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COVID-19 triggers debate for self-reliant societies – adding new dimension to global sustainability

Growing up in a small village in the early 1970s, I recall fondly a model of self-sustainable society. Our village was surrounded by several other villages having diverse demography and economic activities. Though it was a primarily agriculture-based community, but the immediate populace had almost everything required to live with. Interestingly, most of the locally driven supply chain was operated through ‘exchange in kind’, and only select items were traded through cash. Though the village was just about 3 km away from district center, we never felt the need of visiting the city for anything beyond administrative purposes.

Today, we live in a global village, driven by principles of ‘knowledge economy’, ‘digital transactions’, ‘connected society’, and ‘home delivery’. While on one hand there is state-of-the-art connectivity, on the other, travel and mobility has increased beyond imagination, and it seems that globalization of knowledge and practices have made the world heavily inter-dependent. Knowledge economy, as defined by business experts, connotes to a process wherein one buys raw material from the cheapest available source, processes and manufactures via the most reasonable and skilled workforce, and sells in the best-paying market. While it makes perfect sense in the context of global village, there are negatives to this too.

First of all, it has made the world absolutely inter-dependent, and we see it on a daily basis that a change in public policy of one country, a natural disaster in another, and war-like situation in a yet another part of the world impacting local economies in even unaffected parts of world, faster than the speed of public news sometime. This requires even small businesses to keep an eye on understanding and analyzing the world affairs. A consistent approach towards predictive information modelling of world affairs is key to successful entrepreneurial leadership, and adds additional overhead cost to small businesses, making it unaffordable by local consumers.

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Secondly, the concept of knowledge economy has added a tremendous pressure on transportation and mobility. It is almost unsustainable to transport huge amount of raw material from one geography to another for production, and again transporting the finished products to another part. In most cases, these logistical arrangements are trans-continental. While this process may add to economic gains, but in the end it is definitely not sustainable productivity. At the same time, we often see executives and managers (including myself) travelling most of the time for meeting our eco-system stakeholders on a regular basis, adding further pressure on transportation logistics.

Thirdly, local producers are often deprived of the end produce as it has been sold to the best-paying consumer markets. Since the global markets (both as source of raw material and consumption) are volatile as it is natural for some or the other geographies to continue to experience a kind of natural and/or man-made challenges, the fate of the producing class is always at risk irrespective of stable local conditions. As there hasn’t been either availability or demand of these products in local markets, local governments and communities often are caught helpless and the only rescue is a stimulus package, which isn’t a sustainable economic process.

Fourthly, while global villages facilitate cultural diversity through exchange of practices and processes, the practice also leads to slow elimination of the local culture by adding/replacing with a new set commercially driven festivities and celebrations. Global giants whose business turnover are often larger than GDP of several developing countries, create campaigns and engagements especially around young generations, taking away spirit of centuries-old local cultures prevailing in those communities.

And finally, the concept of a global village and the resulting knowledge economy have added tremendous pressure on global environmental health. Just imagine the amount of transport infrastructure across air, water and surface that is being built, and even then are continuously falling short of the ever-growing demand of mobility for transportation of goods and passengers. The end result – worldwide environmental degradation and local communities who may not be involved or beneficiary of such knowledge economy paying the price.

The Novel Coronavirus pandemic has seen the world undergoing one of its worst-ever crisis in known history. What’s worrisome is the speed at which COVID-19, which is not known to be airborne, travelled globally, within a matter of weeks spreading to almost every country through human to human contact. A disease, which erupted in a small town, is today a pandemic, affecting billions of people in less than a month, crumbling health and social infrastructure in several countries, bringing to halt economic activities, having the stock markets in a free fall, and a global recession as big as the one that followed World War I looming upon us. As per estimates, trillions have been lost, and the count is still on.

Though it’s a global problem, what is peculiar is that this crisis doesn’t have a global solution. The only remedy lies at local community level and social distancing.

Are we at a stage wherein we need to add a new dimension to global sustainability? Will that be self-reliant communities?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and not that of the organizations he is associated with.