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Stanford Rebuild: Inspiring Innovation During a Global Pandemic

stanford graduate school of business

COVID-19 has heightened global awareness of the strain on our healthcare systems and the socioeconomic inequalities felt in many communities.

Stanford Graduate School of Business recently held Stanford Rebuild, a Global Innovation Sprint to accelerate COVID-19 recovery.

“Stanford Rebuild is designed to encourage and support rapid innovation and creativity at this uniquely challenging time,” said Stefanos Zenios, the faculty director of Stanford GSB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and the Investment Group of Santa Barbara Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Operations, Information & Technology.

He added: “Periods of disruption bring to light new problems, and we’ve seen important innovations and significant new businesses created during challenging times.

“Our objective is to have many people from around the world step up to look at the barriers global communities will face in recovering from the pandemic. By offering content, tools and expertise at no cost to aspiring innovators, we hope to inspire the next generation of services and organizations that help improve lives in this new reality.”

Hearing from the professionals

Sarah A. Soule, The Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Lead Strategist for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion held a panel looking at how best to rebuild a more equal society, following the light coronavirus shone on systemic inequalities in society.

One of the main focuses was introducing a framework to think about how society as a whole can rebuild in an equitable way so that all people can thrive.

Soule noted that more than 300 million people globally have lost their jobs and 773,000 people have died.

Mackenzie added: “COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the inequalities and inequities that we knew existed in our society. In other words, the gap has widened for many, not just in the US but abroad.”

Mackenzie said she and Soule want to bring people deeper into the data that explains the inequalities that have been made more visible by COVID-19.

She said: “So as you design [projects], you can think about solutions in two ways. To make sure that your lens is wide enough to include the ways COVID-19 has affected people's lives, but also to seek new innovations that might solve a problem that has not yet been identified when you didn't use a diversity, equity inclusion lens.”

Exacerbated risk

The racialized patterns of how we live are exacerbating the effect of COVID-19. Mackenzie said: “We're seeing that in the way people live. White families might live in single-family homes but other communities live in multi-generational homes and have much higher rates of COVID-19.”

Of course, the kinds of jobs people have can exacerbate the risk too. Lori said: “In the US, people of color hold a higher percentage of essential jobs like driving and taking care of nursing facilities, and they’re not only putting themselves at risk, but are also unable to stay home and work.

“More than 70 percent of Peruvians work for cash, which means many of those jobs have either disappeared, don't give them sick pay, or are exposing them to more risk.

“We see this economic impact is greater for women also, because they tend to work more often in care work. In India, there's been movement where migrant workers have been kicked out and are exposed to COVID-19.”

A more equal outlook

Soule and Mackenzie wanted to impress on people ways to think about rebuilding a more equitable society as we emerge from the global pandemic.

Stanford Rebuild aimed to expose people to human-centered design and what that means. Soule said: “[This means you] think about the people you are designing for, by stepping into their shoes, by learning about their world and learning about the problems they're experiencing through their eyes, not your own.

“Learning about how you can bring customer client patient centricity to whatever project you're working on.”

When approaching empathy, Soule thinks we need to be inclusive in our data collection. She said: “How can we make sure that we are talking to and engaging with a diverse set of human beings as opposed to just a very narrow set of human beings.”

Similarly, reframing problems to the viewpoint of others is an important skillset to have – to ask yourself questions about how a racial minority, a gender minority, an LGBTQ+ person, an older person, or a neuro-diverse person might define the problem.

Soule said: “Think about what kind of insight can we get when we frame the problem through the eyes of a diverse set of individuals, bringing all of the richness of those insights into the problem we're defining and how we're going to approach that problem.”

Future solutions

For us to have a blossoming society, Soule urges us to have empathy when doing our work.

She said: “Ask yourself if you've interviewed, observed, collected data on a diverse set of people, attended to their differences, and been intentional about paying attention to the differences of the people with whom you're speaking with, engaging with and interviewing.”

Reframing a problem from multiple viewpoints is also something we should take onboard according to Soule. She said: “Ask yourself how others from different groups might define the problem, and ask yourself if you're asking the right question once you look at it from the point of view of other people.”

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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