii] https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief

[iv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0QvxPvplHg&t=289s

About the author

Prof Arnold Smit is Associate Professor of Business in Society at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. His academic work is focused on the integration of ethics, responsibility and sustainability in management education and organisational practice. He also facilitates training programmes on values-driven leadership, sustainability management and director development. Prof Smit holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy and a Doctor’s Degree in Theology from Stellenbosch University. He is also a non-executive director of The Ethics Institute, a trustee of SEED Educational Trust and the immediate past President of the Business Ethics Network of Africa.

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What is our right to health?

USB News

What is our right to health?

  • MAY 05
  • Tags COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, lockdown, leadership, healthcare, South Africa, NHI

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Prof Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA in Health Care Leadership programme at USB, says COVID-19 highlights the need for people to take personal responsibility for their health.

The public health crisis of COVID-19, requiring citizens to be vigilant about hygiene measures like hand sanitizing, has not only turned the spotlight on the basic human right of access to healthcare, but also on the need for people to take personal responsibility for their health.

“If nothing else, the vulnerability to COVID-19 infection of people with serious underlying medical conditions that are not well-managed, such as respiratory conditions, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and compromised immune systems,[i] has shown that achieving the healthy nation that South Africa needs for productivity and economic growth will take more than universal free healthcare,” says Prof Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA in Health Care Leadership programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Social determinants of health – such as safe living environments, access to healthy food, education, employment, and the health of the surrounding environment – play as much of a role in creating healthy communities, along with lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and substance abuse.

“…we confuse health care with health – having access to care is not a promise of health.”

“The continued focus on health as a human right, and on the accessibility of care, disempowers people from taking responsibility for their own health. And we confuse health care with health – having access to care is not a promise of health,” she said.

Prof Schoeman, a practicing psychiatrist said that viewing health as a personal and social value, rather than exclusively as a right, would increase personal responsibility and “investment” by people in their health – a critical factor in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“When people are given the opportunity to be active participants in their own care, instead of passive recipients, and their human rights respected, the outcomes are better and health systems become more efficient.

“It doesn’t help to have free healthcare, such as the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI), but people make poor lifestyle choices – in terms of healthy eating, exercise and substance abuse, for example – and don’t take responsibility for their own health,” she argues.

“The NHI alone, as a strategy to fund healthcare, is only part of the solution.”

Prof Schoeman points out that health goes beyond the absence of disease and is influenced by genetics along with social and economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, housing, education, nutrition and the health of the surrounding environment.

The NHI alone, as a strategy to fund healthcare, is only part of the solution, she says.

Pointing to the success of disincentives to unhealthy lifestyles, such as “sin taxes”, and incentives such as discounts and loyalty rewards for healthy food purchases, as measures for promoting health and preventing disease should be extended to the public sector, and would be “significantly more affordable” than the NHI.

“Ensuring access to healthcare is a social and government responsibility, but this needs to go along with promotion of health, which goes beyond the health system to entrenching health as a shared, social value, and this is the task of all those involved in shaping and influencing values – families, schools, the media and the legal system,” Prof Schoeman said.

She emphasises that governments need to think beyond simply the accessibility and funding of healthcare, to the quality of the health care as well as “getting the basics right” in terms of addressing poverty and unemployment, health promotion and prevention strategies, and safe and healthy living environments.

 

Reference
[i] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html


More about Prof Renata Schoeman

Prof Renata Schoeman (MBChB, MSocSc, MMed, FC Psych, PhD, MBA) has been in full-time private practice since 2008. She practises as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) and has special interests in cognition (i.e. disorders affecting attention, concentration, learning and memory – such as ADHD and dementia), eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and obesity), mood disorders and anxiety disorders.

Renata also holds appointments as associate professor: Leadership, as well as head of the Health Care Leadership MBA specialisation stream  at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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Philanthropy lacks imagination.

USB News

Philanthropy lacks imagination. It’s time for radical change!

