YEAR 2 AC (After Coronavirus): A Future Imagined by Youth

Year 1 After Coronavirus (AC) – The world is in shock. The first level of emergency responses comes into auto-play allowing the survival of basic operations in health, education, governance and industry.

Year 2 AC- Congratulations! You have entered a new level in this surreal video game that our lives have turned into. The mission is to assess the situation and plan meaningful changes for life beyond the pandemic, using digital technology and innovation, as tools to implement sustainable change focused on the community.

This is where we stand today. We need long-term plans that address failures that were exaggerated during the crisis.

Inequality in income, gender, ethnicity and even between countries are defining social, economic and political climates across the globe. The disproportionate job loss and added home responsibility amplifies gender bias. The youth have struggled with social, academic and career uncertainties. The opportunities that had once attracted migrant workers to the city lost their sheen. Mental health became a loosely used term in empty living room conversations. The virus did not create these problems.

COVID has lifted the sewer covers and forced us to see the issues that lay beneath the surface. Ironically, the pause has fuelled the will to create solutions to these problems. Organizations like the UN had started the process of creating awareness by defining 14 sustainable goals. Nobel prize winner Esther Duflo says a reason for systemic resistance may lie in how stark choices are framed for policy- economic growth Or survival of the planet, profit Or kindness, society Or individual.

Many of the problems we face today are due to imperfect solutions. Climate change has its origin in travel, industrialization and globalization. Inequality has its roots in capitalism, whose aim was improving our standard of living. The solutions to our problems are creating new problems. Paradoxically, we may be doing the same currently with cutting edge digital and biotech solutions.

Past policies to reduce inequality are narrow in their aim of redistribution via taxes and transfer policies. A broader agenda of “pre-distribution” can make the process more inclusive. It is time to find a balance between socialism and capitalism– “social capitalism”. Its post covid avatar supports social innovators and social businesses, where profit and positive social change are equal considerations. Such organizations have been able to solve local problems more effectively where governments have failed. Individuals need to adopt a “sustainable mindset” where quality over quantity drives consumerism. Citizens need to be active participants in governance and support youth activists to inspire the government, companies and public.

Laws have to be updated to limit monopolies that cause disproportionate wealth accumulation seen in tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and Apple. Reforms need to democratize R&D patents and address automation and redundancy in the changing labour landscape.

In the education sector, quality teaching can be provided to all through pre-recorded videos, engagement through A/V tools and personalization using adaptive learning software. Older schemes like Economically Weaker Section quotas may be replaced by private schools sharing e-resources with underprivileged schools. Lifelong up-skilling and reskilling initiatives will help maintain a robust workforce. Health care in rural areas needs to become a priority area of development.

We may look at large companies as mini governments and fund them to provide certain services that are usually provided by the state. This would leave a smaller section of society wholly dependent on the government for support, thus focusing on the voice of vulnerable groups.

Much of the demand for diversity, inclusion and equality in genders, race and community is youth driven. The pandemic saw the youth taking the lead in explaining COVID protocols to the older generation. Their digital fluency puts them in a position of greater influence. The idealism they exude is a generational advantage gained on the foundation laid by the struggle of the previous generation.

The youngsters’ sense of responsibility to others is genuine and a powerful driver. Let them loose –An era of upward education where the child is truly the father of man lies ahead.