The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have reached every country in the world, causing a huge rise in poverty and social vulnerability even in rich countries. What can Business Schools do in order to address this situation? Ruan dos Santos Ferreira, FGV-EAESP Runner-up in the CoBS 2022 Student CSR competition, explores.
Business Schools: What they can do to help post-pandemic by Ruan dos Santos Ferreira.
The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic drastically affected the social structures of every country is the world is not news, mainly damaging those with less education and/or less financial funds.
According to the annual report of UNECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) (2021), it is estimated that there has been an increase of 200 million people under the poverty line. In Brazil, a significant part of the population has lost their jobs and are now working informally, while the other part do not even have the means to work and acquire minor income.
A significant number of Brazilians are keeping their Welfare through “Auxílio Brasil” (Brazil Aid), according to the Brazilian Federal Government website. While the poorest and the middle class live in a shortage of resources, the richer classes got even richer. Growing inequality is reaching brutal levels all over the planet.
One of the pieces of evidence of this is vaccine inequality between nations. “The pandemic exposed and intensified the inequalities inside and between countries. On June 17th, 2021, 68 out of 100 people got vaccinated in Europe and in North America, compared to less than 2 out of 100 in Sub-Saharan Africa” (UN REPORT, 2021) – which clearly shows the big inequality between countries and continents.
Beyond that, it is worth highlighting that social inequality is far-reaching, impacting different sectors of society such as education – indeed, students from public schools, if compared to those of private schools, have suffered more from the inequalities brought on by the Covid crisis. According to a recent study of FGV-EESP Clear (“Getúlio Vargas Foundation´s School of Economics of São Paulo”), ordered by the Lemann Foundation, “Education can recede up to four years, due to the pandemic”. Newborns, children and teenagers in social vulnerability are the most affected – specially in under-developed and poor countries, while in richer countries, such as China and the United States, the quality of the education has not receded so abundantly.
The impact of Covid-19 in developed and under-developed countries: Deepened inequalities and conservation of wealth?
According to a report published by The World Bank (2020), the Covid-19 crisis deeply affects the inequalities between rich and poor countries, and it is expected to keep active through the following years. Nations that are not completely developed will find it logically hard to finance and pay their debts, which, in turn, puts the welfare of their populations at risk.
Furthermore, clearly, poorer countries tend to keep getting more vulnerable, while the richer ones, also due to their credibility, will keep getting stronger while each scenario demands for quicker and more effective actions. World powers such as the United States, China and Germany, rapidly announced robust protective measures to slow the mass contamination down at the beginning of the crisis, making it possible for the situation to be normalized, even with the peak of the pandemic.
Moreover, even encountering obstacles, these countries managed to build a robust combat structure, which, to a certain level, reduced the social impacts related to social inequality. However, poorer countries, such as South Africa, struggled a lot more just to get the basics such as vaccines and hospital beds. Furthermore, the lack of financial support was very likely a cause of the deepening of the vulnerabilities.
Business schools around the world and the fight against the pandemic
Business schools all around the world are traditionally crucial for the country’s development due to their transformative role in education – hence challenges and opportunities imposed by present, past, and future scenarios. The Getúlio Vargas Foundation is an example of this. It is an institution that, since 1944, has promoted actions to guarantee good communication between corporations, society and government, forming professional leaders in all sectors and levels (nationally and globally). However, even though it has a full working structure, similar to Harvard´s and Oxford´s, this was not enough to limit the effects of the pandemic.
But despite not having typical government functions, with time, they managed to adapt and even make their education tactics better. As such, according to the “Exame” magazine (2021), the crisis turned this concept upside down, making the institutions reassess their rules, in order to guarantee that lectures and classes could keep happening despite the difficult and unsure scenario.
The value of business schools
According to the official website of the business school “Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul” (Rio Grande do Sul’s Catholic University) (PUCRS) (2020), institutions have tried to look for solutions in order to aid companies amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In an article published by “El País” (2020) – it was stated that some 716,000 companies ended their activities in Brazil since the beginning of the pandemic, as reported by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE – “Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística”).
In addition, more than 50% out of the 716,000 institutions that suffered from the repercussions of the pandemic had already suspended activities since the beginning of the pandemic. As such, acknowledging the state of available financing, with no income or profit, companies won´t be able to keep active. Furthermore, the text argues that almost all of those companies were small businesses, even further confirming the financial logic for being able to maintain themselves active in the market, which, unfortunately, lays waste any company showing an inch of fragility, given the neo-liberal logic we live in.
From the beginning, the actions promoted and organized by the business schools were fundamental, with many companies even asking them for orientation. They were already struggling to maintain their activities and did not have the means to pay for strategic consultancies. Therefore, business schools around the world have the profile, the knowledge, and the infrastructure to collaborate with these companies. As stated by Ian Davis (2005), the purpose of a company is not only to maximize its profit, but also to have a social awareness – this logic must also apply to schools, especially when it is related to a sector connected to education, even considering that it is different when compared to basic education.
How business schools can help
After the analysis and contextualization of the impacts caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as addressed earlier, it is not news that the crisis drastically deepened inequalities, leading millions into the poverty line – and mainly those with less access to education and who live in lower income and lower life quality countries.
That being said, it is important to state that business schools were, are, and will be important to guarantee the maintenance and existence of companies and, beyond that, the reduction of social inequalities. For even though it is not characteristic of their implementation and formulation of public policy, dealing with different stakeholders is one of their attributes. On that account, some actions that were carried out will be briefly assessed.
In order to clarify the great issue, initiatives for impact can be developed and implemented: the use of laboratory-produced technologies, for example; the practical application of knowledge learned in the class – given that business schools often have “junior companies”; mobilizing academics for strategic consulting; investing in research, in order to expand the knowledge of entrepreneurs, managers and employees; mobilizing Congress to focus on motivations for business schools. Furthermore, according to an article in “Folha de São Paulo” (the São Paulo Paper) (2020), Jorge Paulo Lemann used his entrepreneurship program in Harvard to focus on the hardships brought on by the pandemic, the project having the purpose of financing three Harvard students with US$ 10,000 each.
That being said, there are some lessons that can be learned and that reside on the fact that business schools have intellectual, human, and financial resources of their own to be able to move a whole social structure. Furthermore, these schools form leadership alliances and partnerships, capable of influencing heterogeneous groups. In this light, it is fundamental to impose socially responsible guidelines on people’s training and education.
Beyond that, another lesson can be taken into consideration: how these institutions are even more powerful when they see that they have to help other groups on the society, beyond the big corporations. And, in conclusion, business schools can easily help to work on the foundations of public education, this in order to raise the aspirations of children and teenagers in social vulnerability. And making it possible, later on, for this group to socially ascend.
- Link up with Ruan on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: The making of a good business school: Distinguishing purpose from profit
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Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.