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Full Stop: A Reflection on the Lessons of 2020

Lisa Gralnek March 30, 2021

One Year After COVID Changed Everything, We Are Still Grappling With the Impacts and Needed Shifts

This article is a reflection on the past year. It references Full Stop: The Challenge & Opportunity Before Us, originally published in April 2020. 

On St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, I drove from my apartment in Brooklyn to Rhode Island and back again. At the time, my dog was staying with my parents in anticipation of an upcoming business trip which was looking increasingly unlikely, and rumor had it the Mayor was planning a total lockdown of New York City the next day. I wanted my pup with me. So began a year-long journey to today — “Full Stop,” one year later. 

Since then, more than 2,620,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide, with 536,000 in the U.S. alone. We have seen political and social upheaval from Hong Kong to Rangoon, Louisville to Minneapolis, and far beyond. People, young and old alike, have grown accustomed to mask-wearing and obsessive hand washing, shopping for everything online, and sharing in both celebrations and memorials via video conference. 

In the U.S. especially, but globally as well, the immense discrepancy between the “haves” and “have-nots” has been fully exposed in terms of unequal access to everything from healthcare and internet, to childcare, remote work and schooling options, even basic food and shelter. As U.S. unemployment numbers jumped to nearly 20% at their peak (not fully accounting for the self-employed or under-employed), the total net worth of America’s 650-plus billionaires rose by 44%, or $1.3 trillion—nearly enough to cover the historic government stimulus package Congress recently passed. “Essential” workers—disproportionately women and minorities—have been on the frontlines of the crisis, often with limited choice or PPE (personal protective equipment). 

And yet, as I wrote one year ago: “In the forced shutdown of ‘business as usual,’ we each have an opportunity to pause, recalibrate, and make positive change.” 

Collectively, we are only just beginning to reckon with the tidal wave of grief, mourning, and mental health issues begotten by the intensity of loss, isolation, fear, and rightful anger over the past year. Yet individually, we have proved ourselves again to be adaptable and resilient in the face of change and hardship. We have found deep appreciation for the power and privilege of community, uncovered gratitude for the smallest joys, and grown never to take our health or that of our loved ones for granted. 

We’re seeing momentum in the corporate sector, too. Moves toward conscious, more purposeful, stakeholder capitalism; decisive commitments to climate action; and an elevation of the imperative to actively support and encourage true diversity and inclusion. And with nearly 33% of all U.S. assets (or $17.1 trillion) now invested in responsible funds, a 42% increase from 2018, we’re seeing ESG (environmental, social, governance) becoming increasingly normalized at the investor and governance levels. 

It’s progress. But we still have a long way to go. 

“This historic moment is upon us, obliging each of us as individuals and a collective to see the world as it really is, not as we wish it were. And in this truth, there is as much challenge as there is opportunity.”

In March last year, I highlighted two important questions: What do we believe? And, who do we want to be when we grow up? With the experienced darkness and light of this past year yet fresh in our minds, how can we reflect deeply in the mirror to answer these questions—for it is upon these foundations that we shall build a shared and better future. 

We are not out of the tunnel yet, but there is light. Much has happened, and so much more action is needed for progress to evolve and stick—but it’s coming. Hopefully. My observation one year on? The time is now for change. That is both our opportunity and our challenge. Full Stop. 

This article is a reflection on the past year. It references Full Stop: The Challenge & Opportunity Before Us, originally published in April 2020. 

Equity and Inclusion / Leadership / Social Entrepreneurship
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