Conversations of our Time is a series of online events that provide an opportunity to learn from global thought-leaders and exchange ideas.

The first event of the series, Learning fast from Covid-19: how are societies changing?, took place on 16 July. Over 2,000 people signed up to listen to the ideas of our speakers: social entrepreneur Ndidi Nwuneli, architect and institutional innovator Indy Johar and Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments Asia Pacific (UCLG ASPAC) Dr. Bernadia Tjandradewi

Angelina Twomey, Assistant Consultant at the British Council, presents eight great ideas that came out of it:

1. 'Covid-19 is not an event, the next 10 years should be recognised as a decade of long emergencies', Indy Johar

The Coronavirus pandemic has revealed structural issues with the status-quo. Fragility of the economic system, global inequality, food insecurity, crisis in education are just some of the many indicators of that. It has shown that the foundations of our reality are broken and have been for a while. The old normal was a crisis waiting to happen. Indy forecasts that the situation is going to worsen. The sticking-plaster responses the governments are providing now are not going to cope with the scale of the issues. There needs to be a fundamental transition, a structural change in our relationship to the natural world. Otherwise, we are going to suffer escalating pandemics on top of other unfolding disasters. The picture that Indy paints at first seems very grim. However, there is a place for optimism. Understanding the real scale of what we are faced with can help us reimagine our world and push towards a better future for all.

2. 'Covid-19 is a unique opportunity to build back better', Ndidi Nwuneli

The Build Back Better approach focuses on solutions that make our systems greener, more resilient and inclusive. The key question is where do we start? From her perspective as an entrepreneur in Nigeria, Ndidi highlights three key ideas:

  • Nigerian authorities initially did not recognise agriculture as part of critical infrastructure. Farmers were not allowed to work during the lockdown. This evident governmentoversight has reinforced the idea that the entrepreneurs have to influence policy. Ndidi has been involved in making sure everyone in the food landscape has been recognised as a key worker.
  • Another pandemic lesson for Ndidi has been the lack of clear data on where the most vulnerable are and how to reach them. This information is rapidly changing due to the job losses and other hardships. It needs to be regularly updated to stay relevant.
  • Ndidi also points out the critical need to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with digital tools, skills and funding. 50% of SMEs in Africa had to shut down due to the challenges posed by the pandemic. But the other 50% have doubled their revenue. They have embraced digital solutions, new ways of operating and collaborating with each other.

3. 'Covid-19 amplified a need to collaborate in ways that we’ve never done before to solve the common problems we share', Ndidi Nwuneli

The biggest change that Ndidi sees in the new normal is the willingness to collaborate. Stakeholders from the public sector, private companies and civil society have come together. The pandemic has opened our world to global experts, potential partners overseas and new sources of funding. Entrepreneurs are pivoting from being local businesses to aiming for a national or even global level. 

4. 'The pandemic is global, but the responses are local', Bernadia Tjandradewi

The role of local leaders is one of the essential parts of the overall response strategy. Local governments have implemented many initiatives and innovations: digital solutions, economic incentives, such as tax and rent reductions among others. UCLG ASPAC has a range of online resources to help local authorities build back better based on case-studies from across the Asia-Pacific region. However, Bernadia also points out that in order to be successful local governments can’t work alone. Only by working together with entrepreneurs and the communities do they have a chance of succeeding. 

5. 'We need to leverage the assets we already have', Ndidi Nwuneli

IT provides many solutions, but what about the people who do not have access to them? Ndidi has focused her attention on children who are cut off from school with no access to online learning. She suggests using faith-based organisations’ spaces as community centres. In Africa, for example, there are churches and mosques even in the poorest communities. In the time when they have had to close and cannot provide their main services, helping out the most vulnerable seems to be a wonderful alternative.

6. 'XXI century will be the time of foundational mental thriving', Indy Johar

I have chosen this quote by Indy because it is inspiring and ambitious. He envisages a transition to a new mental health economy. The age of automation is going to transform our relationship to mental health. He adds that this idea is larger than just self-care. For example, light pollution affects people’s sleep and reduces their mental capabilities. Children do not get enough nutrients from food if they are under stress. Looking at these issues in a systematic way will help us enable all citizens to reach their full emotional and mental capacity. 

7. 'Mental health is a crisis and it needs to be seen and addressed holistically', Ndidi Nwuneli

The media is an important actor in sharing information and educating the public. Instead of spreading fear and hopelessness, it can empower people to see the opportunities and make a difference. Celebrities are young people’s role models. Social media channels allow much more direct and honest communication between famous people and their followers. They need to use their influence and become champions for mental health. Ndidi also mentions that many people in Africa have a religious faith and follow religious practices. Not being able to go to a place of worship is a hard blow for many. There should be ways of engaging and supporting them - for example, using radio.

8. 'Fundamental humanism cannot be challenged by Covid-19', Bernadia Tjandradewi 

The crisis, economic burdens and inability to physically connect need not impede humans’ desire to stay connected and support each other. The struggles have brought people closer; social capital has not been lost due to the pandemic. Together we are stronger and more capable of fighting the virus and transforming our reality into a more inclusive and resilient world.

Many interesting ideas and solutions were shared during the conversation. Do watch the recording if you haven’t attended the event. Register for the next Conversation of our time webinar Living through uncertain times that will take place on 13 August. The second event will investigate how people and communities adapt during times of significant change.