Coronavirus lockdown is continuing and we're all coming to terms with what that means for us, as individuals, family members, employees, and business owners. There are umpteen posts about what this 'new normal' looks like, particularly as we make the switch from working in the office to working from home. In this post, I want to do something different. I want to start to look beyond this period to the point at which we start to emerge from our caves. What will the world look like then? And what can we do to make sure it doesn't simply return to what we've all come to know - and many of us to hate? While none of us has a crystal ball, it seems like the perfect time to at least start the conversation.
I've been thinking hard about what to write in this post. It's not usual for business posts to take a political stance, the fear being that politics can be divisive and, therefore, not good for attracting a wide range of clients. But this global crisis has shown us once again that everything is political. The state of our healthcare services. Access to opportunities. Even access to basic needs, like food and housing. So, I think it's time to be much more open about what we think. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know I'm a staunch supporter of sustainable and ethical business practices. In this post, I'm exploring what more we could - and should - be doing.
The negative sides to this pandemic are obvious to everyone. But there has been at least one positive - and that's mutual aid. Communities of all shapes and sizes have been coming together to provide support to those in need, delivering food, collecting medicines and providing (virtual) company to those who find themselves on their own during the lockdown. People helping others, on an equal footing, and not requiring anything in return, is at the heart of the response. The idea of mutual aid isn't a new one; it was shaped by a Russian thinker and scientist, Peter Kropotkin. In response to Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' theories, Kropotkin instead explores the idea that mutual aid is an essential feature of all societies - animal and human. This article by Ruth Kinna and Thomas Swann, published in The Conversation, explores Kropotkin's theory and the link to the coronavirus response.
The mutual-aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that it has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all vicissitudes of history. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Chapter VII
That's all very well for community responses to the crisis, but what does that mean for businesses, now and in the new 'new normal'? Many employers would claim that they are already responsible businesses, providing opportunities for flexible working, ensuring their supply chains operate ethically, and contributing to delivering the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. And this is a great start. But all this is happening within a broader climate where other businesses actively avoid their responsibilities, treat workers unfairly and continue to pollute the planet. We can - and should - all do more.
I've been thinking about what applying the principals of mutual aid might mean for Lucidity. My core belief when establishing this consultancy was that we would do things differently. So we ask awkward questions and challenge established thinking to help our clients discover new approaches. We share best practice and encourage clients to follow, adopt and adapt examples that have worked in other situations. We aim to share our own knowledge and skills with others as openly as possible. We champion flexible working, demonstrating that a flexible approach leads to higher-quality outputs. And we always seek to work on a reciprocal basis, creating opportunities for others as well as ourselves. Of course, this isn't mutual aid - we get well paid for our work. But I hope it's at least a step in the right direction, and something we can expand and grow.
For a real change to emerge from this crisis, we need citizens, business and politics to come together on a reciprocal basis, each working to support the others to achieve a better society for all. This might mean more employee-owned businesses and cooperatives. It does mean a universal basic income. At its most basic, it calls for working relationships based on much higher levels of trust. And it certainly means removing exploitation - and the resulting poverty and inequality- in all its forms. Those are big asks. But if we can't ask now, then when?
If business-as-usual austerity returns after the crisis, the fertile ground of mutual aid may well dry up. The maintenance and extension of basic income, in contrast, may help preserve and promote grassroots social change in the longer term. This anarchist thinker helps explain why we feel so driven to help each other through the coronavirus crisis