The nightmare seems to be over. The outdoor seating areas of our bars are once again crowded with people eager for a nice conversation; families from different communities reunite in a hug of imperative necessity, while air traffic restarts its flight itineraries with passengers who come home full of hope. As we entirely return to our daily tasks, we gradually realize we are part of a so-called "new normality", not fully understanding what it will entail individually and collectively for everyone.

The impression of having passed a turning point in life becomes inevitable. In the midst of so much loss, we try to rescue the lessons learned: that we would have done differently or would have prepared ourselves better to face what finally happened. As a vital impulse, this intimate reflection leads us to regard the future with optimism, perhaps a different one from that we had previously thought to build, but with a renewed determination to resume pending matters and assume with new vigor the opportunities any recent learning offers to a novel entrepreneur. Certainly, for those who agree on sharing this feeling, it calls for a personal and common challenge to rise to in the coming months.

Thus, as a fundamental undertaking for the entire humanity, I reflect on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, wondering whether we have learned any lessons on the urgent need to actively integrate them into our milieu of coexistence, into our own family, work and research realms.

In this sense, the current global crisis has bespoken the vital importance of having even more resilient, collaborative, and supportive communities (SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities): territories able to anticipate and adapt to changing circumstances, to mobilize wills and resources at unprecedented speeds. Its potential achievement, in light of recent outcomes, seems to be largely associated with a greater investment in technological infrastructures that intensify the connectivity and efficient management of ICTs in society (SDG9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure).

Needless to say, that resilience capacity also means arriving on time, and in some parts of Spain, we arrived late and poorly to help our elders in residences. Their passing without a respectful and loving goodbye will hurt for a long time (SDG3: Health and well-being).

Undoubtedly, the greatest lesson on resilience is still being given today by our healthcare professionals, overcoming all human limits and awaking us to the importance of investing more in knowledge, infrastructure and research in the field of health (SDG3: Health and well-being). The rounds of applause we have all dedicated to them from our windows and balconies now need to be translated not only into sufficient and improved resources, but also into stable work contracts, better working conditions, equal pay, etc. (SDG8: Decent work and economic growth)

As a ripple effect, the health crisis has unleashed an economic and social crisis of unpredicted dimensions, to which we will have to adjust to in the following semesters. Thousands of workers throughout the Spanish State cling to the lifesaving table of the ERTEs (Records of Temporary Employment Regulation), while countless self-employed and freelancers justifiably request other forms of state or regional benefits to shelter from the storm. The most vulnerable ones line up outside food banks and humanitarian centers of assistance ―supplied in turn by citizen solidarity- (SDG2: Zero Hunger), while receiving from the same governmental level the alleviating news of a Minimum Vital Income (SDG1: End of poverty).

In this context, a vast number of employees are rapidly adapting to telecommuting. Public and private organizations -along with their employees-, in a consistent internal effort to reorient production and customer demand, find methods to optimize their virtual capacities and resources, demonstrating business versatility and resilience, as indicated by C. Pelletier in a recent post of this collection referring to Covid-19.

This massive move has indirectly triggered a pooled result, enabling at least momentarily –among many other outcomes- an acute reduction of the levels of CO2 and polluting gas emissions into the environment (SDG13: Climate action), and the virtually uninterrupted provision of quality knowledge and education by training centers, thanks to the impressive effort of teachers, professors, and other professionals in public and private education. (SDG4: Quality education).

Nonetheless, telecommuting has not been without its complications when it comes to optimal employee performance and adequate work-life balance at home. The social infrastructure that has traditionally supported family and work conciliation in our country -namely nursery schools and/or grandparents-, particularly in households with minor children, has been seriously compromised for reasons of health security (SDG10: Reduced inequalities).

Indeed, the social lack of alternative solutions has meant for parents with children having to take turns at teleworking ―frequently at late hours-, requesting part-time workdays from their companies, and even stepping down from their posts, at least by one of the spouses. For this reason, some voices now claim an accentuation of gender inequality in society since the one who generally assumes this sacrifice is the mother of the child, which means less personal income compared to her partner and a potential reduction in her chances of professional and personal growth in the short and medium term (SDG5: Gender equality).

Meanwhile, companies gradually recover from the demand and supply shocks. The orders and requests for non-essential services are gradually reactivated at the local and state levels, with the international demand still contracted. The business internationalization processes initially undertaken, especially those involving high levels of asset ―such as FDIs (foreign direct investments) for overseas production and distribution-, slow down without completely stopping their dynamics; while the importation of intermediate consumption and manufactured products is significantly cut due to the shrinkage in the internal demand for certain final goods in the industrial sector (e.g. the purchase of vehicles).

Despite this, some companies ―certainly the most resilient ones- have positively contributed to this import reduction through an intensive implementation of circular economy practices in their production processes (SDG12: Responsible consumption and production), most likely making more efficient use of energy in their production facilities (SDG7: Affordable and clean energy) or perhaps even relocating to a greater extent components of the supply chain ―provision of primary and intermediate inputs- based on proximity principles. This favors not only the possibility of establishing new and better horizontal and vertical business collaborations in the territory, but also the generation of greater shared value (SDG8, 9 and 12) and social capital (SDG17: Partnerships for the goals).

I reflect and realize even more the urgent need for reinstituting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a non-antagonist path, but parallel to the competitiveness growth in territories. Competitiveness, as stated by Fagerberg (1996), should reflect a country's present and future capacity to ensure a high standard of living for its citizens.

In this vein, according to García-Navarro and Granda-Revilla (2019) , there is a salient correlation between the performance or implementation of SDGs in countries and their achieved level of competitiveness: eight of the top ten countries in the SDG Index and Dashboard are in the first quintile of the 2019 Global Competitiveness Index (García-Navarro & Granda-Revilla, 2019).

Territorial competitiveness, hence, should be closely linked to the creation of social opportunities for people. Of course, it should also imply productivity, internationalization, adaptation to technological changes and new business models, smart specialization, and promotion of business ecosystems, among many others, but what is the rationale behind all this if competitiveness is not used to provide an inclusive and sustainable well-being?

More times of change lie ahead: times of green compacts, sustainable transitions and new and more effective social rights. Indeed, times for all to put into practice the lessons learned.

 


NOEL MUNIZ Foto PEQUEÑA02

Noel M. Muñiz

Is a researcher at Orkestra Institute. During his professional life, he has been part of diverse public and private institutions oriented to the creation and strategic development of small and medium enterprises and start-ups in Latin America, the United States, and more recently in Spain.

IN COLLABORATION WITH