Responsible Business and Responsible Citizenship: Mutual Aid, Self-Isolation and the Covid-19 Pandemic

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the importance of individuals, households and communities in supporting citizens, rather than overreliance on the local state.”

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We are living in interesting times in which every day routines and expected behaviours are being challenged. The Covid-19 pandemic represents an inflection point which is producing radical social, economic, political and geopolitical change.

In 2018, I published a paper on alternative community-based approaches to overcoming private and public sector failure. This paper explored the emergence of ‘alternative-substitute business models’ developed locally by local people to support local needs. This is a controversial paper as it can be interpreted as a call for citizen interventions to replace government funded initiatives during times of austerity. This is a misreading of this paper. At a macro level, the paper suggests that there needs to be a dialogue about the role national and local government should play in everyday living compared to the role undertaken by individuals, households, communities and businesses.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the importance of individuals, households and communities in supporting citizens, rather than overreliance on the local state. Last night, I was listening to a discussion on Covid-19 on the Westminster Hour on Radio 4 (15-3-2020). This was an irritating discussion as the emphasis was very much placed on the role of government. This is understandable as politicians and lobbying groups need to believe that they make a difference.

My research on city-regions, resilience and responsibility keeps returning to the role individuals play in shaping local outcomes. In 2019, I published a paper on local embeddedness and business. This paper identified three ways in which firms are embedded in local economics – emotionally, structurally and circumstantially. Emotional represents some form of attachment to a place whilst structural refers to local relationships which are critical for the firm. Circumstantial embeddedness reflects local relationships that are not strategically important.

I want to consider two issues. First, Covid-19 and responsible business. There is a tendency to over-emphasis the international aspects of business and to forget the local aspects. Responsible businesses must be locally embedded and be emotionally attached to the places in which they undertake business and they must be seen to be making a local difference. There are many excellent examples of locally embedded responsible businesses. For example, Asiyah and Jawad Javed, owners of the Day Today Express corner shop in Stenhousemuir, Falkirk, Scotland, are providing free Covid-19 care packages to local pensioners. On Sunday 15 March. Louis Vuitton, owner of the French luxury goods firm, LVMH, announced that the firm’s perfume production lines would commence to make hand sanitiser gel that would be freely provided to French health authorities. Both these businesses are acting responsibly and being locally embedded.   

Second, many people in the UK will eventually have to self-isolate to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This is especially the case for the most vulnerable groups. I already know people who are self-isolating. This makes me think of my 2018 paper and alternative community support mechanisms. These will be critical during this period. One response to Covid-19 has been the creation of new online support groups and existing community groups offering support to those who are self-isolating. Individuals who are embedded locally are supporting neighbours, friends and family. There is on-going debate on responsible business, but there also needs to be a debate on responsible citizenship. For citizens, this revolves around the degree and extent of their embeddedness within a local community.

Many people live their lives largely disconnected from their local area; they are living locally but apart from the wider community. This is unfortunate. Covid-19 and self-isolation reminds us of the importance of investing time, and perhaps sometimes money, in activities that enhance our individual contributions to our local community. Central to this is to identify local inclusive organisations that bring people together of all ages and backgrounds. Churches are playing an important and often unacknowledged role in this process. Churches are always there to support individuals and households in need, and this support continues during the current pandemic.

Citizenship should come with responsibilities and one of these involves investing in one’s local community. The returns on this investment are social and cultural and contribute to enhancing the quality of a place and of everyday living. 

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  • Robert
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    1. At 10:54PM on 19 March 2020, Robert wrote

    Whilst I think that making hand sanitizer is admirable why are the people involved not keeping their distance. I have just watched midlands today, people need to think of how close they are to others as advised by government

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    2. At 12:09PM on 21 March 2020, Prof David Sims wrote

    Thanks for this really interesting piece. Perhaps we are living in a teachable moment, and may learn how to reinvest the word 'community' with meaning.

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    3. At 9:57AM on 24 March 2020, Kate Routley wrote

    Great ideas but I can't see how we can ask for help, so far we're ok but are in the 75-80 group with little support and have a neighbour who is 90 a and alone. Lots of info on volunteering but not on contacting for support.

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