Global trust is necessary in the fight against COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global crisis challenging our economies and societies in unprecedented ways. Its impact on humanity remains uncertain. Even in the situation we find ourselves today, we can be grateful for a few things.

More contagious and deadly viruses and pandemics plagued us before the current outbreak. Even though medical systems may struggle to cope, upgrades being made in response to the novel coronavirus may leave us better prepared for such health threats in future. Optimism may be harder to come by amidst apocalyptic sentiment, but during times like these it is more important than ever.

Beyond far reaching implications for global people movement and daily living, we are seeing a significant economic impact as well. Businesses operating physical spaces, small businesses especially, are most immediately affected by official restrictions. Only some of them will have the luxury of being compensated for their losses. Globally, financial markets have reacted with corrections. It is fair to say that uncertainty and volatility will make the coming months a wild ride for many of us. But the real challenge in business environs like these is related to lending and risk management. Businesses small and large have run into cashflow challenges and may continue to face issues of this sort. Predictability of their commercial fates is far more limited. Both could destabilize our global financial system and its pivotal role as an economic enabler.

On the flipside, the fuzzy nature of the current operating environment and its opaque outlook may well present a great deal of opportunity. Institutions that proactively find solutions to their operating challenges will fare better than those waiting out the crisis. Looking back at the GFC, we can expect governments to handle promises of private sector support more rigorously. All organizations affected significantly should seek to address the complex problems we now face to enhance their value propositions and aim for comprehensive innovation across value chain.

Never before has there been more natural urgency to embrace the digital shift and the inherent value of agility as an organizational modus operandi. COVID-19 has brought the future of work closer to us than ever before. Our efforts now to make the most of the situation will probably pay off big time once we regain control of the situation. This is an opportunity to dramatically accelerate our digital shift.

Beyond this, global handling of events teaches us a few things. Few places managed to contain spread as effectively as my home base of Singapore. Strong leadership, swift execution, strong digital capabilities, and effective enforcement have proven successful at preventing the worst thus far. This approach worked far better than the pendulum of initial underreaction to sudden extreme measures we have seen in so many other places. But all efforts to manage the outbreak do have one thing in common. Organizations still rely heavily on distrust-driven measures to regulate behavior, i.e. constraining people with penalties or prohibitions. All that is necessary, but our global fight against the virus would be so much more effective if we could successfully encourage individuals to proactively behave in the most appropriate manner.

Having dedicated my life’s work to studying the power of the Trust Economy, I firmly believe in its potential to mobilize the right behaviors. Digital communities powered by technology and data have been able to create communities of shared trust in a common cause. Self-control but also peer regulation work very effectively in these environments. Harnessing this ability to empower people globally and rally them around shared causes related to defeating COVID-19 could dramatically enhance the effectiveness of formally mandated control measures in place right now. Further, the more each and every one of us feels shared responsibility, the faster we can ease the restrictions we now live with. Doing so will evolve us from a reactive to a proactive mindset in how we manage crises, create change, and shape our future.

It’s time we understand that the trust economy is about more than selling second-hand goods, finding accommodation, or hitching a ride. It’s about trusting fellow humans and our collective value add in shaping the future of this planet together. The current global outlooks requires humanity to collaborate on a mega-scale to address one of the most significant challenges of modern times. As many of us know, effective collaboration is only possible with a foundation of trust. Our best bet right now is to break barriers and champion a shared global effort. We now have a unique opportunity to bring humanity together and neutralize the common enemy, in the hopes that the effect will outlast the crisis and set a new precedent for global economic and social harmony.

This piece was also featured on Efma.

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