The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of uncertainty, and it naturally raises serious questions for business leaders looking to do the right thing for their communities while keeping their workers employed. In short: We're all worried about a lot of things right now, and we could probably use a little advice.
For vital information about the disease, we all know to turn to internationally-recognized health organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). But if you're looking for research, insights and information to guide your response, read on for the resources we continue to reference again and again.
Resource type: Research paper
Authoring organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Management Review
What it is: Researchers led by Michael Hudecheck of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland analyzed how Chinese companies responded to the early spread of the novel coronavirus, calling out best practices for firms now facing the virus in their communities. Their findings highlight how companies can develop an infrastructure for remote work, prepare for operational shocks, assist their stakeholders when it matters most, and communicate with the aim of inspiring others.
Pull-out quote: "Let others know what you’ve done ... [but] don’t boast: Provide only the most pertinent details, including the amount of funds committed, the key beneficiaries and recipients, and what you aim to achieve with your donation."
Resource type: Webinar and podcast series
Authoring organization: World Resources Institute (WRI)
What it is: This series of virtual seminars highlights ways to promote inclusive, sustainable growth as part of COVID-19 response and recovery. It focuses on how policymakers can bake sustainability and social equity into coronavirus stimulus packages and how business can advocate for policy change.
Pull-out quote: "With the pandemic triggering a global economic slowdown, leaders are searching for ways to stabilize impacted industries and shore up their economies. The decisions they make now will have long-lasting effects, so they must choose wisely."
Resource type: White paper
Authoring organizations: Business Fights Poverty and the Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative
What it is: This response framework outlines key ways business leaders can work together to support vulnerable populations. Target groups range from small businesses and students learning from home, to women and girls globally who face disproportionate impacts from the pandemic.
Pull-out quote: "The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is creating the worst humanitarian and economic crisis in a generation, threatening the lives, livelihoods and learning of people around the world. Government leadership is crucial, but companies and civil society organizations also have a vital role in working together to respond to the immediate crisis and developing plans for longer-term recovery and resilience."
Resource type: Study
Authoring organization: Edelman
What it is: Building on Edelman's annual Trust Barometer, this 12-market study based on over 12,000 interviews analyzes the role consumers expect brands to play during the pandemic.
Pull-out quote: "Seventy-one percent [of respondents] agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever."
Resource type: Blog post
Author: Derrick Z. Jackson, senior climate and energy fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Science and Democracy
What it is: Though groups including UCS insist governments must do more to track data around race and health outcomes related to COVID-19, what we know from initial reports paints a grim picture of black and brown people dying in disproportionate numbers. In Louisiana, for example, black people make up less than 35 percent of the population but account for 70 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 statewide. In this blog post, UCS senior fellow Derrick Z. Jackson draws a parallel to government responses following Hurricanes Katrina and Maria — the effects of which predominantly impacted black and brown people — in a call-to-action for governments and businesses to do better.
Pull-out quote: "The coronavirus gives us the opportunity to declare in our political and medical decisions that we will not drape the cloak of invisibility over historically neglected victims of disaster, as it was in the hollowing out of the black middle class in New Orleans after Katrina and the inhuman abandonment of Puerto Ricans after Maria."
Resource type: Corporate response tracker
Authoring organization: Just Capital
What it is: This corporate response tracker from Just Capital, which ranks companies based on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, analyzes how the 100 largest U.S. employers are responding to COVID-19. It's updated regularly, most recently on March 31.
Pull-out quote: "The coronavirus pandemic and impending recession have created an urgent, unprecedented opportunity for CEOs and corporate leaders to put the promise of purpose-driven leadership and stakeholder capitalism into practice."
See also: 5 Principles to Help Guide Corporate America During the Coronavirus Crisis, another helpful resource from Just Capital.
Resource type: Blog post
Author: Aron Cramer, president and CEO of BSR
What it is: In this call-to-action, Aron Cramer of the sustainable business coalition BSR unpacks how businesses can not only respond to the immediate needs surrounding COVID-19, but also learn from the experience and build resilience that's grounded in environmental and social sustainability principles.
Pull-out quote: "The era of stand-alone sustainability strategies, with subsequent integration of sustainability into company strategy, needs to end; the creation of resilient business strategies that take sustainability as their foundation needs to begin."
See also: Meet the Moment. Build the Future., another helpful blog post from BSR.
Resource type: Survey
Authoring organization: Porter Novelli
What it is: This survey of 1,000 U.S. adults offers a snapshot of what people expect from brands during and after the pandemic, with insights on response, communications, employee and community relations, and recovery. Notably, 75 percent of respondents said they will remember the companies that stepped up to help (and those that didn't).
Pull-out quote: "During this hyper-intense moment in our world, every decision we make as leaders demonstrates our character. Whether it’s the communications we prioritize for external consumption or the maneuvers made to care for our people internally, character is on full display. Remember that with each action you take, because even if you don’t, you can be assured that others will."
Resource type: Article
Authoring: Mike Barry, board trustee at A Blueprint for Better Business
What it is: The architect of Marks and Spencer’s Plan A sustainability strategy outlines how business leaders can turn their words about purpose into action that contributes to more equitable societies following the pandemic.
Pull-out quote: "Nothing should detract us from winning this war. But as we fight we should seize the chance too to create a new, more resilient, healthy, equal society that lives in equilibrium with nature."
Resource type: White paper
Authoring organization: Markstein
What it is: Marketing communications agency Markstein leaned on research and case studies from multiple sources to inform business leaders looking to support their communities while maintaining their operations and keeping their workers employed.
Pull-out quote: "No leader will get everything right. The best ones bring humility and vulnerability to the effort, admit their mistakes and adjust."
Resource type: Article
Authoring organization: Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
What it is: Megan Kashner, director of social impact at the Kellogg School, poses three questions for business leaders grappling with how to respond to COVID-19, leaning on case studies from companies doing it right.
Pull-out quote: "There are likely creative ways that almost any company can be of use to those in need."
Image credit: Alex Motoc/Unsplash
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.