6 Ways to Build a Better Normal (If and When We Ever Get There)

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When are we going to go back to normal?

That’s the only question anyone wanted me to find out during the recent United Nations Sustainability Week and my work as part of the Global Future Council of the World Economic Forum.

I think the more important question should’ve been: Why the heck would we want to go back to normal?


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The old normal clearly wasn’t working. Even if we were the second fastest growing economy in the world, over 60% of Filipinos were poor and 8.3 million lived in extreme poverty (under $2 a day). We were also in deep ecological debt, using twice the amount of resources per person than nature could provide. 

What would it take to build a better normal?

First, let’s look at where we are right now and what’s most likely going to happen. The pandemic has exposed how many people live in inadequate housing, without reserves of cash or food, and face difficulties in accessing government assistance. The global lockdown is exacting an enormous price from the poor. For residents of crowded slums, lockdowns without compensation or help have forced many Filipinos to choose between danger and hunger. Social distancing and self-isolation are impossible luxuries. With the critical water shortages in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, and the greater Cebu area constantly washing hands might not be possible either. This is most probably why we had the highest number of COVID cases in Southeast Asia. It’s also why so many people lost their jobs—929,000 in Metro Manila alone—with the manufacturing hubs in CALABARZON and Central Luzon also taking massive hits. Combine that with supply chain interruptions that caused hunger in July which was highest in Visayas and Mindanao. Hungry people are more likely to get sick, and 6 out of 10 Filipinos can’t access essential healthcare even in normal times.


The good news is that we have probably seen the end of the first wave of COVID-19. The bad news is that epidemiologists are warning that it will erupt in “volcanoes” at different times and in different places, possibly for years. Vaccines, if they work and if they are available, may not provide lifetime immunity. So what can we expect as the world prepares for future waves?

  • Most transport hubs like airports, train and bus stations will still feature temperature checks, health screening, and crowd-control measures.
  • Travel will come back very slowly, and we may need immunity passports
  • Places where people interact will be retrofitted for social distancing.
  • Retail outlets and schools that do not have a digital strategy will not survive, and, in a service economy like the Philippines, this will make broadband internet access vital.
  • Without financial support, the restaurants, cafes, bookshops, and museums that give so many places their character will struggle to bounce back.
  • Cases of depression and mental health challenges will be amplified the longer the pandemic continues. You’ll find this manifesting in compulsive consumption, such as online shopping or alcohol. At worst, you will probably see an increase in suicide, particularly due to financial hardship. This is particularly difficult because social isolation tends to shatter support networks.
  • Growing numbers of businesses may start or speed up investment in automated solutions or in producing capabilities in the country.
  • Expect structured office work only twice or thrice a week due to the physical distancing needed.
  • Live events like concerts will most likely be held outdoors, and tickets may be more expensive as they’ll have to let in fewer people.
  • Larger religious gatherings will be allowed, but will still need social distancing.

What can we do as individuals to make sure we build a better normal?

1. Register to vote and encourage others to do so.

The 2022 election is going to be incredibly important to your daily life. Not only have we realized how important our barangay captains and mayors are, we have to make sure that national leadership is great too. Research proves poor leadership results in bad outcomes, and in a crisis competence matters. Our government is facing gigantic debt, projected to hit P 13.7 trillion by 2022, which we will be paying until 2049. Each Filipino’s share of that debt is P 126,851. We’re still an investment grade country and we can pay that back, but only if we invest that wisely. The most important investments are going to be microloans and grants to the poor, better assistance to businesses, increasing access to broadband internet, and making sure we have vaccine production facilities. Waiting for a vaccine is fine, pursuing “bakuna matata” as a strategy isn’t. Download the forms here.

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2. Kill disinformation.

The pandemic comes with an info-demic. Never has clear communication been so important. Do your part to fact-check and don’t share misinformation or disinformation on social media

3. Cultivate a “sense of us.”

COVID-19 is a shared experience that can bring us together in a way previous crises couldn’t. Let’s use this opportunity to build a different narrative. Many of us are willingly giving up our civil liberties so others can be safe, let’s boost that solidarity and get our family and friends to care more about the country. You might not have cared about a poor tenant farmer in Quezon or a small fisher in Leyte before, but none of us are safe until all of us are safe. Access to healthcare, proper nutrition, and better livelihoods for them means greater safety for you.

4. Buy Filipino.

When you go to the grocery, check the label to see if it’s made in the Philippines. When you shop for supplies on-line, support local businesses – particularly for your fresh vegetables and seafood. 68% of the poor are farmers and fisherfolk. I particularly like agritech startup Mayani, which has over a 100 farmers from all around the country and delivers right to my door.

5. Donate to social organizations that work.

Apps like Giving Hero have made it incredibly convenient to donate to legitimate non-government organizations. One of the innovative social enterprises that makes a real difference is ARK’s Feed Back program, which ended hunger by investing in Filipino farming & fishing communities in 5 weeks for as low as P 2,500. The program inspires farmers and fisherfolk to create gardens in their backyards. As soon as the gardens are productive, families are eating. They sell or exchange the excess vegetables and fruits to ARK, which gives them cash. This they use to buy other food, medicine for their parents, load for their kids’ schooling and seed capital for their new “sidelines”, some of which are launched as early as two weeks into the Feed Back program.


6. Invest in the Philippines.

Sustainable investments can make as much as 3 times your money in 5 years. There are sustainability bonds by RCBC, DBP, and Landbank that invest in businesses that advance our progress to the UN sustainable development goals, and with apps like Bonds.PH you could do it from your couch. Local governments can also partner with banks to launch a municipal bond, which will enable important investments in your hometown. The boat port at Caticlan, which is a jump off point to Boracay, was funded this way. You can crowdfund creative solutions at Spark Project or invest in innovative and sustainable companies through the impact investment fund I founded (Ignite Impact). 


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Like every crisis, the pandemic is also an opportunity for bold and principled collaborations. Let’s make sure our choices reflect our values and that our money matters. The most important lesson we can learn is that all of us need all of us.

Maoi Arroyo is a multi-awarded entrepreneur, investor, and educator. She is the only Filipina on the Global Future Council of the World Economic Forum on SDG Investment, which helps determine the WEF’s agenda and solutions for responsible investing.


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Maoi Arroyo
Maoi Arroyo is an award-winning entrepreneur, investor, and educator. She is the only Filipina on the Global Future Council of the World Economic Forum on SDG Investment, which helps determine the WEF’s agenda and solutions for responsible investing.
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