INSIGHT: Leadership, COVID-19 and "the new normal"

March 31, 2020
calgary newsroom+INSIGHT Leadership COVID 19 and the new normal

As physical distancing and self isolation become our new normal, we must work even harder to come together to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic.

This global health crisis is causing real suffering and hardship for Calgarians. Yet, I strongly believe this challenge will strengthen the most important relationships in our lives and give us a renewed sense of community.

In my career I have been part of both private and public sector organizations that responded to the SARS and H1N1 contagions, numerous stock-market and oil-price plunges, and the 2013 flood in Calgary. Time and again people pulled together to overcome what appear to be overwhelming challenges.

It’s why I have faith Calgarians will find a way to pull together now.  

Our immediate priority is people’s health. But also know that even as our dedicated health-care workers battle to contain the spread of the coronavirus, there is critical work under way to ensure our economy recovers too.

Lives are being disrupted worldwide by this public health emergency and mounting economic crisis. My heart goes out to everyone who is dealing with illness, facing financial stress, or dealing with the mental and emotional strain of all the uncertainty.

Everyday it feels like a new reality.

This is also the first global pandemic in the social-media era. Today’s communications platforms are our lifelines in forced isolation, but the overload of information also spreads mistruths and stokes fear at a speed we’ve never experienced.

People have a right to be anxious. As Albertans, we face two daunting challenges – coronavirus and a global oil price war – that threaten to push our economy into an historic recession.

We are well aware it is going to get worse before it gets better.

More than any point in most of our lifetimes, we need governments, businesses, educators and social-welfare organizations to work together to resolve the simultaneous health and economic challenges. This is a crisis that demands alignment, leadership and trust.

We also don’t have the luxury of time.

I am encouraged by the alignment and leadership from the Government Canada, Government of Alberta and City of Calgary to address this complex and ever-changing situation. As we are aware, that is not the case everywhere in the world.

The public policy and financial tools to resolve health and economic challenges of this scale primarily reside with the federal and provincial governments. The billions of dollars of government funds to help people and support companies that were announced last week are just the start.

It will be a long road to recovery.

One thing is abundantly clear; the Government of Canada must make Alberta a priority to revive the economy given our multiple challenges. Every part of the country has been hit hard. We’ve been hit harder.

At Calgary Economic Development our mandate is to collaborate with governments, businesses, local educational institutions and community organizations to create prosperity and opportunities for all Calgarians.

If ever there was a need for alignment, it’s now.

Calgary Economic Development is working with the City of Calgary and Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) during the state of emergency as they align local protocols with the policies of Alberta Health Services and Health Canada.

This is an area where we can all be leaders.

We all can follow the instructions for physical distancing and good hygiene. We can all also have – and show – empathy for the people around us who are fearful for their health, their jobs, or their family's future. If you need assistance, reach out; there is help available.

And everyone who is working in on the front-lines in all essential services deserves our utmost respect.

At Calgary Economic Development, we are collaborating with groups like the Calgary Chamber, Tourism Calgary, and Business Council of Alberta to support the economic resiliency and recovery plans from all levels of government.

The City of Calgary has created a task force to address the impacts of COVID-19 and Calgary Economic Development is on the committees for Business Community Support and Economic Resiliency. From my experience, ensuring business leaders and educators are part of the government effort will be critical to success.

We hosted a conference call on March 26, 2020, with Tom Sampson, Chief of CEMA, Mayor Nenshi and executives from a number of Calgary companies and post-secondary institutions to discuss COVID-19. Sampson was adamant everyone needs to do their part to support public health measures, he was also clear “we need the business community to be the shining example” of leadership.

Fortunately, our business community has a long track record of leading by example. There was agreement at the session that for companies to pivot to opportunities created by the pandemic, there must be more awareness of the programs and less red tape.

Sampson agreed and noted that a sign on the wall at CEMA says they can not “move at the speed of government.”

To manage through the phases of this pandemic, Calgary Economic Development has taken a three-stage approach to COVID-19:

  • Respond: Help people and businesses access health and financial assistance.
  • Rebuild:  Support businesses as they re-open and people get back to work.
  • Recover: Align federal and provincial governments to embrace opportunities from the community-built economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy.

We will help connect workers to COVID-created jobs. We also have programs for workers to get the skills needed for the high-demand jobs as we rebuild and recover. We will support entrepreneurs with programs for startups and tools to help companies grow in new markets.  

No industry will be left untouched by this pandemic. Companies will need resiliency to emerge from this downturn and innovative thinking as we rebuild and recover differently.

The world is undergoing an economic transformation. One of the main calls to action in Calgary in the New Economy is to embrace the disruption of digital transformation. This crisis will pass but it doesn’t feel like we will go back to the way it was.

The pandemic and oil price shock have, painfully, reinforced what we knew about the world – change and disruption are inevitable.

The vision in Calgary in the New Economy is to be the city of choice in Canada for the best entrepreneurs to apply advanced technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges – cleaner energy, safe and secure food, more efficient transportation and better health solutions.

It is an extraordinary time, but those ambitions remain the driving force in our economic recovery.

Calgary has always been an entrepreneurial city and entrepreneurs thrive on challenges. This is testing us, but we will endure – even if it’s at a distance for a while – because of our relationships, our sense of community and our ability to take on big challenges.

Mary Moran is President and Chief Executive Officer for Calgary Economic Development. This feature was first published in the Calgary Herald on March 31, 2020.

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