The dramatic changes to how we live and work resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic has given us pause to consider what is important in our lives and in our communities. It has forced us to examine our values, what we care about and the world we wish to live in. Profoundly and almost universally, we prioritised the health and wellbeing of society over the economy – drawing into sharp relief the interdependency and at the same time the mutual exclusivity of each.

In Australia, where we were already reeling from a disastrous bushfire season, there is momentum for change. We have seen significant shifts in public attitudes, behaviour and expectations around how we do business, how we govern and how we live as a community. This provides an opportunity for all to contribute to building back better as we now forge our path to recovery.

The road to recovery – forging a new path

Crucially, there is a major question and a public choice we need to make together as we look ahead to recovery and rebuilding in the wake of 2020’s challenges:

Do we continue as we did previously, or is this the turning point where new and better integrated economic, social and environmental models can be forged?

Can we aim for a recovery that utilises a broad, holistic, sustained and concerted approach? A new path that considers the importance of integrating economic, social and environmental perspectives around places, and where community and social wellbeing are elevated to the level of economic and business decisions? One that considers and incorporates the input of governments of all levels, businesses, civil society groups, philanthropists, universities, non-government organisations and citizens.

Whilst COVID-19 has fast-tracked adoption of distributed working technologies, it has also exposed the potential for reconsidering the potential from public and private investment, and for looking at the economy beyond financial returns – an idea well understood by the impact investing community. The opportunity is to consider the economic restart in the context of a new way of investing, implementing and accounting, and a need for collaborative change leadership at all levels. One that is built on deliberation, co-design, development and delivery.  This is aimed at ensuring our recovery takes an inclusive economic growth perspective, which considers the delicate integration and inter-dependency between our economy and our society. Importantly ensuring we build on the lessons we have most recently learned.

After all, economic decline invariably leads to social discord, with those that are worse impacted in a crisis, generally being the already disenfranchised – the socioeconomically disadvantaged and the vulnerable. The data also shows that women have been detrimentally impacted in the crisis compared to men, and that in many countries policy responses have not been proportionate when viewed through a gender lens. For example, when stimulus is focused on funding of infrastructure and construction. The younger generation have also been hard hit, with people under 20 experiencing the largest drop in employment[1]. The impact of COVID-19 on their current employment and earning prospects is amplified by the future burden of cost carried forward from stimulus responses globally.  

As such, it is crucial we consider our recovery through various lenses – inter-generational, gender, diversity and place.

How we can rebuild a better, fairer and stronger society?

The good news is Australia already has many of the tools and systems in place required to create a new model built on inclusive growth – strong public institutions and plenty of experience in disaster preparation, response and recovery from relentless natural disasters including droughts, floods, cyclones and bushfires. We don’t need to start from scratch, but we do need to reframe the response. Despite the acute nature of the pandemic today, the structural issues it has exposed are chronic and require a measured and integrated response and recovery plan. As such, the response that can build back better will not be developed in the same vein as those for other emergencies.

We have democratic processes, a strong public sector, independent media and a robust civil society that should allow us to work out together a new path to the future. Australia has shown throughout this crisis that we have the ability to quickly affect change when required – including the establishment of the National Cabinet and the National Covid Coordination Commission and its sub-committees.

Based on the OECD’s extensive work in the area of inclusive growth, we believe there are six aspects that can be considered across the spectrum of policy and implementation activities to drive better outcomes in the COVID-19 recovery, including:

  • Recognising the importance of using non-financial success measures
  • Facilitating transactions between the business sector, investors, civil society and communities whilst being conscious of Place
  • Considering social impact in land use planning
  • Driving investment in meaningful jobs and skills
  • Making decisions that can unleash the economic power of youth and women
  • Being proactive in use of technology and data for decision making

Importantly, we need to remember that recovery is not only what Governments can do for us. A strong recovery that creates a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable economy and society requires a trusted partnership between governments and all aspects of society – including business, the social sector, academia, local communities and the environment. This new deal needs to be affected through the recovery investment decisions being made in both the public and private sectors against a cohesive national recovery plan that considers the chronic issues over the acute.

About the author:

Cassian Drew is Managing Director of Inclusive Growth, an organisation established to address the challenges of COVID-19 economic recovery, combining technology with transaction advisory services to enable economic growth that is distributed equitably across society. He is a non-executive director of Natural Capital Economics and an advisor on COVID-19 economic recovery to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Cassian is a Fellow of the Queensland Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Adapted from this article co-authored with Michael Hogan and published by Australia Together.

[1] Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 4 April 2020, ABS Media Release:  


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