photo: Waltraud Greif
Many companies are still struggling to cope with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic—disruptions in supply and demand, employees limited in their ability to work and customers curbed in their ability to patronize businesses. Large, established companies like Lord and Taylor and Brooks Brothers went bankrupt, revealing how unprepared many companies are to handle major crises.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) Beedie School of Business professor June Francis suggests that organizations can improve their resiliency by being ready to draw upon a wider range of resources than they have previously—resources that can be found in the wider community.
Francis is a professor of marketing and director of the Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement at SFU which is being renamed the Institute of The Black and African Diaspora Research and Engagement. The institute's mandate is to strengthen the links between scholarly research, policy and practice related to multi-cultural and diaspora communities and their role in building innovative, sustainable and inclusive initiatives. She also co-founded The Co-Laboratorio project developing and implementing a social innovation lab in Peru. The project worked to strengthen cross-sector collaboration, learning and innovation for more inclusive and resilient solutions in governance, policies and industry practice.
To chart a way forward for companies to support resilience in a COVID-19 world, Francis developed a novel and actionable integrated capital framework (ICF). ICF identifies nine different types of capital—or productive resources—present in communities: financial capital (e.g., wages and incomes); physical capital (e.g., company printers); public capital (e.g., warehouses and company roads); (natural capital (e.g., water use); health capital (e.g., product safety and healthcare plans); human capital (e.g., employee training and customer education); social capital (e.g., worker and customer relationships); political capital (e.g., promotions and power dynamics); and cultural capital (e.g., corporate culture).
“As problems become more complex, managers need to move outside the norm and work the problem from a multilevel perspective, one that includes the wider community,” says Francis. “Business and wider community resilience are intertwined and businesses can support their wider communities if they recover quickly and continue services. Businesses can also shore up community resilience by providing resources such as donations, jobs and physical spaces.”
Her paper, Resources for business resilience in a COVID-19 world: A community-centric approach, published in Business Horizons, outlines how businesses can use the ICF to survive—and to thrive. Professor Francis co-authored this work with her former PhD student and Beedie alumnus Stephanie Beninger who is now assistant professor of marketing at IE Business School in Spain.
We spoke with professor Francis about her research.
Why do you believe the concept of resilience is important for companies to focus on?
Firms will need to become resilient if they are to survive and thrive in the face of increasingly frequent shocks from climate change, wars, pandemics and the attendant economic, social and political disruptions. Resilience is key because it positions firms to respond flexibly and with agility in the face of uncertainty by drawing on a diverse range of talents and suppliers, and resources embedded in their communities.
Can you provide some examples of the way business could tap into the resources (financial, physical, social, natural, human, cultural, public, political, and health) described in ICF?
The framework is meant to not only suggests that businesses can tap into these capitals, but that businesses need to recognize they need to support the reservoirs of these capitals so that they are available when they need them. We are arguing for this to be a two-way flow. For example, many companies are increasingly tapping into the physical and human capital in people’s homes (broadband internet, furniture, equipment, space and technical know-how) as more employees choose to work from home.
Businesses need to collaborate with their communities to support the continued development of various capitals such as community childcare, spaces for socializing, and mental and physical health support through collaborative approaches. This may require working with non-traditional partners such as NGO’s, faith-based organizations and academia. Likewise, as firms recognize the need to address climate change, they are increasingly relying on the cultural capital of Indigenous communities, yet this cultural capital has been allowed to be depleted in many areas. We advocate for forming alliances and connections that ensure firms are able to collaborate with communities in the face of uncertainties.
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way businesses position themselves in the community? What are some ways businesses can become more community-centred?
The pandemic has certainly focused firms’ attention on their dependence on the health of their own communities. The problem is that most firms have not developed relationships nor competencies to work with these communities. Much of our supply chain relies on the labour of immigrants, refugees and racialized communities. Yet firms have failed to integrate and support these communities by developing collaborations and directing resource to them. For example, the reliance on small-scale and cottage community-based suppliers filled an important gap when masks were not available to meet the needs of employers and the public at large. Yet very few firms were in a position to quickly pivot to work with these communities.
Can ICF apply to other crises—not just the recent pandemic—but to environmental hazards, employee turnover and shortages and other challenges?
The goal of this framework is to use the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic to better position firms to be resilient in addressing continuing uncertainty and disruptions. Many firms are now facing incredible supply chain shortages from the flooding across the globe in 2022. The communities in which many businesses are embedded lacked a number of capitals including public, health, human, physical and natural capital in many cases. Reliance in the face of these events requires that businesses act collaboratively to plan and shore up community capitals.
The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities in our societies. How can companies embrace and implement more inclusive ways of working and doing business? Do you have examples of companies doing well at this?
The pandemic, the migration crisis resulting from climate change and the global food crisis are some of the wakeup calls that demonstrate the ways in which global inequality creates major risk for business and for all communities. Businesses need to reimagine their business models to provide more equitable wages, opportunities, advancement and inclusion in decision making for Indigenous, Black, communities of colour and other excluded groups. The sad truth is that there are no shining examples of what needs to be accomplished.