Innovation in the time of disruption


    THE COVID-19 pandemic has certainly disrupted our lives, in every way imaginable. From the previously mundane commute to work, to how we behave when we see friends and loved ones, COVID-19 is changing how we will behave in a post-pandemic world. Just two months ago, Pinoys commuted without much of a thought about cramming themselves in a jeep or UV express. We all greeted our friends and loved ones with hugs and besos, some with a friendly slap on the back. We didn’t hesitate to go out and line up for pandesal in the morning, nor brave a crowded talipapa after work to buy something for dinner.

    All these seemingly innocuous gestures and little ways will now change. Social distancing is now a buzz word among citizens, but most of us are still struggling to adjust to being six feet apart from the next living human being. Concerts at the Araneta Center or SM Arena were part of the ordinary fabric of life then, as were gatherings and religious processions. But in a world ravaged by COVID-19, images of more than 10 people in a room spark anxiety and uncertainty, with one thinking: “That’s too close. Miss Rona is coming.”

    “Miss Rona” is the slang for COVID-19, used mainly in the context of “covidiots” (a portmanteau of COVID-19 and idiot) who flout social distancing restrictions despite repeated warnings from the authorities and medical experts.

    Even businesses, especially the smaller ones, are feeling the pinch. With doors shuttered for five weeks now, many businesses are facing the possibility of having a shorter and shorter runway for their finances in order to survive. According to a survey conducted by Acudeen Technologies, 54% of the SMEs they surveyed fear that an extended lockdown could force them to close for good.

    The government recently announced the beginnings of a stimulus package to help micro, small, and medium enterprises weather the storm. If it’s anything like DSWD’s Social Amelioration Program or DOLE’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program, it will not come on time, and it will not be enough. I hope government looks at the learnings from both programs to see how the stimulus package can be improved to help MSMEs more.

    An unintended consequence of the pandemic is that more Filipino businesses have been thrust into what APEC calls the digital economy. APEC has long held the belief that going digital will help MSMEs get on the train to stability, but governments must provide adequate support to help them get onboard.

    We see it everywhere now: last-mile logistics companies (the delivery riders who bring you whatever you need from point A to point B) are saving those locked down in their homes from going out. Specialty Viber groups have proliferated, with categories serving baking supplies, furniture, appliances, fresh vegetables and produce, and many others. Try joining one and you’ll see that brick-and-mortar shops have a huge presence in these groups, as a way to still sell their wares despite their shops being closed.

    Whenever there are transactions, payments will always follow. Banks have noted an increase in the use of its online platforms since the lockdown was imposed, owing to the fact that people would rather not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. In view of this development, MSMEs wanting to stay in business must find ways to reach their markets via social media, and get on platforms that will assist them in facilitating not just payments but with dispatching and delivering orders.

    This may be an unpopular opinion but it has to be said — there may be no going back to a pre-COVID normal.

    Our communities, our businesses, and most importantly, our families, must learn what we can from this experience so we can adjust our new norms accordingly. Of all, government must, must, learn from this experience so it will be better prepared to actually help its people (instead of being a hindrance) should a similar problem confront us in the near future.

    Until then, stay safe, be kind to others, and always wash your hands properly.


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