(Text originally published in Les Affaires on June 25, 2020.)
Since the 1970s, the ideology “Think global, act local” has guided world leaders, lulled by the thought that the prospect of a global market should also be anchored in local roots. However, in recent months, major social changes have occurred. On the one hand, we note a growing awareness of environmental issues (as evidenced by all the protests around the world) and an examination of the adherence to the principles of globalization. On the other hand, a virus, as unknown as unexpected profoundly transforms the social fabric and redefines the relationship of humans with their environment.
“Think global, act local” is no more.
Surely, globalization will remain a post-COVID-19 reality and the foundations of global economic principles will remain, for the most part, valid. Of course, no one is against this virtue and everyone prefers (at least conceptually) to favor their local ecosystem rather than a globalized and depersonalized economic structure.
The changes we are going through are profound. We are moving towards an era of Thinking locally and acting globally. It’s a way to build on our local strengths and customs in order to have a global impact.
It can also make a big difference for businesses here. For the past few weeks, we have been experiencing an evolution in attitudes and consumer awareness of the importance of the local economy – both to help each other and to combat the harmful effects of globalization. We must remain realistic, Quebec remains a territory of 8.5 million inhabitants. It would be unthinkable to imagine any form of economic and commercial isolation. However, it is clear that consumers’ ability to vote with their wallets could lay the foundations for a new local economy.
From a more structural point of view, thinking local, acting globally is a leitmotif rooted in a form of disruption. The latter requires a certain distance, a rebellious state of mind based on cultural differences; which is Quebec’s DNA.
Another perfect storm for reinvention?
Quebec is exceptionally well positioned to change the game and carve out a place for itself on the new world stage, both thanks to its culture and its unique talent pool. In the early 1980s, Quebec experienced a perfect storm of reinventions, which propelled several companies onto the world stage. Forty years later, it is in chaos that Quebec businesses can find opportunities to think differently.
Today, we want to launch an appeal. Do we want to combine our know-how and our different ways of thinking in order to take advantage of the crisis we are going through? Do we have the ambition to seize this opportunity to see the birth in Quebec of new business opportunities to enrich ourselves collectively as a society?
To make this crisis an opportunity, we must find perfect synchronicity between businesses, consumers and governments.
1) Accelerate the digitization of businesses and the economy.
The current crisis is rightly perceived as the greatest catalyst that Quebec has ever known in terms of digital transformation or transformation of business models. To be competitive, the adoption of technologies should be at the heart of an economy that takes shape differently.
Adopt an agile strategy: Given the increased speed of technological innovations, it is imperative to stop talking about digital transformation. Each organization must adapt to technologies constantly. To do this, the key principle of organizational success is to evolve quickly and adapt to the market. An agile strategy is therefore necessary.
The online shopping cart starts with each business: We believe that businesses here can afford to compete against foreign giants. To achieve this, we must rely on elevating the customer experience and the uniqueness of our products. We need to bring out our strengths in order to stand out. Local merchants who master fast & easy online ordering, eco-friendly shipping have a better chance of satisfying their customers, who will remain loyal. Innovative business models like subscription will help merchants to create a local consumer habit.
Double down on startups and the entrepreneurial ecosystem: No one can predict where the next successful business will come from. We know that the Quebec ecosystem of startups is performing at a high level. Several examples of global success have started right here in Quebec. So we have to bet on entrepreneurs and promote risk taking. It is crucial to help entrepreneurs to get started, to bounce back from their failures and to develop their businesses beyond our borders.
Nowadays, the digital acceleration of our businesses and our civil society is no longer a complex necessary evil to undertake. Indeed, we must seize the opportunity to reinvent ourselves in a world less focused on capitalism and more oriented on ethics, transparency and respect for the benefit of growth and sustainable development, and this, for the good of all.
2) Renew the relationship with consumers.
To make the crisis that we are going through an opportunity, the relationship that companies have with consumers must be transformed.
Listen to understand, not to respond: As brands or organizations, are we really consumer-centric? Or are we just trying to convince ourselves? There is nothing new about putting the voice of the consumer at the heart of the decision-making process, but few companies are fundamentally attuned to their market. From a “think local” perspective, the ability of organizations to understand their markets is complex. We need to learn to listen more often, to share faster and thus develop the ability to quickly disseminate consumers’ perceptions and attitudes within the organization.
Act rather than speak: The COVID-19 crisis is not just a health crisis. It is also a fundamental questioning of values, at an economic, environmental and social level. In the past few weeks, several brands have been severely punished by consumers due to the mismatch between their actions and consumer values. More than ever, it is essential for businesses here to focus on speaking out and showing their customers that their choices are aligned with their own values.
The courage to think bigger: If there is one trait that distinguishes Quebecers from the rest of North America, it may be their humility or modest ambitions. However, we have the talent, the access to capital and the vision to make a positive impact on many more consumers than we can imagine. We have the means to become a force both on the local market and internationally. There are no more excuses for having much greater vision.
3) Government support.
In the wake of these profound changes that we are observing, governments also have a role to play in supporting businesses and consumers and helping to redefine society after the pandemic.
A long-term perspective: The current crisis has exposed the weaknesses of short-term, partisan political decisions. To rebuild lasting trust in our public institutions, we believe it is essential to embed the major collective priorities (climate emergency, energy efficiency projects, investments in public health, relocation to Quebec of the production of essential goods and services, investments in sustainable public transport infrastructure, etc.) in a legal framework with clear objectives and monitoring mechanisms that transcend electoral cycles.
Reform the economic model: The pandemic has also exacerbated the vulnerability affecting several sectors of the economy, notably the cultural and event industries, catering and bars. Why not approach the creation of the wage subsidy program as a first step towards a broader reflection aimed at overhauling our individual and corporate taxation and our mechanisms for redistributing wealth and reduction of inequalities? Without necessarily arguing for a universal guaranteed minimum income program, it is clear that many current tax measures could be combined and simplified.
Governments will have to be pioneers: When it comes to public policies that promote diversity, inclusion, social solidarity and innovation, governments must lead the way. Incentive policies for employment and training, representation in decision-making bodies, structuring support for the creative and innovative industries and the social economy are just a few examples of possible areas of intervention for our public bodies.
The time to act is now.
Our collective choices define the next generations. The unique opportunity of this crisis is to rethink our past choices and not to adhere to past conventions. It is up to us to rely on our expertise and our unique positioning to rethink the dynamics of capitalism and use the current crossroads to propel us into a more prosperous, equitable, sustainable and inclusive world. In order to become the Quebec for which we aspire, the time for action is now.
Florent Bayle-Labouré, Co-Founder and Partner, Habo
Nectarios Economakis, Co-Founder and Partner, PNR
Stéphane Ricoul, Marketing Director, Talsom
Sophie Tremblay, Lawyer at NOVAlex