Sustainable reactivation now
The impending social and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus in Chile is far from being fully understood. For thousands of people, subsistence has become an omnipresent phantom, both in their workplaces and in their own homes.
For the most fortunate (myself included) adaptation has been possible thanks to remote work. We can agree that luck is an important factor in this equation. Representatively, we are the smallest part of society. For the vast majority, the reality is different.
Thousands of families are currently unemployed, in need of leaving their homes in order to work and buy the basic goods they require. It is therefore striking that all of society is being called to comply with quarantine measures equally. Evidence has shown how unfeasible this is in reality, as these people are living in a state of emergency and leave their homes precisely because they cannot wait.
What does a sustainable reactivation of the economy mean?
It is urgent to reactivate the economy. It is clear that micro, small and medium-sized companies (mipymes) and enterprises will require State support to begin generating jobs again. It isn’t possible to wait for a “return to normal” in order to reactivate; there are already millions who need concrete solutions, today. When will this “normality” arrive? No one knows exactly, and it is clear that we will not go back to the same. What can we expect then?
This goes way beyond the changes that we’ve experienced during the pandemic on a personal level, for better or for worse. If unemployment is one of the main crises we will be faced with, then it is essential to understand that although the working world has been changing for a while now, it has definitely changed with the arrival of the coronavirus, and will continue to do so at a faster pace. We cannot continue to face unemployment in the same way as before, thinking of the same job types and skills, because it simply no longer makes sense.
In the midst of all this, climate change and environmental challenges continue to worsen, with increasingly palpable effects. This adds another layer of uncertain scenarios for the future, which must be addressed as soon as possible. It therefore makes sense to think of a sustainable reactivation of the economy: we cannot be indifferent to what type of jobs we promote as a society; these need to be jobs that can also help mitigate the aforementioned effects. Here we can start thinking of green jobs: promotion of renewable energies, energy and water efficiency, adequate waste management, circular economy, among others.
Is it possible to achieve sustainable development if we do not include the whole of society along the way? Does it make sense to think that only a part of society will achieve sustainable development for all the rest? Environmental challenges have become elitist challenges on a global level, because they are in the hands of large companies, governments, academics and those who have more resources. “Green” can even be considered sophisticated, a status symbol. It is a clear case of myopia and, in this context, sustainable development is a utopia. How can we include this challenge in the lives of people who can only think of their own subsistence? A unique opportunity would be to do so through employment.
The reactivation of the economy should be aimed at achieving sustainable development. To do so, all contributions count, from all of society. Is this possible? Is it enough to consider jobs that address existing environmental challenges, when we talk about putting in motion a sustainable reactivation that can trigger sustainable development?
The underlying facets of a sustainable reactivation of the economy
Can we even speak about a sustainable reactivation if we does not consider the digital gap? The coronavirus has exposed this gigantic gap in our country, which has existed for decades in obscurity without being given the importance it deserves. Whether we like it or not, the digital world is becoming increasingly intertwined with the other facets of life (work, communication, culture, education, recreation, purchase of supplies and food, transportation, among others). It is one thing to not want technology in our lives and to decide to live a disconnected life. This is a decision. It is a whole other thing to want to participate in an increasingly digital society and not be able to. This is exclusion from a way of developing, interacting and working.
The digitization of the economy has accelerated exponentially and is “here to stay.” Digital skills for work have become increasingly important over time, and will now become progressively indispensable. Although these skills do not necessarily represent entry barriers to all jobs, they will always be a competitive advantage for any employee. Furthermore, this is a key set of skills for the thousands of people who will find themselves unemployed due to automation in the short, medium and long term, and who will have to undergo some sort of job reconversion and / or diversification.
Can we even imagine a truly sustainable reactivation of the economy if we don’t consider the almost 5 million Chileans over 18 years of age who, for various reasons, have not yet been able to finish their secondary education?
According to the CASEN study (the National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey of Chilean households carried out by the Ministry of Social Development), over half a million young adults were neither studying nor working in 2017. What does this number look like 3 years later, considering the social outbreak of October 2019 in Chile and the current global pandemic? A sustainable reactivation of the economy cannot come about if it does not consider concrete solutions for these.
We must adapt to the current conditions, make the necessary means available, and put into practice viable productive activities, given the current state of affairs. We cannot wait to “go back to normal”, because we must learn to live with constant change, with a labor market that is marked by digitization, automation and climate change, that is bound to keep evolving. We are being called to carry this out and constantly reinvent ourselves.
What is urgent right now is the generation of jobs and the invitation is to not be short-sighted. We need to consider improvements to our educational systems and the disproportionate impact of the crisis on youths and young adults. Gender equality and the effective inclusion of senior citizens -an increasingly active demographic- and migrants in the economy, are other essential factors if we truly hope to achieve a reactivation that can serve as the basis for a long term sustainable development.
