The Canadian Business Resilience Network brings together a vast network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and more than 100 of Canada’s leading business and industry associations, from all regions and sectors of the economy. This network represents diverse viewpoints, and the CBRN blog provides a platform to share ideas with other members of the business community and the federal government. The opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of CBRN or the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
By Guy Cormier
President and CEO of Desjardins Group
Albert Einstein once said that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
That notion could represent a modern theory of relativity during a global pandemic. Because we have all faced hardship in different ways—and to varying degrees—since the spring.
As Canadians across the country work to regain a sense of normalcy, we know that things will never quite be the same. But that can be a good thing, because it provides a rare opportunity to truly hit reset—as an economy and as a society.
After 40 years of unbridled capitalism, our economic system had already reached a crossroads. Capitalism has excelled at putting human ingenuity to work in pursuit of profit. It is a system that has had a massive impact on global poverty, helping more than one billion people lift themselves out of extreme poverty in the last 30 years, according to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. But it has also caused significant collateral damage, which is evident in climate change, economic inequality and an eroding trust in institutions around the world.
We need to redefine our economic system so that it follows two basic principles: the best interests of future generations and of local communities. Today, both are left out of the capitalist equation. The drive for short-term profit fuels the irresponsible use of resources and open markets make it easy for businesses to relocate production with little regard for the impact on local communities.
Those two facts make the push for a circular economy so compelling. How we can change our economic model to reduce the impact we are having on our environment and drive economic development without continuing the insatiable consumption of resources?
It has to be more than a vision. We need to make it a reality.
At Desjardins, our cooperative values are guided by the unwavering belief that economic development should drive social progress. They go hand in hand. The one makes the other possible.
But does that remain true in a world where everyone is in survival mode and anxiously wondering what the future will look like—for ourselves, our families and our communities?
To that, I say yes, now more than ever. For Canada, it has never been more critical that development be responsible and equitable, and that growth be inclusive and shared.
In a country of this size, West and East can feel not just a few time zones away, but a world apart. However, this crisis has shown us that we are more interdependent than ever. The solidarity I saw, and still see, in Canadians since the early days of the outbreak has been deeply moving. Whether it has been governments donating medical supplies or businesses retooling to make hand sanitizer, the response has made me hopeful for better days ahead.
Balancing economic and social progress is hard, and the viability of our economic system depends on businesses taking on a larger socio-economic role. This is easier said than done in an environment where businesses, big and small, are fighting just to keep their people working, and their lights on.
This pandemic requires a collective response. When the public and private sectors mobilize together, the impact is transformational. Governments acted swiftly and decisively in the early days to bring people relief. Entrepreneurs and innovators transformed their operations to produce vital medical supplies. And financial institutions used their resources and networks to help fund the present and protect the future.
That is what is at stake. And the challenge we are facing requires a shift in our mindset. What actions can we take now to support generations to come, without facing a backlash from shareholders about weak quarterly targets?
As a society, we have mobilized to protect ourselves and others from harm. We have looked out for each other as if our lives depended on it, because in so many ways they have.
We are fortunate that the Canadian banking system has been resilient enough to see us through the initial phase of this crisis. It has a pivotal role to play in the recovery, much like it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Desjardins was founded 120 years ago by people in need who decided to work together to create Canada’s first credit union. Profit is important, but at what cost? We cannot just think about the next quarter, we need to think about the next quarter century.
We have an opportunity to rebuild stronger, to do a better job protecting the environment and to create a more resilient economy.
We have taken care of each other at the worst of times.
We can do even better when the best of times returns.