It’s Not “Just a Virus”

Leslie Johnston

By Leslie Johnston

“It’s just a virus.”  “And besides, the flu kills more people in any given year.”

This is what we said.  And this is what we believed to be true.  But little did we know how dangerous COVID-19 would prove to be.  Without a doubt, this virus is lethal in terms of the risk it poses to vulnerable populations – the elderly and those with underlying health issues – and the silence with which is spreads, the speed with which it kills.  As a result, we are rallying. We are hunkering down in our homes with our families, determined to limit the spread and “flatten the curve.” We self-isolate and sacrifice to protect the vulnerable.

In doing so, it has never been clearer to me how interconnected and interdependent we all are.

At the same time, it has also never been clearer to me that the issue is much, much bigger than COVID-19.

While this pandemic has sparked unimaginable solidarity, it has also revealed the deep economic disparity that prevails in our society. Workers living hand-to-mouth and fearing the day they may get sick (because they have no sick leave or health insurance) cannot self-isolate. Informal workers – such as the millions who toil as homeworkers or cotton pickers in the fashion industry – work without contracts or safety nets. They simply cannot afford to become ill. And without sick leave, they continue working, putting their own, their families’ and their communities’ health at risk. This, in turn, exacerbates the already profound economic disparities between the haves and the have nots. Which will only get worse as economies, worldwide, slide into recession.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But it’s also an urgent call to action.

For me, the injustice and tragedy of this pandemic underlines the very reason we do what we do at Laudes Foundation. These social and economic disparities have been widening well before COVID-19 appeared. Such inequality has long been perpetuated by our dominant, global economic system. A system which has unleased tremendous creativity, creating significant wealth and opportunities, but also, as we well know, a system which has deepened economic inequality and vulnerability. Vulnerability both to the economic shocks created by the virus outbreak but also, even more worryingly, to the worsening climate emergency.

 We need to act.

And Laudes Foundation can. Because we are in the incredibly fortunate position of having a mission-driven team of smart and ambitious professionals, a clarity of purpose, and significant philanthropic resources to be able tackle these deeply rooted problems.

Now is the time to chart our path. With our strategic planning process well underway, we have a unique opportunity to reflect on how we can best use our resources (people, money, networks) to accelerate the path to a new economic system – one that values people and respects nature. And we need to use this precious time wisely and thoughtfully. To connect with our partners and stakeholders for open discussions. To explore and debate the strategic choices before us. To open our minds to being challenged.

Because we are living in unprecedented times. This crisis has more than ever underlined our interdependence and interconnectedness. It has reinforced our deep conviction that change is possible. It has renewed our courage to embark on our difficult path.  And, I am convinced, it will ultimately bring out the best in all of us. As a result, Laudes Foundation can play an important role in shaping the future we all want to see.

But we need our teams and our partners to stay healthy and safe. To have the headspace to be able to get through this crisis but also to contribute meaningfully to our shared aspiration. And this is hard, I know. Every day, we are all trying to balance personal life with professional ambition. We are worried about our loved ones and uncertain about our future. It is unsettling. 

But not impossible. Especially the incredible and brave team I am honored to lead at Laudes Foundation.  We are being called upon to step up, have courage, and be the architects of the change we want to see. I know we can do it.

 


About the author

By Leslie Johnston

Leslie Johnston launched Laudes Foundation as its first Chief Executive Officer in January 2020, bringing over 20 years of management experience across business and philanthropy. At Laudes Foundation, she is leading the development of its initial vision, strategy and operating model to deliver on its aspiration for global markets that value all people and respect nature. Previously, she headed C&A Foundation as its Executive Director, repositioning it as a global catalyst to make fashion a force for good.

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