OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
Former Senate President
One of the sectors really hurting because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home/physical distancing guidelines imposed by government is business, specifically micro and small enterprises. I have said in the past that the priority during this crisis should be life and health over economics but for small enterprises their businesses are their lifeline.
Imagine pouring all your money and effort into business enterprise and you get it off the ground. Despite initial challenges you increase your customer base and finally your business is becoming profitable. Then you get hit by a pandemic that would shut down the entire world. Now, you don’t just worry about your business; you also have to worry about your employees and others who rely on you. It is a serious problem, one that government should plan for.
Even when government lifts the quarantine, it will not be business-as-usual. There will be changes that businesses have to adapt to. I have been an entrepreneur all my life and I have faced a number of crises—the one in 1983-86 brought about by the political turmoil and uncertainties at the time, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and the 2008 global financial crisis that started in the US and rippled around the globe. There were other crises that I plan to write about extensively in the future.
One thing I learned from my experience in dealing with extreme difficulties is that a crisis, while essentially adverse, is an opportunity for transformation and rebuilding. Our goal should not be to simply survive this coronavirus crisis; we need to emerge stronger from it. But to do this, businesses and government should work together in order to build back better.
First, even when the economy re-opens, we need to prioritize safety over profits. This is very important. We have seen countries suffering from a second wave of virus transmissions once their government decided to reopen. And experts are saying that this coronavirus might be with us for a long time, at least until we develop a vaccine to counter it. This means that once your business reopens you need to take the lead in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of your staff/workers and your customers. To the extent possible, you may need to adopt a work-from-home arrangement for at least a portion of your staff.
If your business in essentially built such that work-from-home arrangements are not possible then you need to strictly follow safety protocols established by authorities, such as physical distancing, wearing of face masks, etc. In addition, you may need to get proper equipment to ensure safety such as thermometer gun, and the like. Your business should also help in tracking potential COVID-19 positive persons so the authorities can properly do contact tracing when that need arises.
Second, find out what assistance program you can get from both national and local governments. I am sure that aside from the financial assistance already released, government will roll out more in the future in order to help micro and small businesses. But you need to realize that you will not, and should not, survive on government assistance alone. It will help to remember one of the values every entrepreneur holds dear— self-reliance. I have written about this in the past but it is during crisis that you have to strengthen your values and remember your vision. It is the “why” (why are you doing this in the first place?) not the “what” that will strengthen your resolve during difficult times.
In the second part of this article next week, I will continue to discuss what businesses can do to be more proactive and not only survive this crisis but to build back a better business.