(Source: pexels.com)

  • APR 23
  • Tags Coronavirus, Philanthropy, Social Impact, Business in Society, Redistribution of wealth, Inequality, WHO

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Dr Armand Bam, Head of Social Impact at USB, encourages philanthropists to shift focus from traditional philanthropic models in order to genuinely effect positive change.

For the upper and middle class, the inconvenience of working from home and limited social engagements can seem challenging for an entire month. While these are legitimate concerns and speak to issues of health and well-being, we must bear in mind that certain social determinants of health will place others at greater risk during and beyond this period. Where you were born, the fact that you work, the community you grew up in and other environmental factors will play a role in your experience (“WHO | The determinants of health,” 2015). In South Africa it is evident that inequities persist and are held up by social, economic and political influences ensuring that money, power and resources insulate some citizens while exposing others to a more dire consequence. South Africa faces major challenges if we consider that one in three South Africans lived on less than R797.00 per month (StatsSA, 2017). On top of this government spend on social development has recently increased from 259 Billion in 2018 to 278 billion in 2019 – 15% of the total national budget.

Consider this – even if all of South Africa’s billionaire philanthropists decided to donate one billion rand a year to a solidarity fund it would take them more than a century to share their collective wealth. It would appear to be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. What has led to such a dehumanising experience and existence? How have we come to tolerate living in a society where abject poverty is contrasted by such extreme wealth? A simple answer would be that even with a new political dispensation a culture of silence has been maintained. We have failed to rise and unshackle ourselves from our oppression.

Even if all of South Africa’s billionaire philanthropists decided to donate one billion rand a year to a solidarity fund it would take them more than a century to share their collective wealth.

Recently the media has drawn our attention to the “good” being done by a few elites at a time of collective need. What is concerning is it that we are made to feel that the social impact being delivered by these elites is greater than the collective effort of ordinary citizens some of whom will not be returning to employment after lockdown. How is it we are expected to applaud the same people who have a hand in creating such inequities? We need to rid ourselves of this imagery! Surely, the sacrifices made by those who could ill afford to be under lockdown should receive our adulation. Should the strength of their conviction, the immediacy of their actions and mere fact that so many citizens have made this sacrifice not be lauded instead? This is where true social impact lies.

But let us for a moment accept as Braverman (2014) claims that inequity is avoidable and a “collective moral obligation” exists to reconstruct the structures and practices that place socially disadvantaged citizens at greater risk. In order for us to claim as Rawls (1971) suggests to be living in a just society, a society, “that renders the most vulnerable less vulnerable” action and collaboration is required across all spheres of society. It is clear an imbalance needs to be addressed and needs to transcend our traditional efforts. Henry Mintzberg’s suggestion that we require nothing less than reformation, on a global scale, to rebalance our heads, our societies, and our world comes to mind. He cautions that despite all the effort to deal with our problems—climate change, social injustices, the demise of democracy, and more—we will make no headway until these efforts consolidate around common cause, namely the restoration of balance. Until we all understand that combating inequality is that common cause, we will continue to fail. It is at this juncture that one should take exception to calls for a new type or modelling of philanthropy. Instead, philanthropy needs to do some soul searching.

It is at this juncture that one should take exception to calls for a new type or modelling of philanthropy. Instead, philanthropy needs to do some soul searching.

While the Coronavirus has moved with speed to cover the globe it has exposed the soft under belly of philanthropy, the slowness with which it delivers. Let’s be real – modern day philanthropy has become a means of shielding wealth. It is and will be no different to its anachronistic self. The elite build house next to house and join field next to field exclusively for their benefit. The emergence of family trusts and foundations of the elite with a social aim amongst the already 220 000 NPOs in South Africa merely serves to create a circular economy to maintain control over their “own money”. No attempts at achieving social cohesion is truly possible because philanthropy will not be able to rid itself from believing it knows best and wanting to maintain control over the purse strings. Philanthropy lacks humility to do so, it fails to apologize, listen to and include those in hurt in order to repair our society.

