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Will Covid-19 be a trigger for positive change?

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Will Covid-19 be a trigger for positive change?
By Hans van Oudheusden
Posted: 2020-04-21T07:00:00Z

That is a strong desire expressed by many people nowadays. We were concerned about the world “before corona” and hope that the world “after corona” will look better. Less air pollution, no traffic jams, and people seem to be much courteous, caring even. Will Covid-19 bring about positive change to this ideal world we are longing for?


Much will change after the crisis, but not our human nature. We may “reunite with” our bad habits quickly.  After all, mankind is perhaps not the best student of history and lacks the motivation to remember and act on lessons learnt. We know we should learn through reflection, but do we rarely actually do it? Inequality, poverty, famines, wars, destruction of our planet … are attributed to poor choices.


And now there is another moment of reflection. I truly believe, the role of education is, among other things, to convert that reflection into awareness among students. Professors have to reflect, students have to reflect, and maybe most importantly, professors, deans, presidents, staff and students should share views, discuss and be open-minded. The world of today does not happen to us, but is the result of human choices, certainly economic choices. Current business models are destroying the planet, creating more and more inequality and proving to be incredibly vulnerable. The biggest economic shock since World War II is heading our way. What to do?


Many are already calling for protectionism. Maybe we should be more self-sufficient in certain products, that might be true. However, shortsighted emotions are dangerous. Climate crisis, migration crisis, security, scientific research, innovations … should not be limited by borders. Costly developments of antiviral and antibacterial infection medicines and their production also require global commitment. Back to a world with countries that each operate for themselves is a utopia. Protectionism is not the answer, we will achieve much more united against these challenges than acting alone.


Collaboration is and remains key. In light of the recent developments I see an important role for our Network of International Business Schools (NIBS), more than ever. Like I said, Covid-19 forces us to reflect. To reflect on the importance and appreciation of our health-care systems, and – very important - on the way how they are run and financed. Forces us to (re)think the role of our governments, our (sometimes malfunctioning) taxation systems, the responsibility of global companies, so many business-related questions.  Right now, we as professors need to learn from each other and teach our students to reflect on issues that really matter. Those issues are everywhere and worldwide. Business school students should be taught that current major problems require a different approach. An approach that takes into account that not everything can be controlled. “Doing business as usual” is no longer a valid approach, the “usual” has brought is where we are now. The corona crisis is a major shock to customer behaviors and business models. The challenges associated with it will be of a magnitude bigger than what we are used to dealing with. To handle them, we need to adopt an operating model that accommodates the extreme level of uncertainty facing business. However, it goes beyond that. Questions addressing the balance between economic success and social responsibility need to be raised. We as business schools,  should talk even more about the serious environmental and social shortcomings of our economy. We should interpret the word “value” in a much broader way. Maybe we have focused too much and too long on economic value in particular. I know many universities offer courses like Sustainability, Circular Economy, Social Responsibility and Inclusivity. Maybe we should accelerate these developments, make them “main stream”.


And in asking these questions and finding the answers, we are all equal, no matter what country we live in. We as educators have to increase our cooperation in order to “deliver” the best education possible. After all, we have the obligation to turn students into good decision makers. How to make the best decisions in business? What is of real value?  I hope that our network can be one of the tools between students, professors and business schools all over the world in order to find the best answers. Our recently launched NIBS Member Portal could not have come at a better time to support networking. Please use it, celebrate our cooperation and let’s transform this crisis into positive change.