The fast spreading disease has put “The City That Never Sleeps” – New York City – to sleep. COVID-19 has placed more than half of the U.S. in a lockdown in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve.’ More than 100 million lives are disrupted and thousands of businesses have halted their operations. When our society was forced to face this pandemic, existing protocols seem to have little relevance, unfortunately. In other words, our society was not prepared for this kind of mass disruption. Hence, it is understandable the apprehension surrounding the pandemic is globally prevalent. There are many questions and problems, but the answers that we need are still missing. The federal and state governments’ effort doesn’t seem to be enough at times, and the existing healthcare systems are already under a lot of stress. What our society does have is bright minded innovators and their innovations. Both entrepreneurial startup players and large corporations have introduced many creative ways to tackle the immediate problems that our communities encounter. The scope of helpful innovations that have emerged during COVID-19 ranges from new ways of supplying essential medical services and gear to social initiatives designed to aid the vulnerable during and after the pandemic.
A notable change in healthcare practices during COVID-19 is that it’s going online. As many of us are encouraged to stay home to avoid exposure to the virus, medical appointments are taking place virtually. Telehealth can address workforce issues, care for at-risk populations, and maximize medical workforce potential by using quarantined physicians to provide virtual care. The telehealth/telemedicine industry during the pandemic has grown dramatically over the past two months. Part of the growth was made possible by startups offering up their innovations to advance the young industry. For instance, many AI/chatbot startups have offered their digital platform where patients can be evaluated by either an AI chatbot system or a medical professional.
Along with the entrepreneurial startup players, established large corporations’ participation in mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic is also crucial. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, announced the organization’s new Davos Manifesto in December 2019 which emphasized businesses’ responsibility to the whole of society, beyond their stakeholders. Such notion is especially important during a trying time like this. Social intrapreneurs are “a breed of entrepreneurs who work as employees within companies to develop business solutions for social or environmental problems”. For instance, AXA’s Emerging Customers tests and implements new insurance schemes for low-income populations, who are often accessing insurance for the first time, focusing on underserved customers such as women, farmers or migrant workers. While the entrepreneurs address the struggles with the immediate logistical and medical impact of the COVID-19 crisis, intrapreneurs of large corporations provide opportunities that can address long-term problems.
The prosperity of post pandemic life will depend on how our society utilizes and integrates innovations. There’s a possibility that we’ll come out of it better than before. For instance, the SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 acted as a catalysis that ecommerce company, Ali Baba needed to rewrite the narrative of retail in Asia. The company’s success was fueled by anxiety around traveling and human contact. The financial crisis of 2008 and the tight cash flows at the time gave birth to the sharing economy and the life-changing companies such as Uber and Airbnb. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many communities, it also shed light on vulnerable areas in our healthcare, social, and economic systems. Our mission as an adaptive and learning community is to recognize the exposed vulnerabilities and supplement those risk areas to be better prepared for the next unforeseen major disruption like this. Innovators are filling in those gaps to make our communities more resilient.