Any suggestion that we require new ways of philanthropy represents a type of psychogenic blindness and lacks imagination, radicalism and wisdom. It is an affront to those most at risk of contracting this virus and suffering a real economic hardship. In South Africa, the richest 5%, control 56.5% of our wealth totaling $435 billion. The top 1%, approximately 360 000 people, control 34,6% or $266.4 billion of our wealth. Those who seek to predict a future any different from what we are experiencing today without addressing the true source of our inequities runs the risk of fueling an egoistic pursuit of having. In this regard questioning where philanthropic wealth originates, why it only enters the public capitals ‘willingly’ when a life-threatening virus emerges, who manages, allocates and spends it must be answered. If money is value neutral, our attention must be directed to the values of those in possession of excessive wealth.

So where does a solution lie? What philanthropy should more earnestly concern itself with is the vaccine for a virus far more detrimental to our society. Edgar Villanueva describes the “colonizer virus” as a greater threat to our society and one that urges us to divide, control and exploit. It represents the true embodiment of how we deal with wealth and subsequently inequities in our society. It perpetuates the trauma we have experienced over generations. The vaccine, greater tax responsibilities for the wealthy, is available yet a radicalism is required to inoculate the elite. Philanthropy with its savior mentality needs to face up to this as it does nothing more than fuel the divisions within our society. In its shadow lies the promotion of an inalienable right to owning more shielding the violence committed on those Freire explains are cast as the “rejects of life”.

The vaccine, greater tax responsibilities for the wealthy, is available yet a radicalism is required to inoculate the elite.

If philanthropy was to be helpful, radicalism is required not a self-indulgent remodeling. If we want to rebalance our society, the answers must come from the most marginalized, the 50% of our population living below the upper-bound poverty line, the communities suffering daily under gang violence, the women and children brutally assaulted by men, people with disabilities willfully excluded from employment opportunities. Philanthropy must surrender itself to this. To achieve balance, we need to redistribute resources and ensure the most vulnerable no longer live at risk. No form or fashionable philanthropic modeling or gimmicking will achieve this.

Dr Armand Bam is the Head: Social Impact and Senior Lecturer in Business in Society at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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“Third Sector” impact of Covid-19

USB News

Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 within the “Third Sector”

(Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/analysis-blackboard-board-bubble-355952/)

  • APR 16
  • Tags COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, NPOs, non-profit organisations, social impact, budget, collaboration, work from home, donor, opportunities

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Dr Armand Bam, Head of Social Impact at USB, looks at the impact of COVID-19 on non-profit organisations (NPOs).

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all spheres of society, some of which will become more apparent after the extended period of lockdown. Much of what has been written in the media has been focused on the decision from government within the public sector to enforce a lockdown and the impact on businesses within the private sector. While these sectors are often viewed as the main contributors to the economy it is the impact of and on nonprofit organizations (NPOs) within the “third sector” that easily goes unnoticed. There are over 220 000 NPOs registered with the Department of Social Development in South Africa. During this pandemic it will become more evident how these mission driven organisations play an important role in our society.

What is worth considering is that NPOs act in communities where government and businesses are not able to reach. They are accessible and agile to attend to the current crises and need our support.

What is worth considering is that NPOs act in communities where government and businesses are not able to reach. They are accessible and agile to attend to the current crises and need our support. While government can rely on our taxes to stay operational and well-resourced businesses tap into financial reserves, NPOs primarily rely on donations and personal fundraising to ensure service delivery. Many of these organisations are now facing the threat of downsizing and retrenching staff while the need for their services increases. Although many leaders within the sector are used to working in under resourced scenarios, the impact of social distancing will affect service delivery to beneficiaries and the ability to relate in person with donors. Along with beneficiaries and donors, employees will be operating with some level of uncertainty as job security is affected.

So, what is it that NPOs can be doing to avoid panic and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Communicate with clarity

With a range of stakeholders, it is important to maintain communication, stay informed of what is happening and share relevant information.

