Coronavirus: Impact-Borderless-Digital? A Pandemic Pointing Leaders to Systems Thinking

The dearth of systems thinking among leaders foretells the death of leadership styles thriving on linear-thinking paradigms. Photo credit: CDC

Disruptive, Distractive, Destructive and Distancing: All in one Virus!

There is no denying that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted not only the health fabric of countries but the economic, environmental and socio-cultural systems as well. The virus has been a one-stop-shop dispensing the dreaded disruption of even the apparently most stable conventional systems as we have known them. Transport, education, health, popular political discourse, social interactions, work and play, cultural norms, traditional financial systems — all are facing a lockdown or a paradigm shift, whether temporal, simultaneous, or sequential.

Independence is an illusion since all nations are interconnected and interdependent. Photo credit: IREN Kenya, The African Executive.

Systems thinking is about seeing the big picture, the whole, and understanding that nature balances through feedbacks inherent in interrelationships and interdependent interactions. To a systems thinker, borders are not zones of separation as linear thinking assumes, but are rather meeting points of organic interactions and interdependence. The following quote from the #MidweekSpecial message with “#ImpactBorderlessDigital Series” just the week preceding this writing tells it all:

“Have you been told that the world owes you nothing? A wrong way of communicating scientific facts! I’d emphasise that the world as a system owes you something and you owe the world something too, hence it’s about mutuality. It’s about interdependence, a reciprocal relationship whose net result is apparent to the masses as “independence”. With privilege always comes responsibility. American top astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson concludes, rightly, that we are one with the rest of nature, neither lying above nor below. This is a triumph of systems thinking in practice.”

Not much was known then about how fast COVID-19 would spread around the world including my homeland, Kenya, which was by then still considered a safe haven. Recent developments reinforce the three-worded tagline (#ImpactBorderlessDigital) which brands my insights, but on a very different frequency in terms of the borderless impact of COVID-19 and people’s ambivalence to digital systems in a world experiencing a gaping north-south digital divide.

A microorganism has been ruling our daily headlines with a borderless impunity defying established prejudices, from North to South, East to West. As Bill Gates put it in 2015, microbes and the epidemics they cause are a more lethal and systemic threat to human survival than the dreaded weapons of mass destruction.

With hindsight, what insights does a thought leader gain into these developments? What foresight emerges from such indulgence of curiosity?

Read on!

A Relook at Borderless Impact and Digitalisation Prospects

Coronavirus has been forcing a lockdown in all countries along its contagious path of attacks, indiscriminately and radically. It has been breaching all barriers to change including established practices and perspectives on hygiene and the digital economy.One readily grasps a clear message here: Borderless threats have a more profound impact and are no respecter of geography, economic mass, high offices, or personalities.

COVID-19 has also forced learning institutions to shut down the world over. The novel virus has brought digitalisation into the limelight as the novel nervous system for borderless collaboration in exchanging money, information, and knowledge. For learning institutions, from Canada to Kanyada😂, digital platforms as a service are proving their worth in leveraging a new era of Education 4.0. This is about the globalisation of education in a digitally connected internet-enabled world system.

Obstinate critics of the Digital Transformation and employers who ignore the power of democratisation in the gig economy — a darling of millennials, can only remain relevant for a limited time within a limited vision. Resisting these signs of generational change while assuming working from the traditional office is the only means to labour productivity cannot go unchallenged. Automation in journalism with examples such as the Washington Post and the extension of automation to other sectors showcase the vast possibilities of digitalisation in today’s fast-changing technology marketplace. In the banking sector, Commerzbank serves as a suitable example of automation for equity research reports.

With physical money as a dreaded transmitter of coronavirus, the pandemic has illuminated the prospects for the digital economy. E-commerce and smart solutions running on big data facilitated by automation, robotics, sensor technologies, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are now gaining uncommon attention among the masses. Digital transactions such as MPESA have gained immediate currency and wide acceptance — forcing even the otherwise defensive and diehard supporters of shareholder capitalism which are our regular financial service providers to waive charges in favour of mobile money and immediately reconsider the grace period for loans. Given the need for immutability to ensure transactional integrity, blockchain technology has a special opportunity to grab the attention of leaders. Drones have a singular chance to challenge policymakers to pass favourable regulations for their deployment in such times of rapid response.

A Relook at Systems Thinking and Stakeholder Capitalism

The strong message is that we all have a stake in the complex system that is our planetary system and society. This is the essence of stakeholder capitalism. It is far removed from shareholder capitalism — which rewards only a few investors in a given enterprise. The science underpinning the argument for a systems approach has been discussed in detail (read from this link on scientific thinking).

Geographically distinct demographic characteristics, or geodemographics, must form part of the systems-thinking approaches political leaders need to deploy in response to this pandemic. The veiled message from COVID-19 to leaders is that they must embrace stakeholder capitalism to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is not enough to hype the principle of “leaving no one behind”, yet we have three other core sustainability principles to observe namely:

  • interconnectedness and indivisibility;
  • inclusiveness and interdependence; and
  • multistakeholder partnerships.

A Recourse to Nature for Policy Innovations

In times of crisis fuelled by an environment of liberal economic policies, a new form of capitalism called disaster capitalism can easily take over. This happens because of selfish interests, quite evident in greedy business and political leaders. Let’s pray that this will not be the case with the coronavirus pandemic.

What genuine leaders must resort to is applied systems thinking. They must value the advice of, and work with, stable minds who look beyond self to deliver well-thought-out, evidence-based and integrated solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has a footprint that covers beyond public health concerns; it is an economic disaster; it is a social disruptor; more to the point, it is a shaker of the very fragile life-support system in which we are all equal as stakeholders.

Governments must understand the value of research and development (R&D) and support adequate and precise planning informed by spatial intelligence/GIS so asto match geolocation with key needs especially demographics and the associated critical services. Policies must facilitate land banking and space allowance for emergency response, special needs, and expansions to cater for critical and social infrastructure.

There is a call to action, through both individual action and policy innovations. This earnest call involves you and me in the best way and form we can. It starts internally with the conscious responsibility of love in prayer then extends to caution, care, and self-discipline. It grows in scale to include innovative and responsive policy measures, which may take the form of social safety nets. It then progressively peaks in collective global action, informed by sound knowledge and technology-led systems to produce predictive and long-term solutions.

As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Shared with you courtesy of the informational resources that inspire the “Impact-Borderless-Digital” series of my mentorship and career training brand. Follow the trail on twitter using #ImpactBorderlessDigital.

Nashon J. Adero

Nashon, a geospatial expert, lecturer and trained policy analyst applies dynamic models to complex adaptive systems. He is a youth mentor on career development and the founder of Impact Borderless Digital.