Year 2020 has been the most unforgiving one. The pandemic ruthlessly shook the world leaving the global community in unending fiascos. The earlier anecdotes imbued with mounting apprehensions, uncertainties, anger and denial turned into real-time personal and collective tragedies in no time. The helplessness compounded with hopelessness and growing fear of impending danger strangled the masses physically, mentally, socially and above all economically. COVID drove the job markets in shambles and there is none who has not been affected by it directly or indirectly. Amongst all the smart or micro locked down strategies, the economy dramatically plummeted and the already poverty-stricken lives of the most vulnerable people especially the day laborers saw the unprecedented episodes of miseries which are continuing and are not just limited to hunger, food insecurity, unemployment, health and other countless issues.
Amidst all the misinformation and misinterpretations, “how to make hand sanitizer and how to prepare face mask with fabric at home” were the most frequently done searches on the internet. Started in early January 2020, the search for the ‘good news’ skyrocketed during March-April according to Google trends. A year into the pandemic now, search interest in vaccine has reached an all-time high globally. People have been wistfully inquisitive to look for the most comforting news --the manufacturing, access and availability of the Covid 19 vaccine. And though still not equitably accessible to all, it is finally here.
People are being vaccinated very systematically across the globe but ironically, there is a huge amount of reluctance, reservations and distrust. From its authenticity to efficacy, people are in a continuous state of indecision. At one hand, there have been earnest supplications to find the antidote to this venomous contagion and on the other hand, there is growing evidence of hesitancy and avoidance. Oddly, when people carry a bug and get affected by an ailment, they tend to look for curative measures which are always cumbersome, complicated and expensive. Whereas, “prevention is better than cure” is not always understood and internalized. Amidst all the mass awareness campaigns, one-on-one messages, digital and social media communication, people in general are never ready to take precautionary measures for their own safety and others. Rather, an evident defiance has strongly taken its roots concurrently. A particular stratum would instantly get infuriated and start bullying if they are even very politely asked to wear a mask and follow the SOPs.
Despite these unruly behavioral issues by the masses, geopolitical dynamics, strategic imperatives and multidimensional challenges of global governance, renowned research institutes, scientists, academia, pharmaceutical industries and above all the front line health workers deserve a huge appreciation and gratitude for their relentless efforts in making the vaccines available in a very short time. Simultaneously, the role of private sector, civil society organizations/nonprofits and for-profit sectors to tackle this evolving situation cannot be disregarded.
Multiple humanitarian and welfare organizations, philanthropists and corporations swiftly stepped up to provide relief to the vulnerable people. The companies quickly adapted their strategies and initiated emergency response to tackle the crippling effects of the COVID 19. Backed by the grassroots community based organizations, the Corporate Social Responsibility teams rose to the occasion and have been actively contributing in ration distributions to address nutritional needs of the families. Depending on the nature of business and corporate priorities, most of the funds under CSR are spent on poverty eradication and financial inclusion programs, literacy, scholarships, malnutrition, promoting livelihood opportunities, youth engagement, women empowerment through tech-driven social enterprise development, healthcare including preventive and to a certain extent therapeutic support to MNCH, sanitation and availability of clean drinking water and other aspects of environmental sustainability.
In these testing times, one of the most critical roles the private and more particularly the corporate sector can play is to actively collaborate with the government and other stakeholders to get people ready for vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared “vaccine hesitancy to be one of the 10 greatest threats to global health in 2019 which primarily emanates from the trust-deficit and revolves around factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence”. A recurring concern voiced by those who have been skeptical about a range of available vaccines can be addressed by a comprehensive comparative research which has been a missing link in these heartening developments. The concerns and questions of people need to be respectfully addressed by unpacking risks and benefits of vaccines through a continuous comparative analysis and research pieces which must be available for the general public in local and comprehensible language.
This is exactly where a corporate firm can chip in. Their contributions should not be only focusing on the villages and areas where their factories are located. Now is the opportunity to expand their circle of influence and go beyond short term or service delivery oriented interventions. In the backdrop of this lingering pandemic, a strategic alliance can easily be formed by the likeminded corporations. The CSR funds can be pooled together to support authentic research studies guided by experts in the field. Context sensitive, very persuasive campaigns can be initiated online and offline keeping local people at the center stage using the simple and context sensitive, compelling but relatable messages about the benefits of getting vaccinated timely.
Today, people at large are curiously open-eyed to whether the brands they prefer are “socially responsible” or not. This is the high time for the firms to make a deliberate choice and practically demonstrate that their businesses exist not for just profit but for the bigger purpose and “shared value” they are committed to within and outside their organizations.
Saeed ul Hassan is an educationist, policy analyst, campaigner, poet and entrepreneur. About two decades ago, his career began as a volunteer in a public sector office. He later rose to senior leadership roles in international and national nonprofit organizations. Saeed is a published poet. As a writer and public speaker, he talks on personal, organizational and social change. Twitter @saeedulhassan7