The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a new purpose. We now have a rare opportunity to affect positive change. Beyond dialogue for creating awareness, it’s time to develop and implement tools that empower us to take committed action and credibly measure our progress toward affecting long-overdue transformations.
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder of something that’s easily forgotten by many during times of economic growth and prosperity when we feel confident and self-sufficient. It’s easy to forget that we are more vulnerable than we think and ultimately share a common dependence on our environment and each other.
A global pandemic is an acute example of a common, global threat to all individuals and organizations alike. It has sensitized us all to our inherent mutual interdependence. It has also amplified existing inequities to both individuals and organizations and their ability to get the support they need. COVID-19 did not cause economic, social, and political inequalities. Instead, it has simply made their effect more severe. It has also brought the plight of many up to our collective consciousness, as in good times it is easy for well-meaning people and organizations to become desensitized and even blinded by their good fortune. A crisis can create a shared experience that unifies us in a common purpose and makes it easier to relate to each other from a human rather than a positional perspective. For example, people, both rich and poor alike are riding bicycles close to home these days, when otherwise those more advantaged might have enjoyed a distinctly different experience by traveling. A crisis can create shared experiences that put empathy and common interest ahead of personal advantage.
When survival and social cohesion become more important than profitability and the accumulation of tangible assets, our currency and our most valuable asset are the authentic contributions we make to the social commons, where both our goods and services and the information flows we contribute are freely available to all and give us a social license for reciprocity. Today, we are consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic that has indiscriminately threatened our health and prosperity, but with uneven consequences. The more affected or fearful of existential consequences we become the more strongly we are likely to react to the starkly exposed systemic injustices. The dramatic intensification and global proliferation of a pre-existing Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example of how the uneven effect of a common threat can sensitize people and organizations to an existing injustice and move them to action – including public protests in which people willingly expose themselves to a higher risk of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are witnessing a tsunami of shifting social values that, in just a few months, have evolved from prosperity to health to justice, with the latter representing the common root cause.
Coincidentally, 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, also kicks off the decade-long United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Campaign that compels all countries to report on their progress toward achieving the 17 goals. A number of the goals require making progress on today’s common purpose of improving opportunities to achieve prosperity and wellbeing, which makes today’s unfortunate situation a venerable catalyst for kicking off the Campaign – and an opportunity not to be missed.
Now that we have a shared purpose and the will to affect change, we must insist on making a tangible and sustainable difference that establishes a solid foundation for continued progress. The path to a fairer world will require united, actionable commitments from individuals, communities, non-profits, businesses, and governments alike.
Just because we know what we need to do doesn’t mean we know how to do it, nor that we have the resources we need to make it happen. We all know the well-worn terms “talk is cheap”. Yet, most of our activity, including the time I am taking to write this article and the time you are spending to read it is just “talk”. Talk is necessary but not sufficient. I, therefore, propose we, each of us individually and the organizations to which we belong, transform our words into explicit commitments to take specific actions. The actions can be small, such as inviting one individual to your COVID-19 safety bubble or opening an opportunity for someone who would otherwise be excluded. Small, actionable commitments that result in tangible actions by each and every one of us can be amplified by the organizations we support so that we can collectively make a meaningful difference to people’s lives during the COVID-19 recovery and set the foundation for sustainable progress.
I propose that every time anyone suggests that we “should” do something about fixing a problem (like I just did), let’s respond by inviting that person to make a promise that “they will” do something tangible toward making it happen. Then, we must step into the ring ourselves by, in turn, reciprocating with a promise to also do something that helps achieve that common purpose. For example, I might say, people should create COVID-19 bubbles to restore much-needed social contact for mental health. I might then also act on my suggestion by inviting someone to my social bubble in order to not only demonstrate my authenticity but also become part of the solution.
Companies and nonprofits can facilitate this and amplify its effect by encouraging employees, students, volunteers, customers, and program beneficiaries to make commitments and rewarding them with recognition and other privileges for having kept their promises, thereby objectively demonstrate that they are making tangible progress toward advancing a personal or collective cause. Participating organizations would then be able to report on measurable outcomes and that they are making a real difference, rather than simply reporting on how much money or volunteer hours they invested and how many people they touched.
A couple of years ago I made a commitment to make this possibility a reality and have kept my promise by recently launching a technology platform, called ReliablyME, which allows people to send promise cards to each other as text messages in order to earn badges for their portfolio collection. Combined with their reliability record the commitment portfolio attests to the person’s authentic diligence in pursuing a purpose. Badges issued by an organization also provide evidence of the organization’s true effect on the people who earned those badges. Moreover, such badges can be associated with specific UN SDGs, so the organization can account for its ongoing commitment and actual contribution toward achieving the goals. If this resonates with you, I invite you to commit to learning more and request a demo.
We have an opportunity and a unified purpose. There is clearly a will. Now we also have a tool. It’s time to walk our talk, practice what we preach, and show that we are authentic by registering and keeping our promises – and to do it frequently. Only then will our collaborative actions speak more loudly than our words so that we can collectively move the needle, one small step at a time – over and over again. Utilizing new tools we can achieve the ultimate system-level change that gives people equal opportunities and equitable access based on objective evidence of their commitments, and our world will be a better place.