Covid a 'good crisis'

Even as COVID-19 infection continues to baffle global health experts and leaving them red-faced as their scientific capabilities have failed to invent an appropriate remedy to control its spread, it’s assured that the crisis is modifying our way of life very fast. The writing is on the wall that there would be a distinct demarcation between pre-COVID era and post-COVID scenario once the pandemic ends. However, one thing is clear that the changes in our way of life which we will settle with in post-COVID times would be lasting changes. That period would be a testing time for all subjects to fall in line with the new norm. The task is not going to be very easy and would be time consuming. Since we continue to be enveloped with the swarm of deadly virus, taking note of enforced modifications engineered in our way of life at this time will definitely help us to adopt the future inevitable changes (new norm) in a much better way. In fact it’s the ‘earlier, the better’ policy which makes sense in the given pandemic scenario as the roll out of new norms is still in its incipient stage.

If we look at some major crises that struck the world in the past, we find some major changes in the way of life that established a new norm permanently. For example, global recession of 2008 brought permanent changes on both personal and business levels as millions of people globally were forced to realign their loan-obtaining plans in line with tighter norms put in place by the banks and financial institutions.

It’s worth mentioning that the 2008 Recession in the United States and Western Europe has been linked to the so-called “subprime mortgage crisis.” Subprime mortgages are home loans granted to borrowers with poor credit histories. Their home loans are considered high-risk loans.

When we talk of permanent changes invoked by a crisis, 9/11 incident seems best example which changed the security scenario all over the world. Immediately after the incident, stringent screening of passengers at airports became a new permanent norm. Even security checks in and around buildings housing sensitive establishments assumed more significance around the world.

Now coming back to COVID-19 pandemic, described as the ‘greatest crisis of our age’ by none other than the head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, while opening an online session of the World Health Summit  yesterday (Monday 26, 2020), radical changes in peoples’ approach to personal hygiene, working from home and social distancing are already picking pace. Precisely, a country that readies itself right now to the new norm in post-COVID scenario would definitely help it to make economic revival much faster than others.

As we are aware that global economic chain was immediate casualty of the coronavirus outbreak. The disruption in the global economic chain left even strong economies in shambles and struggling. Even today, almost every economy is in a mess where demand as well as supply stands far from reaching to normal levels. In this backdrop, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reiterated his call for ‘vocal for local’. Basically, call for ‘Vocal for Local’ is a shot in the arm of efforts to trigger economic revival in the country. Immediately after COVID-induced lockdown, the prime minister made an appeal in the context of supporting Indian economy at the grassroots level as a step towards self-reliance. Through “Vocal for Local”, he appealed for buying local product and supporting local business. This is because during the lockdown and COVID-19 it is the local vendors, products and services that have helped to survive. He said that the Coronavirus has taught the importance of local manufacturing, market and supply chain.

The concept of ‘Vocal for Local’ is a brilliant economic strategy which is basically a parallel model to the era of Swadeshi movement in 1905 that helped to develop Indian nationalism at the time of Indian independence movement. In the present context, when pandemic has derailed economy and brought it on the brick of facing depression amid disrupted global economic chain, ‘Vocal for Local’ is not just about supporting local economy by buying the local products; it also includes promoting them through various channels to the grass root level and is purely having an economic sense. The prime minister has done its part by being vocal about local, now it’s the responsibility of the people down the line to tailor sector specific plans to explore the potential of local economy by creating an economic chain down the line locally linking supplier to consumer. One thing to be noted while developing a localized economic supply chain is that the different economic sectors will need different approaches while linking local products from supplier to the local consumer. One size will not fit in all sectors.

As the COVID pandemic has narrowed consumers focus to the local level, they are feeling comfortable to shop at smaller local shops than going to bigger stores or malls.

In ‘Vocal for Local’ initiative, the local businesses will also have to modify their operational methodology. They have to re-examining how products are produced, distributed and even marketed. This way these businesses would be able to re adjust their operations to fall in line with the COVID-induced new buying patterns.

Precisely, a requirement for running a business to promote ‘Vocal for Local’ in the new norm is to take care of people and prioritizing their general wellbeing. While promoting local products in the local environment, it would be the fair business practices which will be deciding factor for success of the initiative. In other words, transparency in pricing, reliability and long lasting nature of products would be a deciding factor to develop local products into strong brands that may be hard to displace for times to come.

While visualizing the dream of achieving the aim of ‘Vocal for Local’, technology cannot be overlooked. The pandemic-induced lockdown has already forced people and majority of the businesses to use digital mode in demand-supply chain. Online shopping is fast catching up a new permanent norm. So, the use of digital media and online tools to create linkages between the producers and the consumers even in the local context makes its inevitable to promote local products. As rightly pointed out by an acquaintance dealing with local heritage products, direct selling is the best way to help local entrepreneurs to become profitable. There is also dire need for skilling the artists and craftsmen appropriately in various aspects of production, packaging, logistics, marketing, sales and so on.

In the context of local (J&K) context, the prime minister’s call for ‘Vocal for Local’ is an opportunity to make use of products made by local entrepreneurs and artisans. This not only helps them sustain their livelihoods but also create jobs for people.

Let me conclude with an adage. “Don’t waste a good crisis.” During the period of crisis, it’s the open-mindedness and innovation that throws new opportunities to adapt, evolve and grow. Those that can adapt, evolve and grow amid the pandemic-induced disruptions for the inevitable “new normal” may have the opportunity to thrive in the post-COVID scenario. Businesses linked to any sector of economy have to understand the reshaping of societies and communities, which calls for their operational adjustment to keep the consumers well within their business circumference in the new norm.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)