Pandemic as a stepping stone for growth

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Marija Rucevska, TechChill co-founder and board member, Helve co-founder, is currently spending this time in self-isolation in Los Angeles, and shares her observations, conclusions, inspirational advice and calls for action!

The whole world is currently facing significant changes that are likely to last for quite a while. If half a year ago any country seemed almost at your fingertips, today, the geographical distances have become almost as unsurpassable as in a forgotten past. I have self-isolated myself in Los Angeles, the state of California, and hence the possibility to observe the world’s heavyweights’ struggle with the unstoppable virus allows me to come to different conclusions and lessons. It is clear that this crisis will change the balance of power worldwide, and only our own capability to be innovative, brave, and creative will determine how much we can use the pandemic as a stepping stone for the growth of Latvia.

Reconciliation no longer works

For six years now I have been working in the startup technology sector, where there is a strong belief that creativity and courage are the key preconditions for change and innovation. Unfortunately, we have always been too few – too few dreamers, too few who create, dare to risk and change. Perhaps the answer is a lack of ambition because everything has been good, normal, bearable… I don’t know if it is polite, but I must thank Wuhan for helping, at least in the sense that it has thrown Latvians into a situation where reconciliation with “normal” is no longer working.

I’m currently watching what’s going on in the U.S. It has long relied on the private sector, powerful companies, and corporate leaders, which offer a long-term solution. The American government is waiting for direction now as well. At the same time, leaders cannot agree on a specific position, the president comes up with reckless statements, the virus continues to spread, and there are still states in the middle of the United States that fail to comply with standard security measures. I am in California, which is a good example of proven self-discipline and strong leadership, but it is an exception. There is no unified view, this makes fighting Covid-19 more difficult every day.

Based on the recently published facts, it can be concluded that the US is the biggest loser in the context of the pandemic from an economic point of view: the White House economists foresee that the total number of applications for unemployment will reach 20% by June. The market behaves irrationally, which can lead to a problematic situation for the pension fund, and the oil price is negative for the first time in history. It can be seen that almost all the resources are currently directed towards innovation and the introduction of digital change in absolute priority processes: the focus is on treatments and vaccine development, testing and contact tracing; and the introduction of effective and safe opening policies.

According to the analysis by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), many advanced economies are likely to experience a recession this year (including the US, Italy, United Kingdom, etc.). While heavyweights are extinguishing fires and are limited in their capabilities, small countries that have been able to adapt to the situation successfully come across an opportunity to capitalise at the expense of downtime.

The potential of ambassadors

It may not be seen on the spot in Latvia, but our country is in a much, much better situation. Seeing citizens’ activity and the rapid reaction from the Latvian government, I am even more convinced about the advantages of the small, brisk, united nation. About the Latvian spite, and about the speed at which we can go forward if there is a unifying goal and mission. Our actions speak louder than words: Latvia is controlling the spread of the virus; solutions to existing problems are created (potentially leading to the formation of new companies); existing companies are forced to adapt to the digital era (providing themselves with potentially faster growth in the future); and the government, in cooperation with the public sector, is coming up with new initiatives that have huge potential to change our daily lives (referring to the TV programme for distance learning). These are just a few examples of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a month. Imagine what we could do in a year with this speed and power!

It is difficult to predict what will be the new normal (post-covid), but one is clear –  the technology component will be critical (particularly artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics). I think that in the future the processes will be built on digitally connected relations, but for autonomous actions. Based on this principle, changes will mainly occur in the following sectors: healthcare, logistics, retail, entertainment, finance, as well as polity processes.

 

Time to act!

I would like to believe that it is not about survival now (depending, of course, on the position), but about exploiting our potential and going ahead of the old economies, by creating a national example at the global level. From a business perspective, this isn’t the time to complain publicly or internally about how sad it is that all the planned work events, business outings, and exhibitions are being canceled. On the contrary, by identifying the possibilities, it is time to take advantage of the situation. For example by channeling the funds previously planned for specific activities to promote change, including the introduction of new processes, adaptation of technology, more efficient team management, attracting new talents, all in order to ensure not only more successful exports of existing products, but also to encourage the creation of new products in the digital environment.

Right now it is essential not only to take care of public safety and health today and now, but to think a few steps ahead, making the learning of new competencies much more accessible in both the private and public sector, analysing existing business strategies and adapting them to the new conditions. In addition, encourage others, both partners and competitors, to do so. Difficult conditions always encourage new, innovative solutions to be found. For a successful future, we need to be digital, fast, and flexible.

The changes will not disappear tomorrow, in a month or a year. The world will refocus, and it is only in our own hands to decide how much we will define its new order and define future development. We are, after all, a country that cannot afford to think locally – act!

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