Post-Covid Capitalism Should Care for People & the Planet

The Covid-19 crisis has shaken up how we view the world. It has shown that many of our political and social structures are built on privilege and inequality, breaking through the clutter and smug self-satisfaction of our times, and turning the spotlight on what is truly important.

We must never forget that during the crisis we have not been desperate for lawyers, actors, athletes or reality TV stars (or, let me add, business people). We have needed teachers, doctors, nurses, carers, shop workers, delivery drivers and countless others whom we usually take for granted. The crisis underlined that the edifice of our prosperity depends on many who work in humble ways and whose well-being is the foundation of our own well-being.

As a business person, it brought home to me how interlinked the cogs are of our economic wheels. The working of a factory in Mumbai, a construction site in Delhi, a tourist hub in Goa and a plantation in Kerala depend on wandering migrants from the remotest and poorest corners of India.

When they flee, because their life has become unbearable, the scaffolding that props up our prosperity collapses. Yet, in spite of their centrality, the underprivileged have disproportionately borne the burden of the virus – not just in India but all over the world.

Covid-19 has also demonstrated the incompatibility of our “normal” lifestyle with the natural world, and how quickly nature can repair the damage we inflict upon it if we change how we live.

In the nine or 10 weeks of enforced lockdown in India, pollution levels have fallen drastically, the Himalayas are visible from the plains for the first time in decades, birds are back in our cities, and the skies and oceans have shrugged off the patina of grey in which they are normally enveloped.

Crises reveal what should be truly important to us. The bottom line is that interconnectedness, of people with each other and with the planet, is non-negotiable. Business leaders who do not get it are going to see their company’s brand value erode before their very eyes.

In our group of companies, we were fortunate to experience this epiphany some years ago. We recognized, from a business perspective, that if we wanted to grow sustainably, we could not rely on a relatively narrow customer base of prosperous Indians. Instead we had to create value collectively for our entire spectrum of stakeholders – colleagues, business associates, shareholders, potential consumers across the economy, local and global communities, and the planet – making them partners in our success.

This crystallized into our business philosophy: “Rise”. Our core purpose is to enable others to rise by driving positive change in their lives. It does not explicitly mention profits, because we believe that if we enable others to rise we will rise with them and profits will inevitably follow.

Read the entire Op Ed here.

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