By Joakim Reiter, Group External Affairs Director.
COVID-19 may have forced us all home—for now—but it has also forced us to adapt and learn new ways of working, learning, and interacting with friends and family.
The full magnitude of the pandemic’s toll on society and the economy is becoming clearer each day.
Jobs are vanishing. Businesses are going bankrupt. ILO estimates that 305 million jobs could disappear, whereas McKinsey research found that young employees between the ages of 15 and 24 are now twice as likely to face job instability. The OECD claims over 50% of small and medium enterprises face severe revenue losses. These are bleak times.
They are even bleaker on a human level: students are falling behind in their education; people are struggling to pay their mortgages; and the UN’s special rapporteur has warned that as many as half a billion people are at risk of sliding back into absolute poverty. Meanwhile, the prevailing sense of isolation, alienation, and hopelessness is rising and very real.
Despite these incredible challenges, people have recognised the need to act for the greater good—and governments are playing their part to help in this crisis. As Chancellor Merkel said to the Bundestag in April, the German government has provided unprecedented funding, at levels unimaginable before the Coronavirus pandemic. Companies have a role to play too.
Vodafone realises that, at this moment, we are all facing an immense challenge. Our five-point plan, established in the early days of the pandemic, spells out our commitment to support our customers, employees, partners and the whole society.
The results? We have increased network capacity by 60% in March and April, to support a near 50% rise in data traffic. We drastically expanded support for critical government services and provided free data for health and education. Vulnerable customers received assistance. Across Europe and Africa, our donations of money and services has already surpassed €100m.
And, for us, this is just the beginning. Much more will be required by everyone as we begin to reconstruct our societies. In doing so, looking ahead, we must now anticipate how society will change and adapt.
Resilience is a touchstone for us all. The bridge to each other throughout the pandemic has been digital and telephonic. We can now envisage a world where those of us who have been previously unable to travel to work can still be vital in the workforce. We can now imagine a world of education that is virtual, reaching far more children. We can now foresee how remote diagnostics and monitoring grant us all better access to healthcare. And we can see how this hyper connectivity grants a net benefit for the planet.
When the pandemic clears—and someday it will—we will realise that we have been given a generational opportunity to rebuild a more resilient, fair, inclusive and greener society.
We believe that resilience - our collective ability to recover from challenges and difficulties of our past in order to build a better future – requires leadership by governments. They must create the best conditions for the survival and success of our society and economy. In the digital age we now find ourselves in, this means moving quickly now to help businesses of all sizes digitise so they can continue to operate. It means proactive support for small and medium businesses to leverage digital tools in light of their significant contribution to the European economy and jobs. It means accelerating the digital provisioning of key government services and moving decisively towards smart cities, smart transport, and smart production. And it means giving all Europeans, regardless of age, income or where they live, the tools - the fast high quality broadband and internet access - plus the skills and capabilities to thrive in our digital society.
We know that a fairer and greener society will be enabled by digital transformation. The policy and financing choices at both European and member state level will be critical. But to achieve the pace and depth of transformation will also require much closer collaboration between government, businesses, citizens —and the providers of the networks and digital solutions that can propel us forward.
Now is the time to be bold, to push beyond the boundaries of what we thought were possible in the past and to dare to ask ”what if”. Vodafone is ready to play our part.
Find out more at vodafone.com/whatif