Circular Economy

Education, reinvention and common action can right the wrongs exposed by COVID-19

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Ellen Jackowski, "2020 must not be remembered as a lost year". Image: Getty Images

Ellen Jackowski
Chief Sustainability Officer, Mastercard
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  • 2020 must not be remembered as a lost year—rather as the springboard for urgent action toward positive, lasting change.
  • Global education access, the reinvention of global solutions with local application, and common action to tip the scale are three imperatives for meaningful change.

People coin 2020 as “The Lost Year” but I’d like to call it the year of hard truth. Cataclysmic events have exposed deep cracks in society. We are seeing inequality, which has long been a stain in this world, playing out as the pandemic disproportionately affects communities of colour.

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We are seeing the climate crisis intensifying and the effect of “disaster within a disaster” when on top of a pandemic, people are forced to evacuate at a moment’s notice as wildfires or hurricanes destroy their homes and threaten their lives.

Today’s events not only make us confront these issues, but also push us to re-evaluate and co-innovate. Here are 3 imperatives to find solutions for a more equitable, safer and resilient world.

1. Double down on global education

At HP, we believe education is a fundamental human right. But the stark reality is that not everyone has access. And Covid-19 is exacerbating it – 463 million children are not in school right now, compared to 260 million before Covid-19. Of youth worldwide, 29 percent– around 346 million individuals – are not online. Access to education should not be contingent on where people live or how much they make.

Technology can be a great equalizer when tailored to the unique needs of a community and its people. This calls for a blended learning model that can provide resources for as many students as possible. Specifically, it addresses and solves the digital divide by offering printed learning content to students in addition to donating devices and curating digital content for them.

We live in an interconnected ecosystem where a disaster experienced by one population can easily affect another. The interconnectivity of things highlights that we are truly in this together and we need common action.

Ellen Jackowski Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer, HP

The key is to meet learners where they are, meaning we must make educational tools and materials free, easy to access through an open-source strategy, and offer a variety of options.

Education also plays a critical role in combating climate change. More than ever, we must act based on facts and science. And there’s an urgent need to educate women. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), educating girls is effective in addressing the climate emergency: it could result in a reduction in emissions of 51 gigatons by 2050, in addition to bringing economic prosperity to communities worldwide.

Image: Statista

2. Reinvention: global solutions and local action

2020 is all about pivoting, and we’ll see it played out even more in the future as we expect Covid-19 is only one of many crises ahead. Amid rapid changes, we must be comfortable with taking calculated risks and challenging ourselves to think and act differently. When an unexpected pandemic hit, we had to change course and do everything in our power to service humanity.

Reinvention is an approach that has worked for HP before. In this case, the company stepped out of its comfort zone to build an entire plastic supply chain in Haiti, which according to the World Bank, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

With partners, HP has created economic opportunities for local residents through investing in large-scale recycling infrastructure. These investments also help HP meet its 2025 goal of increasing recycled content plastics across its print and personal systems portfolio by 30%.

Through strong partnerships, creative problem solving, virtual collaboration and sheer determination, despite all odds during Covid-19 and a tropical storm that later turned into a hurricane, HP was able to complete the washing line—the final critical phase of the supply chain—which is expected to create an additional 1,000 local jobs in Haiti.

In addition to creating sustainable products and developing recycling infrastructure, the focus has been on product longevity to reduce waste and support a circular economy. To extend the life of computers and solve the digital divide, the HP Refresh Program, a software that can safely wipe data and reimage unused PCs, was launched. The program is empowering communities to crowdsource unused computers that can be put to good use. It’s a global solution with local action and meaningful, personal impact.


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3. Common action to tip the scale

We live in an interconnected ecosystem where a disaster experienced by one population can easily affect another. The interconnectivity of things highlights that we are truly in this together and we need common action.

That’s why HP works actively with partners, customers and suppliers to drive systemic change. Recently, the company joined the US Chapter of World Economic Forum’s and in part, teamed up with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant one million trees by the end of 2020.

No single company can solve these complex global challenges alone, but together we can leverage our collective strengths, influence and expertise to accelerate the path to a more just and sustainable world. In this decisive decade, we need to move faster and smarter than ever before. 2020 must not be remembered as a lost year—rather as the springboard for urgent action toward positive, lasting change. Let’s do it now.

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Related topics:
Circular EconomyEducation and SkillsFourth Industrial Revolution
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