Rashi Goel
Guest Article

"This period of fasting will be followed by a period of feasting": Rashi Goel, Nestle

Goel believes that this period will forever rupture each human’s memory and narrative of life into a pre and post Corona world.

To loosely borrow from Charles Dickens’ 'A Tale of Two Cities', the COVID-19 crisis will be remembered as a phenomenon that paved the way for both, the best of times, and the worst of times. These months of lockdown, social distancing, work from home, and stocking up essential groceries are irrevocably changing the world. This period will forever rupture each human’s memory and narrative of life into a pre and post Corona world. Some trends will get accelerated, some reversed, and some completely new behaviours will be born.

The world is flatter, patriotism is at its peak

This crisis has impacted 205 countries globally. Not since the Second World War has there been any phenomenon that has impacted each and everybody in the world. Even the Second World War was experienced more by the UK, Europe and the US in the Western Hemisphere, and Japan in the Eastern Hemisphere. The rest of the world was colonised, and they sent across soldiers as part of the British Army. Hence, the Second World War is more a part of shared memory in global consciousness. The Corona pandemic will not be just a shared memory, but a shared experience, globally. This is a giant leap forward towards a flatter world.

The world has never been more united against a common enemy before. At the same time, the feeling of patriotism and nationalism has never run deeper. The action of each country's leader is there on the world stage for everyone to see and judge. The political leaders who will lead their country through this crisis, with maturity, speed, and empathy will further strengthen their loyal base within their country. But they will also be lauded on the world stage. This will lead to a deep feeling of nationalistic pride amongst the population of the country, whose leader will be able to navigate the country out of the crisis with the least damage, compared to others on the world stage. Deep patriotism will also emerge because people will realise (that) while they may learn from the world, at the end of the day, they are in it together with the rest of their own nation.

World order has changed

The optimism bias of the wealthy, and the developed countries, that somehow they are protected from disasters and pandemics has been challenged. Sixty-one per cent of worldwide Coronavirus cases are in the developed and Western Hemisphere – the US, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. These countries are learning from China, Singapore and South Korea, which addressed the pandemic swiftly, and efficiently.

The US has vacated the privilege of being the 'Leader of the Free World' that traditionally shares expertise and resources, and takes decisive action to lead the rest of the world with soft power and thought leadership. Will the new world order be a consortium of countries that agrees to corporate for the greater good? Or, will China rise to the top of the pack on the back of its economic strength? The answer is not clear. But, what is very clear is that the US has left behind a ‘for rent’ sign.

Inequality gets even more visible and might reach a breaking point

We can no longer pretend we do not see the deep and vast gap between the haves and have-nots. We see the stark difference in lifestyles, when you see conversations around the lockdown. The poor are focused on survival, worried about where to find the money to stock up on groceries during the lockdown. The most impacted population across the world has been the daily wage earners - the blue collar and unskilled, who struggle to make ends meet because of the lockdown. Each day’s wages lost is that day’s dinner forsaken. Small businesses are struggling to pay salaries. In contrast, the affluent are exchanging notes on which is the best Netflix series to binge-watch next, and busy buying stocks at discounted prices in a recessionary stock market. The rich are getting richer, the poor are sinking deeper into the hole of economic insecurity.

"This period of fasting will be followed by a period of feasting": Rashi Goel, Nestle

This chart above shows that in India, the strictest measures of lockdown are in place, but with the least amount of fiscal support. Strict lockdown is needed with a population of 1.3 billion. The medical infrastructure is just not geared up for a possible pandemic of this scale. And as the Indian Prime Minister rightly said in one of his addresses to the nation, if the pandemic spreads, it could take the country back 20 years.

Game changing leadership

Real leaders are rising above the rest. They are the ones who have shown empathy to their people, teams and community. Those who have not just posted niceties on their LinkedIn, or Twitter handles, but have put skin in the game. Through actions. They have donated money, taken salary cuts, supported government efforts, and the medical profession.

Leaders who have risen in esteem are the ones who have listened to experts, and then taken decisive action. As always, in times of crisis, there is a need for a higher level of unity, trust and demand for authentic leadership. Leaders who have been decisive, clear and have acted fast to contain the crisis have been appreciated.

