A way forward from the Coronavirus.

By Shaima Hamidaddin

First of all, I hope all of you, your families, and friends are safe. We’re living through unprecedented events, it’s no wonder some people are scared. But if things seem dark, there’s one thing we can rely on that’s NOT unprecedented – our common humanity. Some truly heart-warming stories have begun to emerge of people reaching out (not physically of course!) to each other and the most vulnerable in society now facing loneliness and isolation.

 

Indeed, it’s widely acknowledged that the long-term impact on economics and society is going to be huge and the measures needed to combat the spread of Coronavirus are going to touch us all in some way: The need to work remotely, social isolation, and travel restrictions. And how we respond over the coming weeks – maybe months – is going to be a huge test in itself.

 

We’ve often heard (and said) how we’re now the most globally connected generation ever. How we can talk to friends, colleagues and strangers around the world from the comfort of home. But what happens when that doesn’t become a choice, but a necessity – not just for a few, but for many? Can the technology handle it? Can we handle it?

 

Even in my own home we had a sudden challenge when my sons’ school closed. I’ve been trying to limit their screen time, but suddenly they needed screens just to join their lessons and we realised we didn’t have enough for them. It’s not just at home either, in Misk and at other companies around the world we’ve suddenly had to make sure colleagues have laptops to work from home. Fortunately, we’ve been able to get solve both problems but… we’re lucky to have resources. There are many who don’t.

 

And it’s not just on a resource level that there are challenges. The technology itself has sometimes struggled. We’ve heard about mobile and WIFI networks and VOIP platforms all faltering with the sudden surge in demand. But even assuming those challenges can be surmounted, there’s debate whether technology can truly replace face-to-face human contact.

 

Given the situation, at Misk we’re pivoting many of our events planned for this year to be online. We planned Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) national finals, Misk 500 Startups workshops, and Y20 working groups to be actual physical events. Those clearly aren’t going to be possible and a key question for us now is: How can we make sure the benefits are the same? All these events were originally to be designed to be as interactive as possible – hands-on and face-to-face – there’s a real risk something will be lost online.  

 

But maybe instead of worrying about losing something, we should think about what we could gain. Are there ways to improve the experience? And, asking an even bigger question, will bringing more events like these online improve more than just the interactions? For a start, a free, user-friendly, virtual platform can extend opportunities to young people in less developed countries, who can (sometimes with justification) see access to programs like EWC as the preserve of richer countries.

 

Another side-effect of the various lockdowns around the world has been a massive reduction in pollution. Maybe that’s the key opportunity from this challenge. With climate change a major issue, what if this is an opportunity to turn a solution to one problem into a solution for another? Can we learn to live in new ways for the benefit of not just ourselves, but the whole planet?

 

I know this blog has posed a lot of questions, but I hope we’ll have some answers in the coming weeks and months. At Misk we’re going to be doing our bit to try new things. With the young leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators we bring together, I’m confident we’ll hear some spectacular ideas. For instance, last year;s EWC had two health focused startups in the finals, Koniku and NERv Technology – the eventual winner. Perhaps this year’s competition will give us a solution to the dangers of global flu pandemics. Or perhaps the Y20 will follow the lead of the G20 and begin brainstorming solutions among young people online, potentially bringing together far more people than we could have dreamed of doing in an actual location.

 

As horrifying as the situation is, and we must never forget the human cost, we might now have a real opportunity to improve the way we use technology to live, work, and communicate. At Misk we’re going to be trying to find our own way and I hope you’ll join us.

 

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