  • Remind board members, volunteers, employees and donors of your vision, mission, goals and activities. Take the opportunity to revitalise the commitment to your cause. You are also vying for their attention as their news feeds are flooded with COVID-19 stories.
  • Web-based communication is cost-effective and can reach large audiences. Websites are effective public relations platforms to reach donors as well as the media provided specific contact and fundraising details are visible.
  • Develop your digital presence through mobile optimisation. There is a global shift to transacting this way and fundraising can now occur in the palm of a smart phone user.
  • Be discerning with the information you share. The information you choose should be from reputable sources and useful to the general public as well as specific to your sector.
  • Take the time to cultivate new donors and donor-relations. Fine tune your message and be clear about your impact.
  • It’s not all about fundraising so be in contact, say thank you, reaffirm trust and lay the ground for new funding sources. Your donors are stewards of your organisation, inspired by your mission and they also care for the people driving it.

Re-evaluate your operations and budget

With the prospect of a reduction in donations immediate attention should be given to prioritising how your finances are managed. The continuity of your services needs to be maintained and this means revisiting your business plan. In fact, you are reminded to have a plan B and C. Scaling down and assessing operations on a weekly and monthly basis will become part of what we all do.

  • Cash flow is critical. Making use of a simple excel spreadsheet can assist with decision-making.
  • Fixed costs require a plan and the management is essential to ensure you can continue to deliver services and that programmes are implemented. Where possible discuss the possibility of delaying or restructuring payments to suppliers.
  • Reach out to your existing funders and detail unavoidable costs and where you require definite support. The re-direction of existing funds may be considered under these circumstances.
  • Compliance remains important and although requests to redirect funding may occur, financial accountability must be at the top of mind.
  • If you have not considered this before, our current situation requires that NPOs seriously consider a recovery plan as part of their future proofing.

Actively search for donor/ funding opportunities

This remains the lifeblood of any NPO and should form part of the core operations while under lockdown. The 2019 Charities Aid Foundation report indicates that cash donations remains the most common form of giving.

  • NPOs whether directly or indirectly involved in fighting COVID-19 should explore the opportunities that are available locally and globally to alleviate expected funding constraints.
  • There will be an increase in funding directed by corporates and government alike to partner in addressing the impact of the pandemic. While these opportunities do become available avoid moving beyond the scope of your mission.
  • Online concerts have become a means for entertainers to deliver to their fans. Live streaming of performances and online auctions might not have the same returns but do come with reduced expenditure.
  • Don’t forget the messaging for Gen Z and Millennials should be specific and relevant as their spending power has increased.
  • South Africa has a range of crowdfunding platforms available for use. With the increased reliance on digital technology post COVID-19, it would be beneficial to visit one of the following: BackaBuddy; Brownie points; Click ‘n Donate; org; Doit4Charity; forgood; GivenGain; Jumpstarter; MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet; Pledge-a-Portion; WeBenefit

Collaborate for impact

As the impact of this Corona virus is global, the opportunity to partner and collaborate with local and international nonprofits to find solutions and discuss the impact on NPOs worldwide presents itself.

  • Sharing within the local sector can serve two purposes. Sharing common challenges (coming to terms that you are not alone) and adopting approaches that might be transferable between organisations. There is plenty we can learn from each other.
  • With the decisive approach to enforce a lockdown, our South Africa experiences may offer unique insights to the impact on NPOs in the global South while learning from others in other parts of the world.
  • Being at the coal face of the COVID-19 experience, opportunities to collaborate with research institutions can provide greater exposure and awareness of your organisation and its impact.

Working from home

This might be the trickiest aspect of ensuring you are able to maintain your services and the start of the new normal for many NPOs.

  • Above all care for your staff.
  • Along with financial planning the opportunity to review organisational policies with respect to remote work presents itself. This isn’t a possibility for all organisations and in some NPOs only certain staff will be able to work from home.
  • Remember not all staff have the same access to resources so make sure you can support their needs. Assess everyone’s job requirements and responsibilities on its own merits.
  • Communicate your expectations clearly. Ensure that staff understand they should continue to follow their daily work routines and be contactable as normal.
  • Keep your staff connected. Having group gatherings will go a long way to serving the culture of your organisation.
  • Explore the online resources offering free access to their products Microsoft Teams; Google Hangouts Premium and Dropbox Premium are some of the more popular.

