Building Back Better

Building Back Better: Associations Advancing the Future

13th October 2021

In the wake of the pandemic, associations are proving that now more than ever, they play an instrumental part in designing the future world we want to live in, one that is better capable of tackling pandemics and providing for populations of all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. For example, the pandemic showed the limits of residential care systems and the need for better standards in terms of safety and wellbeing—especially in emergency situations. 

Words Lane Nieset

While healthcare was one of the more obvious sectors impacted by COVID-19, technology has also played a significant role, both in the midst and post-pandemic, as businesses look to long-term investments in AI, IoT, blockchain, and the cloud as part of their recovery plan. In the latest piece of Boardroom’s Building Back Better series, we’ll take a deeper dive into some of the ways associations are assisting in future-planning in the wake of the pandemic to build a new—and more sustainable—world.

Drive toward digitalization

As the pandemic sent the world into lockdown, in-person meetings were quickly replaced with Zoom chats and video conferences. Companies quickly embraced digitalization as they struggled to stay afloat and adjust to the rapidly changing global environment. In a recent article on the World Economic Forum (part of The Davos Agenda), five agents of change were specifically pinpointed to help Europe’s post-pandemic recovery. Accelerated digitalization is the first, since more than 90% of firms have increased remote work and 60% have increased online purchases or sales. In the article, it says that many executives reported they moved 20 to 25 times faster than they did pre-pandemic for things such as building supply-chain redundancies, improving data security, and increasing the amount of usage of advanced technologies in operations. 

Not only are companies looking to adopt new technology like AI, data analytics and IoT in the “age of data,” a larger percentage are anticipated to make technology a partner in areas like risk management, security, and regulatory compliance; customer experience; and decision-making, according to a survey conducted by the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work (CFoW). As the survey showed, companies need to “make digital competency the prime competency for everyone” and increase digital literacy and specialized skills, even for those who aren’t specifically in the technology sector. A similar sentiment is expressed in The Davos agenda article, which states: “There must be a widespread effort to up- and reskill people to enable generations of workers and employees to benefit adequately from growth areas in sustainability and digital. According to the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, an accelerated pace of automation could disrupt 85 million jobs by 2025, yet 97 million ‘jobs of the future’ could emerge with a new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.”

Enhancing education

Digital transformation is also the main focus in the realm of higher education, where the International Association of Universities is working toward strategic goals by 2022 to bridge divides in terms of access to knowledge and information by advocating for equity and solidarity between and within higher educational institutions and promoting the design of inclusive digital transformation strategies by encouraging and facilitating cooperation between higher education institutions, international, and national bodies.

The ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning (ICT4IAL) project—which worked with experts in education and ICT from across Europe—is another example of how technology can assist in terms of equal opportunities and accessibility of learning, particularly for those with special educational needs. As the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education put it: “Providing information on and for learning so it is accessible to all users is crucial, as non-compliance creates a barrier for learners with disabilities that compounds their special educational needs. Key information providers within lifelong learning need to act as role models in the field of accessibility and ensure that all information and resources shared are as accessible as possible for users with and without special needs.” 

Design for all

According to a joint statement from ANECAGE Platform Europe, and the European Disability Forum, the pandemic showed the limits and flaws in residential care systems, and thereby challenged the way society thinks about age and aging. So what is the solution to improve the way society addresses aging and heath care? For these organisations, principles based around a  “design for all” mentality is key. For Europe in particular, ANEC-AGE-EDF believe that “standards, if based on the principles of ‘design for all’ and used, can play an essential role in supporting everyone’s right to equal access, autonomy and participation. ‘Design for all’ means designing products and services for as many consumers as possible, regardless of age and abilities.”

In addition to aging, another issue in the realm of health care was raised during the pandemic was chronic disease like obesity. According to a statement from the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), the COVID-19 pandemic “is likely to have a significant impact on people on people with obesity… and the lockdowns imposed by many countries, combined with extensive efforts to isolate both vulnerable populations and people with diagnosed or suspected COVID-19 and to quarantine potential contacts, have many consequences for health behaviours and well-being.” 

Following a similar mentality of access for all, associations like EASO are ensuring that those struggling with chronic disease like obesity have access to data and resources they need, such as the proper size equipment at health centres or virtual assistance like telemedicine when physical consultations aren’t an option. As EASO explains in the statement,“Our global ability to adapt to the demands of the pandemic will be determined by our willingness to develop resilient systems that are particularly protective of high-risk individuals and vulnerable populations. 

This is a sentiment that many associations seem to be adopting as we navigate the “new normal” and work to build back better and create a sustainable society for generations to come. As these associations show, technology and healthcare are two pillars that play a major role in this transformational shift in society, but in future articles in the Building Back Better series, Boardroom will continue to assess and analyse other sectors and the systems organisations  putting in place to improve and enhance the world we’re living in.

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