Opportunity In Crisis :
The world is currently reeling under the massive impact of COVID-19 pandemic. But if we turn the pages of history, it shows that every crisis was a harbinger of change , disrupting the existing social and economic system and ushering the adoption of new reforms and practices. This article shines light on some instances which demonstrate the age old adage :
Every dark cloud has a silver lining !
- Black Plague and the death knellfor feudalism:
The year 1348 saw the arrival of bubonic plague to England on board of trading ships from China which also carried infected sailors and rats. The contagious disease spread like a wildfire infecting the rich and poor alike without discrimination. It killed 60% of the European population (estimated 25 million) and caused major upheaval in religious , social and economic structure of that era. The noble classes protected themselves by fleeing to remote countryside and ‘quarantined’ themselves with trusted physicians and servants. Meanwhile the populace of common folks and peasants was nearly decimated.
The aftermath of plague left a shortage of craftsmen, agricultural workers, labourers but the nobility was also unskilled to work in blue-collar jobs. This led to an increase in demand of workers who were now being paid a higher wage in contrast to pre-black plague era when there were no wages for the working class. A few peasant rebellions ensued under the leadership of John Ball and Watt Tyler when a draconian poll tax was introduced in 1377 butthey were suppressed violently. However, the increased and new found economic power of peasants ultimatelyled to the steady decline of manorial system and the feudal structure was completely dissolved by the time Queen Elizabeth I ascended the English throne in 1558.
Figure :Triumph Of Death Fresco by Maestro del TrionfodellaMorte
depicting the effects of plague (Image Source : Sciencephoto.com)
- World War II and womenempowerment :
War arrived on America’s doorstep in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The men were sent off to join the war efforts leaving the American economy in shambles. The government had no choice but to rope in women to work in assembly lines, factories and military installations with attractive campaigns featuring ‘Rosie the Riveter’.
Figure : Poster for Rosie the Riveter (Image Source : rosietheriveter.org)
Nearly 6 million women joined the workforce in hitherto unheard female roles such as steel workers, construction workers, munitions workers, office assistants, government workers, taxi drivers. They took up nursing jobs in frontlines risking their lives alongside men in heavy artillery firings and bombings. They served as naval intelligence translators, radio operators, engineers and non-combat pilots and even as codebreakers in famed halls of Bletchley Park.
Women like Hedy Lamarr (inventor of frequency-hopping spread spectrum) , Natalia Peshkova (Combat nurse), Joan Curran ( inventor of radar chaff) , Lisa Meitner (Nuclear fission) were legends in their own rights and paved way for a new era of female liberation which continues to this day.
- Great Recession of 2008 and emergence of disrupters:
The financial downturn of 2008 led to some of the biggest bankruptcies seen in recent times. The blue-eyed giants of financial sector such as Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, General Motors crumbled under the impact of sub-prime mortgage crisis.
But the tough times proved to be goldmine of opportunities for some new kids on the technology block.
Jan Koum and Brian Acton led Whatsapp (2009) created a new way of quick communication.
Andrew Mason found a way to connect business and customers through Group on (2008) which was an efficient way to promote discretionary spending in recession times.
Non-availability of taxi in the middle of a cold night in Paris led Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp to realize that there was a market for transport aggregators and inspired them to start Uber (2009).
The evolved challenges of surviving in post-recession economy created series of disrupters and valued companies like Cloudera (2008), Slack (2009), Instagram (2010), Pinterest (2010).
Figure : Startups of 2008 recession (Image Source : Mobile monkey.com)
We traversed through history and saw three different times that faced three different disasters of epic proportions. But they created positive social, economic and technological changes in the world.
Similarly, we can conclude that the current pandemic will also lead to some introspection and paradigm shift in general way of living.There are alreadyencouragingsigns in the adoption of tele education and tele medicine throughout the world and hopefully in the coming months more success stories will emerge out of the shadows of coronavirus crisis.
Prof. Shatabdi Basu
Department of CSE,
University of Engineering & Management (UEM), Jaipur