Poverty, real collaboration and an economic reactivation for sustainable development
Sustainable development can only be possible if we first understand that everything is deeply connected. Environmental change affecting primarily the most vulnerable sectors of society is no longer a novelty. Likewise, our consumption habits (exacerbated consumption on top of a culture of waste), social exclusion and poverty, create conditions that promote a model of development with employment options that aggravate and perpetuate these and other effects. The fight against climate change cannot be successful if we are indifferent to poverty.
The ability to see one another as equals, horizontally, is essential. We must stop seeing the most vulnerable groups as passive observers, and instead consider them as protagonists of the challenges that we, as a society, all face. It is necessary to step away from the system of benefits and support, and more towards one that can provide the means and coordination between networks so that they are able to reach their full potential and become agents of change. To democratize the roles and responsibilities in working to generate changes, so that these are equally distributed throughout society. It is completely unsustainable to have only agents of change that are confined to one particular socioeconomic spectrum.
Real, profound and multidimensional collaboration is perhaps the only road to transformational change in our society. Only if this is possible, can we start thinking of a sustainable reactivation of the economy, which can eventually achieve much needed sustainable development. All contributions count and are profoundly necessary.
If we dare to dream of a different future for Chile, perhaps we could consider the Doughnut economics model, which uses the shape of the doughnut to conceptualize a fair and safe development space. The creator of this model, Kate Raworth, not only integrates multiple views on sustainable development in a coherent manner throughout her proposal, but has also conceived a methodology to concretely implement these guidelines in practice. After having been applied theoretically in South Africa, China and other countries, Amsterdam became the first city to adopt the Doughnut, thanks to Raworth. All of this took place in 2020, in the midst of the COVID19 crisis, precisely to achieve an efficient and transformational sustainable reactivation, allowing the city to adapt to post-coronavirus effects.
As Raworth says, “limitations are what unleash our potential”. It is impossible to find a more accurate phrase for the context in which we are living today; one which exhorts us to change, to adapt and to be resilient. A sustainable reactivation must include society’s most vulnerable sectors; failure to integrate them into our social and economic life will affect all of us. This potential transcends our socioeconomic status, it is innate to the person. On the latter, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen’s concept of capability may be illuminating. In his work, Sen says that a person’s quality of life does not depend on the mere existence of resources at their disposal, but on what these resources (beyond the material) can allow people to do and, more importantly, be.
INFOCAP: adaptation to contribute to sustainable reactivation
At INFOCAP, Chile’s Institute for Public Training and Education–an institution with over 35 years’ history in training and educating socio-economically vulnerable women and men for employment–we are currently pulling all our efforts into sustainable reactivation.
In addition to our training modules in energy efficiency and renewable energy, we currently promote the generation of jobs and sources of income through two initiatives: Workin, an app to connect professionals with technical jobs in homes and offices, which will launch soon; and the Fábrica Social para la Emergencia (the Emergency Social Factory, in Spanish), which collaborates with recognized small and medium sized companies to generate income for families profoundly affected by the pandemic, while promoting a circular economy and raising public awareness on this socio-environmental challenge.
We have made it part of our institutional mission to organize and coordinate the necessary networks to provide the means and tools to decrease the digital gap in a sustainable manner over time. In 2019 we launched an online platform for the completion of secondary studies. This year, we launched various digital and hybrid (digital + in person) training programs for the workplace.
All the initiatives we promote are carried out in an in depth collaboration with other actors. We are convinced that this way of working is the only way to successfully confront current and future challenges, and also to solve society’s historic challenges. If we are not able to face the latter, the road to sustainable development is not viable.
A reactivation of the economy that can, from today, consider solutions to pending challenges and that include the capabilities of all of society, as a whole, will be the best basis towards a fair and sustainable future for all. The initiatives mentioned here are only a small example of the solutions that we need. Strengthening similar initiatives, as well as complementary ones, in a way that can be scaled and replicated at a national level, is a challenge that no organization can undertake alone. Quite the contrary: all contributions count, and are essential to achieve our common goal.
Javier Rojas. General Manager of INFOCAP. Civil Industrial Environmental Engineer from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Master in Administration Management from Hohai University, in Nanjing, China. His professional experience has been mainly focused on the development and management of projects with social and environmental impacts, both in private and non-profit organizations. Rojas has worked in organizations such as Corporación Jesús Niño, ACCION (USA), EcoUnion and Laboratorio Base de la Pirámide (Spain), and developed projects for clients such as Google, the GIZ and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, among others, from the climate change consultant ImplementaSur.