The scale of the societal and economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been staggering. The word unprecedented has been used so often in relation to other situations and crises that its currency has become debased. But, on this occasion, its use is warranted as we survey the damage wrought over the last number of months.
Before we begin to consider the impact on business, it would be inappropriate not to acknowledge first and foremost the impact on people. Thousands of people’s lives have been impacted by job losses, many have been under significant levels of stress and anxiety related to juggling work and home life, caring for loved-ones, and the uncertainty around what will follow this period. Many more have experienced personal tragedy and loss.
However, we need to remain positive and acknowledge some green shoots in the midst of the doom and gloom. Fundamentally, the crisis we find ourselves in is characteristically very different from the Great Recession of 2008-2012.
Looking at our latest EY Economic Eye, we can see that employment forecasts look promising for 2021. Yes, the coming months will bring great challenge to many; however, the picture beyond the immediate term looks far less bleak, and we can hopefully return to some semblance of normality in the year to come.
A second reason to be optimistic, specific to business, is that there is much more investment capital available in the market today compared to the last recession. There is an appetite among investors to take equity stakes in well-run companies with robust business models. Indeed, we see this among our own investor client base at the moment, with many private equity funds and lenders seeking good-quality businesses to invest in. This is heartening news, particularly for the exceptional businesses that exist across the island of Ireland, not least those with our talented EY Alumni at the helm.
If there is one thing we can be absolutely sure of in the midst of all of this, it is that the world will be a very different place when we emerge from the lockdown. Key sectors such as tourism and hospitality will have suffered greatly, public finances will have been hammered, and Ireland will have to plot a course to recovery against a challenging global backdrop where Brexit, trade wars and other issues continue to pose a severe threats to small, open economies such as ours.
We have a big task ahead of us, but I’m confident we can get conquer what lies ahead through a collective national effort. Those of us in business must come together with Government and citizens to meet the various internal and external challenges we’re faced by.
Undoubtedly, there will be huge challenges, but there will also be opportunities for businesses in Ireland as a result of this. On the one hand, there may be increased trade openings with partners in Europe and closer to home. On the other hand, however, any disruption to global trade is likely to have a negative impact on export-led economies like ours.
Once again, it is vitally important for all of us business leaders to begin – or indeed continue - preparing now for a changed global trade environment.
The significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the COVID-19 restrictions has only served to highlight further the need for urgent action on sustainability and the need for us to focus on delivering long-term value to a wide range of stakeholders, and not just focusing on the financial. It is simply time for the business community to take a leadership role in this vitally-important area.
By reducing our carbon footprint and overall environmental impact, businesses can help ensure that the national emissions reductions targets are met in a sensible and balanced way without the need for blunt instrument approaches which not only have the potential to impair business viability but to damage the social fabric in rural and other communities throughout the country.
We do not wish to see any form of Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) movement gaining traction in Ireland. Instead, what is required is that same sense of social solidarity between Government, business and citizens which saw us through the last crisis so that we emerge from the aftermath of this pandemic prospering, as businesses, as an economy, and – most importantly – as a society.
Never has the power and potential of our networks been more important. We need to support each other however we can. It’s up to all of us to use our networks to support our businesses, our people, our communities and our economy. By creating a platform for our EY Alumni community, we’re proud to play our part in nurturing the connections that exist between XX professionals across the island of Ireland.
We’re beginning to see green shoots, and we all need to have faith in our collective ability to shape our future. It’s up to all of us to play our part together.