Dear University of California-Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business Community,

It goes without saying that these are uncertain and trying times.  I would like to begin by wishing each of you and your loved ones health and safety. Many of us with more vulnerable loved ones are understandably feeling particularly on edge these days. I worry about my elderly parents as I am sure many of you have loved ones for whom you are concerned. Some among us have worries about our own health. My heart goes out to you. We’re in this together.

As of Tuesday, the University of California, Berkeley suspended in-person instruction and instruction has moved to alternative modalities. I happened to be in the middle of instructing my course on Monday when the announcement was made. I must say that I am so impressed with our student body and how they are responding. But of course the greatest challenges to all lie ahead and the university is preparing itself for uncertain times. https://news.berkeley.edu/coronavirus is our best source for university guidelines and actions.

Resiliency. We must focus on resiliency. This is the concept that keeps coming to mind. Resiliency, systems thinking, and sustainability are different sides of the same coin.  We need to develop resilient systems and we need to develop resilient individuals – and where individuals recognize they are part of the whole and take deep concern for the whole. You know that I look to the Nordics for inspiration and it is so clear that the longstanding commitment across the Nordic countries to educate their entire populace in a manner that embraces a holistic, systems approach is what has led to that region developing the systems that are better ensuring societal level resiliency.  David Brooks recently wrote a recent piece “How Scandinavia Got Great” that highlights this and reminds that ethics are a central element of this. Coronavirus is exposing the fragility that is the U.S. hyper individualistic experience. My humble hope is this crisis serves as the impetus for our investment in systems to better ensure societal level resilience. In the words of Emerson, “We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.

Present-day America is atomized. We push systems level problems down to the individual.  We are overly fractured in our response. Not only is this remarkably inefficient and inequitable, I fear we are losing our soul as a result. 

But we can change this.   And what better place than the University of California, Berkeley to do so? Our Berkeley Strength is our ability, our willingness, our desire to see the whole.  No single discipline has a monopoly on insight and what an incredible position we have at this institution to draw upon experts and passions from across virtually every discipline known to humankind.

There will tragically be suffering in the foreseeable future as result of this crisis. My collective call is for us to ensure this suffering is not entirely in vain. We must leverage the awareness that this crisis raises to mobilize action. We must build systems that support real people – systems like robust healthcare, sick leave, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, childcare, parental leaves and the list goes on – that support real people, all of us. I draw these direct examples from the Nordics who have implemented such universal programs during the 20th century and are now reaping the benefits.  With their pragmatic eye on efficiency AND equality the Nordics have successfully navigated the tensions and have built the most resilient societies on the planet. Berkeley can be the laboratory to test these Nordic ideas out in a California and U.S. context.

This is what my mind is consumed with these days so I share these offerings with you.

Be well and take care of each other.

Robert Strand

Robert Strand, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Business