COVID-19: Our response

The Lab’s CEO Anna Laycock shares how the Lab is responding to the COVID-19 crisis, how we’re adapting our work and strategy, and how we continue to find hope in this time of great uncertainty.

This is one of the last blogs I will write for the Lab and one of the hardest. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s difficult to find the right words when the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ is already overused.

What I want to say, even if it is not novel, is that I hope you are well, I hope that you are safe, and I hope that all the people you love are safe and well, too. I know that this won’t be the case for some of you, and I hope you are receiving the care and support you need. I hope that this will be over soon and I hope that when it is, we will build a better future. I hope all of this without knowing what tomorrow brings, or next week, or next month, or next year.

I hope that you are finding ways to navigate through the uncertainty, as we try to do the same at the Lab. We have made a very deliberate decision to reflect and listen before we respond, because how we respond is so important.

What we already know is that the COVID-19 pandemic increases, rather than diminishes, the importance of building a financial system that works for people and planet. It means that the work of our community – to build financial resilience, to support livelihoods, to share value, to work in solidarity, to protect our natural world – is vitally important. And it means that the movement for economic systems change needs to ensure that the new ‘normal’ emerging from this crisis is one that puts social and ecological wellbeing at its core.

The fault lines in our financial system still matter. Climate change still matters. Inequality still matters. In fact, they all matter more, because the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society are already being hit the hardest by this crisis. Structural inequalities place black and ethnic minority communities at much higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Low-paid women in the UK are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. The public health challenges of COVID-19 are even greater in countries with higher levels of poverty and inequality. A health crisis is an economic crisis, and vice versa. No system exists in isolation.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”- Audre Lorde

So how should the Lab respond? We don’t yet have a neat answer, because this is a complex, uncertain, rapidly evolving situation. Our immediate response has been care and concern for our team, as our COO Rebecca outlines. Our next response has been care and concern for our community: we’re getting in touch with our Fellows, intrapreneurs and other community members to understand what they need right now and what they can offer to others.

As we learn more, we’re adapting our programmes, of course, but we’re also asking questions about our overall strategy – not just how to do things right, but also whether we’re doing the right things. Two initial themes are emerging: the importance of supporting our community to take effective action in a very different world and the importance of using this moment to advocate for a better future.

The policy choices our governments make today will shape our environment, society and economy for many years to come. So we signed this letter to ask the UK government to do more for workers; we joined the campaign for a Just Recovery that puts people and planet first; and we’re supporting this call for an urgent freeze on debt repayments. Who gains and who loses from the economic response to this crisis matters as much as the scale of the response, as our trustee Laurie Macfarlane has argued.

There is so much to fight for, but so much is unknown. Our definition of leadership feels particularly resonant at this time:

“Accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty”- Marshall Ganz

We are a small part of efforts to build a better future out of this uncertainty, but we have power together. Our focus, as Rebecca writes, is enabling leadership by and with our community, from start-ups to think-tanks, big institutions to grassroots activists. Our work has taught us that we can never know everything about the system, nor can we guarantee that our efforts will succeed, but time and time again we see new initiatives emerge that surpass our hopes and ambitions. And we’re seeing so many reasons for hope now, from mutual aid networks across the UK to fintechs collaborating to support freelance workers.

The Lab has always been a place for people to find hope – hope in each other and hope that we can build something better than this. That hope has not gone away, even in the depths of our uncertainty about the future. As we take care of each other and our community, I promise that we will also protect and nurture that sense of belief in the power we all hold to create change.

We will get through this. And when we do, our hope will be stronger than ever.