 

*Dr Armand Bam is Head of Social Impact at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

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Virus and values

USB News

Virus and Values

  • MAR 20
  • Tags COVID-19, Coronavirus, flatten the curve, business in society, humanity, moral values, responsible leadership, social impact

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Prof Arnold SmitAssociate Professor of Business in Society, unpacks five moral values that we all have in common. These values, he says, are the essence of what makes us human, and should be upheld at all costs during these difficult times in our society.  

crisis reveals so much of who we are. It can bring out the best in us. It can bring out the worst in us. Apart from posing a threat to our health and safety, a crisis may also present a test for our values. It is no different in our confrontation with COVID-19. The spread of the coronavirus demonstrates our physical interconnectedness while at the same time it reveals how we respond to the relatedness of our human existence. The physical side of the corona confrontation is a health issue, the relational dimension is a moral one. However, both are contained in the frailty of our human existence.

The spread of the coronavirus demonstrates our physical interconnectedness while at the same time it reveals how we respond to the relatedness of our human existence.

While not equipped to speak science to virology, I want to share a few thoughts on how COVID-19 confronts our sense of morality. It is widely accepted that humanity holds five moral values in common: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion. While we can add some to the list or find different words for each, these five values contain the essence of what makes us human in our relatedness. These values describe our aspirational beliefs about human behaviour and determine how we prefer to live and relate, our sense of what is right or wrong, in a particular context, and the decisions that we make as a result. When we uphold them, we do better; together. When we violate them, we pay the price; together. 

It is widely accepted that humanity holds five moral values in common: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion… When we uphold them, we do better; together. When we violate them, we pay the price; together.

Because of the relatedness of our existence, we are ever being called upon to be honest, respectful, responsible, fair and compassionate in our dealings with one another. The demand for being so connected to others seems even bigger now that a dangerous and fast spreading virus runs through the channels of our physical connectedness. Every contact point with others may become a question of how to behave, how to relate and what to decide.  

The value of honesty, for example, now calls upon us to think carefully about the information we rely on and share, to be transparent about our own state of health and truthful about our whereabouts in potentially risky contact with others. 

The value of respect now especially calls upon us to treat everyone else – irrespective of their standing or influence – with dignity; to make their health and safety a priority as if it were our own, and to honour their personal space through social distancing 

Responsibility means that we think carefully about what we decide and do – especially in view of the impact that it may have on others. While we need to care for and protect ourselves, we must consider the rightful interests of others too.  

What does fairness mean when we fear scarcity and shop for supplies? What does it mean when we stock medical supplies which are now more needed in healthcare facilities? What does it mean when decisions are pending about salary adjustments and potential layoffs? 

Compassion speaks to our ability to watch out for others and care about their needs and circumstances. What we in South Africa so far mainly witnessed about COVID-19’s impact on individuals, families, communities and businesses, and how people have been challenged to manage the tension between social distancing and mutual care, may become more intensively part of our daily existence in the time to come. 

What I have written above, about the virus – values connection, may confront most of us in our daily conduct as we go about life, work and relationships. It certainly requires from us to be mindful and sensitive while we care for self and stay in touch with others. It gets more challenging, though, when the essence of your job is to make decisions in an organisational or professional context. 

The Coronavirus has no awareness of itself or its impact. It simply flourishes where the ecosystems of nature and humanity allow it to do.

The Coronavirus has no awareness of itself or its impact. It simply flourishes where the ecosystems of nature and humanity allow it to do. However, it does awaken a new awareness about our essential vulnerability and inevitable interdependence as a human community. While we stay hopeful for a scientific breakthrough to put the virus in its place, we’ll have to rely just as much on our capacity for values-based living and relating to carry us through.  

Prof Arnold Smit
Associate Professor of Business in Society
University of Stellenbosch Business School 

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