Driving innovation and purpose in turbulent times

By March 18, 2020 No Comments
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As the world faces the unprecedented impact of the new coronavirus outbreak, we are all having to make complex decisions to keep our communities safe, protect our businesses and help our teams stay productive whilst also supporting our key stakeholders. The situation changes daily but as Europe becomes increasingly locked down, it is clear that no organisation is certain of what new developments will bring. As we process the unprecedented changes brought about by the crisis, we have been reflecting on how it is often the entrepreneurs of the world who have helped to improve lives before, during and after crises. Reload Greece was born out of the economic crisis in Greece and a desire to harness the ideas and passion of entrepreneurs looking to drive change in their home country. Our story showcases how, by working together, new ventures with positive social and economic impact can be created. Now, here in a new crisis, we are focused on the need to continue to innovate, work together and stay positive. 

The role of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship will play a key role in helping to create innovative solutions that can help to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Startups and SMEs with technologies and innovations that can help in treating, testing and monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak will be integral and new funding will help to drive startup innovation to combat viruses. For example, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with Wellcome and Mastercard to commit $125 million in seed funding toward an accelerator created to speed up development of treatments for COVID-19. The European Commission are calling for startups with technologies and innovations that could help in treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak to apply to the next round of funding from the European Innovation Council. Startup accelerators and funding will help to bring together resources and expertise to lower the financial and technical risk for academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, while ensuring that new treatments are accessible and affordable.

Throughout our 8 years of operations, creating sustainable startups, promoting resilience and driving innovation have been a key focus for Reload Greece. From now, building startups which are resilient to external shocks and can work efficiently under new more remote modes of working, will be increasingly important. Stronger, more resilient startups with wider purpose will help to overcome this crisis and can help to better prepare for future crises.

Company values

A time of crisis is a good time to demonstrate how resilient your company is and what values define you. We’ve already seen companies step up to provide monetary support along with medical and other supplies during this crisis. For example, UPS, the global logistics leader, mobilised its global network to provide free air transportation of more than 2 million respirator masks, 280,000 pairs of nitrile gloves and 11,000 protective coveralls to China to help combat COVID-19. We have heard of technology companies offering what they do best to help people communicate, battle the virus, share medical information and more. These examples showcase how using your expertise or brand capital to help during a crisis truly shows a company’s values and purpose. 

Impact on purpose 

As the scale of the pandemic grows, so does the understanding that it will have a considerable knock on effect for the economy and businesses worldwide. The crisis represents a challenge for all organisations and businesses, but especially for organisations in the charity/not-for-profit sector working to create purpose. In such an emergency, it is inevitable that these organisations will face particular struggles as they encounter limitations in funding and increased demand for their services.

The purpose movement has been one of the most powerful forces changing business in recent years. Over the last few years, corporations have made positive steps to move beyond solely making a profit, to improving their social impact, driving equality and diversity and becoming more environmentally sustainable. In many organisations, shareholder value has no longer been the overarching priority. Now in this unprecedented crisis, companies are occupied with staying afloat as opposed to focusing on their wider social impact. Many organisations may now put financial goals over purpose commitments. For example, several airlines have already cited the virus as a reason to delay imposing new environmental taxes on air travel. 

Social impact organisations and charities are more in need of support than ever. With fundraising events cancelled and a struggling economy impacting donations from individuals and businesses, funds are likely to diminish. This funding crisis comes at a time when the role played by volunteers and charities and the support offered to the isolated and vulnerable is most needed. Food banks are already facing a shortage in supplies due to panicked stockpiling and a decrease in donations, and volunteering programmes are restricting their offerings in circumstances which put vulnerable people at risk. 

Showcasing the benefits of purpose

However, there is an opportunity for the crisis to strengthen the purpose movement. This crisis will help to showcase the benefits of purpose – taking care of employees both physically and mentally, providing a healthy work-life balance and contributing positively to the community. It is an opportunity for investors, entrepreneurs and governments to help create new startups which have a positive impact. Rather than retreating from their purpose commitment, we hope that leaders will use the crisis to think about how their organisations can uniquely contribute and help. 

There is a collective desire to find a silver lining amongst the devastating impact of coronavirus. At a time when our health systems are under immense pressure and those already on the edge of society feel more isolated, when we are more actively conscious of our communities and the vulnerable, there is a real motivation to pull together and find positive ways to help. And as the virus shakes up our daily routines and ways of living, it is an opportunity for new ideas, new technology and new approaches to step into this space. Entrepreneurial thinking and an ability to adapt will be fundamental as we navigate unchartered territory over the coming months.

Governments, businesses and charitable organisations alike will all be looking for new ways of working to solve a range of problems and challenges. This is already in action. In an inspiring story from Italy reported by Fast Company this week, an innovative three-way collaboration across industries culminated in breathing equipment being 3D printed to help meet demand as hospitals faced shortages which could not be met by the existing supplier. Meanwhile in the UK, new community-led initiatives to tackle the impact at local level can lead to increased social ties and closer communities in the future. For example, Florence (a business matching nurses and carers with employment in the care home sector), launched National Care Force – a volunteer-led response to coronavirus’s threat to our care services, using technology to match volunteers with opportunities. This was triggered by the realisation that the virus will cause significant staffing gaps in the social care sector, and a desire to connect with a willing and able population of volunteers. 

Positive reflections

These stories all show that great ideas can come out of a crisis, and that we can pull together as a global community to achieve new solutions. This is familiar territory for Reload Greece. We were first established as a direct response to the economic crisis in Greece, our work has positively harnessed the power of the diaspora and the global entrepreneurship community working together. Now the stakes are higher than ever but we remain positive that the entrepreneurship community will emerge stronger from this crisis and that the world will come together to support social impact organisations and charities who are creating a positive impact. Entrepreneurs and business leaders can use this crisis as an opportunity to innovate and become stronger and more resilient whilst also finding creative ways to deliver positive impact.

In this unprecedented global environment, now more than ever, we need to come together and support one another. If there are additional ways we can support you, please let us know. In the meantime, if you are able to support our work to help build new ventures with positive impact, all donations are gratefully received and if you are looking for some inspiration, don’t miss your chance to watch our latest cohort of entrepreneurs pitch their innovative business ideas to a panel of investors. Join the Young Entrepreneurs Programme RG YEP final pitch event on Saturday 28th March. With an international cohort and community, this year the event will be held digitally so the ticket price has been lowered considerably and we can welcome a larger audience. Tickets are limited to 100 single viewers so please register soon to avoid disappointment.