Collaborative moves in business model

Numerous organisations have pivoted and started manufacturing hand sanitisers, from Louis Vuitton to Beiersdorf. Mahindra has pivoted and has started manufacturing ventilators. All these decisions are commendable and right up there on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) scale. But let us not forget that this also makes business sense. By pivoting, these organisations are utilising their dormant fixed assets, hence increasing return on capital invested. At the same time, they are motivating their workers to come to work and get paid.

A crisis is also a time for breakthrough innovation. The collaboration of an Indian MNC and a leading food services organisation is an example of two innovative CEOs, who took brave decisions and pivoted their business models for win-win-win growth. This collaboration helps consumers get access to food essentials like flour and spices during lockdown. It increases penetration of one into new households, and keeps the employees of the other economically engaged and productive. What’s more, this creates opportunities to cross-sell and upsell across the food portfolios of both companies.

This is a live example of future of business, which will be secured through partnerships and collaboration. Organisations that unite to add value to end consumers and balance sheets through collaborative business models will win the future.

Slowdown in the shared economy, acceleration in the knowledge economy

The gig and shared economy companies, that were the darlings of venture capitalists and CEO superhero narratives, have been disrupted. If people stay at home and the economy comes to a standstill, wheels of the shared economy grind to a stop.

On the other hand, the knowledge worker-based economy has received a growth hormone infusion. Knowledge work can be done from anywhere. During this lockdown period, knowledge workers are discovering the efficiency, speed, and efficacy of work from home. Companies might become more open to allowing their employees to work from home more often.

Online education and training have already accelerated. People have become used to studying online, asking questions over chat, collaborating over Slack and co-writing documents in the cloud. People are even working out with live workout sessions online. Peloton in the US and Cult Fit in India are offering high energy workout sessions over live video, and are thriving. This new normal of imparting education at scale, anytime and to anyone who cares to invest time, will continue. There will be an upsurge in this behaviour, not just in India, but globally.

Proof of concept for climate change

West or east, poor or rich, homeless or world leader. No one has been spared. This crisis has been a rude awakening for humankind in general, and naysayers of climate crisis in particular. Just a few weeks of billions of humans staying at home, millions of cars being off the roads and numerous factories not producing goods, have delivered Proof of Concept (POC) that human activity is responsible for the climate crisis. The air is cleaner, birds are back, and dolphins are back in the sea.

While this relief is temporary, can we make this permanent? If we do not want the next global crisis to be climate change-related, planet-friendly living, like more frequent work from home and faster shift to alternate fuels sources, should continue even after the crisis is over.

People have experienced what it means to be at the complete mercy of nature and biology. People should understand that nature is more powerful than the seven billion people inhabiting the planet. I hope this leads to a new realisation that unless we learn to respect nature, environment and biology, pandemics will become more frequent as nature's way of correction. Unless we change our behaviours, we will not be leaving a healthier world for our children and grandchildren.

Phone surveillance might become the norm

'All is fair in love and war' – John Lyly’s Euphues. The problem is when the liberties we take in war time continue beyond the war. It may be fair for countries to monitor movement and trace contacts via our smartphones during Corona time. After all, it is for our own good. But if this new normal becomes the norm even after the pandemic risk is over, we will find ourselves living in the dystopian world of Big Brother watching our every move. Will we be comfortable trading every piece of our private information for commercial interests, mind bending messages delivered to us via programmed machines? I think not.

For now, what I do know is that this will be over soon. This period of fasting with be followed by a period of feasting. Isolation will end, and close social interactions will begin. Stockpiling of groceries will reduce, factories will start working normally again and Louis Vuitton will go back to manufacturing designer bags. We will all go back to work, children will go back to school and airlines will fly again.

But I sincerely hope we do not waste this crisis but, instead, use this to wash away all that holds us, and the world around us, back. I only hope that we come back to an improved 'new normal'. A 'new normal' that is more mindful of our community, respectful of nature, grateful of medical professionals, and loving of our families and friends. A 'new normal' that is less acquisitive, impatient and selfish.

Rashi Goel is a marketer with 22 years of experience with FMCG majors. At present, she is director of marketing and consumer communications at Nestlé India. Views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect the views of any organisation she is affiliated with. This article first appeared in www.stirfrymba.com and has been reproduced with permission.

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