From Response to Rebuilding Better: A Framework for Action

By Zahid Torres-Rahman, CEO, Business Fights Poverty, and Jane Nelson, Director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School

The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have, devastating impacts on the lives, livelihoods and learning of millions of people, particularly the most vulnerable. While efforts are rightly focused on mitigating the immediate impacts, we need to start thinking about how to recover and rebuild, because action taken now will have long-lasting effects on people’s wellbeing and resilience. This is an effort that must be led by government, but business, along with civil society, has a critical role to play.

In March, we published a Business and COVID-19 Response Framework that sets out guidance for how businesses can support the most vulnerable across three areas of impact: in their lives (health and safety), livelihoods (jobs and incomes) and learning (education and skills). The Response Framework sets out actions that businesses can take through their core business capabilities and activities, philanthropic donations and volunteering, and policy engagement, advocacy, and support for institution strengthening.

We separately published an online Action Mapping Tool that sets out over 300 examples and a range of deep-dive Action Toolkits to provide advice on specific topics, including supporting micro and small businesses and vulnerable workers, tackling gender-based violence, promoting handwashing and preventative measures, partnering with NGOs, and investing in rapid innovation partnerships, with more in development. You can find all of these resources in our Business and COVID-19 Response Centre.

Our new Rebuild Framework adds a further dimension to our previous framework: time, and as part of that, ambition. Beyond the immediate “respond” phase, we look at what actions business can take next in the near term to help individuals, enterprises and communities “recover” – to get back on their feet – and ultimately to “rebuild better”. With this final phase comes the opportunity to be ambitious and enable those people who have faced the most severe social and economic impacts to thrive, and at a deeper level, to create a future that is more inclusive and resilient. 

In many respects, the pandemic has exposed and aggravated deep-seated inequalities and vulnerabilities that were already there. Rather than build back to the old normal, what could a new normal be? How can we embrace the best values that have been demonstrated during this crisis: selfless bravery, compassion, and a sense of community that might enable us to accelerate progress towards the world envisioned in the internationally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for people and planet? In short, how can we build back better? 

You can download the Rebuild Better Framework here. The aim is to guide business action, and inform a wider conversation. We look forward to hearing your perspectives, and examples of action.

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