Coping with Covid-19, the entrepreneurial way

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Leonie Baldacchino, Director, The Edward de Bono Institute, University of Malta (17 Nov 2020)

In January 2013, the European Commission published the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action plan which argued that, in order to generate employment and fuel economic growth following the recession of the previous years, Europe needed more entrepreneurs. Today, as so many businesses in Malta and across the globe struggle through the COVID-19 crisis, Europe needs more entrepreneurs, and it needs them more than ever before.

Entrepreneurs are generally defined as individuals who start up and run businesses, identify opportunities, and introduce innovative products and services. In doing so, they create jobs for themselves and for the employees they recruit, and add value to the economy.

However, entrepreneurship is more than starting up and running a business. Entrepreneurship includes alertness and reactiveness to change, as well flexibility and proactivity in the face of difficulties. It involves searching for and implementing innovative solutions with a ‘can-do’ attitude, rather than resigning oneself to fate or misfortune.

Viewed from this broader lens, entrepreneurship is a mindset, a way of thinking and behaving in a creative and motivated manner. This mindset enables business owners to effectively adapt to exogenous shocks, such as those being faced during the current pandemic, and also empowers individuals to change things for the better in the workplace and in their in their everyday lives. From this perspective, Europe also needs more entrepreneurs within existing organisations, as well as creative thinkers and innovators in society at large.

This was the theme of an online panel discussion hosted by The Edward de Bono Institute on Wednesday 18th November as part of GEW (Global Entrepreneurship Week). GEW is an annual initiative that highlights the important role of entrepreneurs and innovators. With an international network of 20,000 partners and 10 million participants across 180 countries, GEW stimulates, inspires and encourages entrepreneurship through a range of local and global events. Since its inception in 2008, GEW has been hosted in Malta by the Edward de Bono Institute, University of Malta. Wednesday’s discussion, which was themed ‘Coping with COVID-19: An Entrepreneurial Approach’, brought together Maltese entrepreneurs and researchers to discuss how businesses may adapt to the challenges brought about by the pandemic through entrepreneurial innovation, as well as how an entrepreneurial mindset could enable individuals who have been adversely affected by the pandemic (e.g., lost their jobs) to adapt to the circumstances.

In addition to the panel discussion, several other online events will be held by the Institute to celebrate GEW 2020 in the coming days, including a two-part webinar on the funding opportunities and support measures available for entrepreneurs in Malta, a thematic event on the recognition of external influences as part of an Erasmus+ project called DIFME (Digital Internationalisation and Financial Literacy Skills for Micro-Entrepreneurs), and a research seminar featuring presentations by the Institute’s postgraduate students on their recently completed dissertations or ongoing research in the areas of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the wake of the current pandemic, GEW 2020 is a call to action for all members of society to be resilient and join forces in harnessing the power of creative ideas and innovation for the greater good. I wholeheartedly join this call, as I believe that each one of us has a role to play in making the world a better place.

If you are self-employed or a freelancer, and business has slowed down, spend some time thinking about how you could innovate your offerings to better meet present and future market needs. Could you pivot your business concept through some sort of ‘repurposing’? Could you adapt your products and services to appeal to new customer segments?

If you are an employer, try to think of different ways in which your employees could contribute to commercial or societal goals. Employees could be a rich source of creativity and innovation so, rather than laying them off, could you motivate them to propose ideas for new products or services? Do they have untapped skills and knowledge that could be put to a different use, including for social innovation initiatives? Social innovation is not yet widespread among SMEs in Malta, and the current pandemic could provide opportunities for enterprises to stand out by showing empathy and compassion while tackling social problems.

If you are an employee, show your boss that you are able to take the initiative and respond creatively to the challenges that the organisation may be facing. Could you propose ways of improving the organisation and helping it stay afloat? Could you support a colleague overcome some difficulty through kindness and collaboration?

If your time is idle due to losing your job or working reduced hours, take the opportunity to work on something new. Have you had a project on the back burner that could be fired up? Have you ever had the desire to be your own boss? This could be a good time start conducting research and setting your plan in motion. Funds and support for start-ups are available through various sources. If you would like to know more about this, join our free GEW webinars on Thursdays 19th and 26th November from 3-5pm (contact leonie.baldacchino@um.edu.mt for further information).

Last but certainly not least, if you are a parent, urge your children to engage in creative activities. Encourage them to play and experiment, allow them to fail, and enable them to learn from their experiences through reflection and positivity. Let yourself be inspired by their creativity, and explore with them new and better ways of doing things. Remember that actions speak louder than words, so make sure you model the sort of attitude and behaviour that you would like your children to emulate.

I am of the firm belief that, although we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can control how we adapt to it. Even when a vaccination for COVID-19 becomes available, it will take time for the negative shockwaves generated by the pandemic to subside. Therefore, whoever you are and whatever you do, I invite you to rise to the challenge of coping with COVID-19, the entrepreneurial way.

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