Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.
The COVID-19 virus has disrupted what was considered the normal way of life globally. This pandemic is defining the global health crisis and impacting on work and the economy in unfathomable ways; posing the greatest challenge the world has faced since the 2nd World War. As the pandemic moves like a wave, countries are racing to flatten the curve by instituting knockdowns, social distancing, quarantines, testing, and contact tracing to mitigate the spread of the virus. These moves are in line with stipulated public health measures in cases of pandemics to save lives and reduce the pressure on health services when there is an upsurge.
Generally speaking, public health measures are said to “err on the side of caution”. Dr. Fauci, a leading health specialist in the USA has consistently advocated for social distancing and validating anecdotal data before making any drastic changes. In essence, public health pundits have advocated for a risk-averse approach to saving lives in a very unprecedented time. Meticulous protocols that reduce imported and community spread has been touted as the best way to beat the virus. This approach has been the propelling engine to lower infection rates since early February 2020 across many countries globally- with great success.
Conversely, renowned economic scholars like Peter Drucker (1909–2005) and Joseph Schumpeter (1991) have advanced theories of innovation and entrepreneurship for business sustainability in the past. They advocated for the paradigm of calculated risks in entrepreneurs as a major component of a successful enterprise. In fact, Drucker alludes to the nature of successful enterprises as the ability to pivot and change direction in response to market needs. Innovative business ideas are experimental in nature and seen as “frogs’ eggs: of a thousand hatched; only one or two survive to maturity (Eric Wagner).
Schumpeter on the other hand, advocates for innovative entrepreneurship that impacts on job creation, economic growth, the competitive ecosystem, and promotion of inclusivity in societies through work and innovation. Schumpeterian theory further alludes to ‘creative destruction’; where vibrant economies are characterized by birth, rebirth, and death of enterprises, (Schumpeter 1934). All these are based on the premise of taking calculated risks.
Is there an adversarial nature between entrepreneurship and public health?
In more recent times, many scholars have researched and written on an entrepreneurial mindset and innovative entrepreneurship as an engine of economic growth. Rolle & Kisato (2019) posited that innovative entrepreneurship, especially among the underserved communities will be a key driver to ensure the security of work and entrepreneurship in the 21st century. These scholars recommend that firms in underserved communities have to rise above the “hard knocks” of the business whilst leveraging technology such as blockchain, AI, virtual reality, and 3 D printing. Risk-taking, pivoting and retooling of workers in these enterprises are going to salient to ensure sustainability going forward.
It is evident that risk-taking- albeit calculated, is imperative for the entrepreneurial and economic well-being of enterprises. The question that begs therefore is- how can public health and enterprise strike a delicate balance to save lives during the COVID 19 pandemic whilst ensuring business survival for underserved communities without the large financial cushion? What models can be instituted in these enterprises that would keep the rate of spread; “R”, lower, while ensuring unemployment rates and businesses’ death are not astronomical?
Although public health measures are imperative in such unprecedented times, the economic sector is facing its greatest drawback yet. Entrepreneurs are said to be the engine that drives the financial wellbeing of society by providing work, opportunity to make an income, and ability to sustain the physical and social-economic wellbeing of society. The entrepreneurial sector thrives on taking calculated risks that lead to higher returns economically. Now, more than ever, there has been a push to reopen the economy and allow businesses to operate in spite of the virus spread that is still evident in many countries.
While pandemic modeling and lockdown easing are now prevalent discussions in the USA, African countries are grappling with how to ensure the daily wage earners do not die of hunger during this period. The USA so far has reported that over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment in March 2020, representing at least 20% unemployment rate- the worst since World war Two. In developing economies such as Kenya, curfew measures have put a greater strain on the government to ensure civil order is maintained as more households are pushed further into poverty. Evidently, an acceptable trade-off has to be reached to attain any semblance of normality.
What is the future of work and entrepreneurship?
In a paper done on the Future of Work and Entrepreneurship for the Underserved in 2019, the authors proposed that there is a need for a policy that “can prepare diverse talent for a dynamic world with continuous automation to address the “global wealth and income disparities.” Globally, different models have been instituted so far that they create a delicate balance between “R” and business survival. For example, in the USA, Work from Home (WFH) is highly encouraged for organizations through digitalization, whilst those that cannot attain this approach, like Gyms, Salons, and restaurants – are including social distance measures, wearing of masks, gloves and highly hygienic conditions with a thorough cleaning. Customers’ temperatures are sometimes taken upon entry, to safeguard the health of both the essential workers and other patrons in these premises.
In African nations, where social distancing is a challenge, many micro and small businesses in underserved communities are innovating ways to ensure the spread of the virus is minimized. It is now commonplace to find water cans and soap in open-air markets for customers to consistently wash their hands before touching the merchandise. In addition, wearing facial masks has been mandated as a government directive for all Kenyans when out in public. What you see when visiting these market places is a kaleidoscope of color and design of facial cloth masks among the residents shopping for merchandise. More innovative models of the hygiene and social distancing measures are also seen in congested market places, where the vendors have agreed to have alternating trading hours to increase social distancing among themselves.
As we all work towards flattening the curve, all these health measures on businesses are indeed impacting the bottom-line of enterprises in the near and long term. Whereas these approaches transform into a “new normal” in the near term, we ponder how sustainable they will be in the long-term. Will businesses that have rental spaces to pay for and utility bills to meet; manage to sustain a trickle-down of customers during this pandemic, until a vaccine or cure is found? Are businesses in underserved communities agile enough to pivot and leverage digitalization tools to remain profitable?
Indeed, entrepreneurship and public health are strange bedfellows; an oxymoron of sorts, that perhaps causes many an entrepreneur, government, and medical practitioner sleepless nights as countries ease their lockdown measures. We understand the gravity of the matter and as we ponder new ways of balancing health wellbeing and enterprise, we recommend agility and innovation in business; especially among the underserved communities, to ensure their survival and sustainability in the long run.
JoAnn Rolle, Dean of the Business School at Medgar Evers College, City University of New York and regular contributor to Thrive Global
The authors of this piece are a team of global researchers who have published and presented papers globally on the Future of Work and Entrepreneurship for the Underserved: J. Kisato , J. Rolle, R. Acevado, M. Crump, A. Reid, P Rock, and B. Price.
Drucker, P. (2015). Innovation and Entrepreneurship. London: Routledge.
Rolle J. and Kisato J. (2019).” The Future of Work and Entrepreneurship for the Underserved”.9th International Conference on Business and Economic Development (ICBED). New York: Academy of Business and Retail Management, pp.Vol 10 (2), 224-234. Available at: www.researchgate.net/publication/336888785_The_future_of_work_and_entrepreneurship_for_the_underserved_Paper_available_as_download_in_April_2019_conference_proceedings.(Accessed 9 July 2020).
Schumpeter, J.A. (1961). The Theory of Economic Development; an inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated From The German By Redvers Opie. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
Wagner, E. (2013). Entrepreneurship According To Drucker: Your 12 Keys to Success. [Blog] Forbes. Available at: www.forbes.com/sites/ericwagner/2013/05/07/entrepreneurship-according-to-drucker-your-12-keys-to-success/#4ea9e26e19ce. (Accessed 9 July 2020).