The Silver Lining of COVID-19

There is no question that we are in the midst of one of the biggest challenges the world has faced. The global scale of disease, death and economic turmoil is unprecedented.

But there is hope. Here’s why:

We’ve survived this before

Sure, there’s never been a crisis that has affected every corner of the globe so intensely. However, we’ve already proven that we can overcome some of the challenges that we’re experiencing today, especially the economic ones.

Think back to the financial meltdown in 2008, or any other recession.

Just like today, we saw high rates of unemployment and a spike in volatility in public markets that resulted in a loss of trust in government and financial systems. Situations like these certainly leave lasting negative effects on our economy and society.

However, this also happened during a recession:

  • Airbnb reimagined the way we travel
  • Uber changed the way we move
  • Venmo made sending money seamless
  • Microsoft brought computers to the masses
  • Disney made us kids again

Turmoil breeds creativity. Difficult times incubate ideas that change the way we live by forcing us to question the status quo, accelerating the rate in which many aspects of society are pushed forward.

Innovation has never been more accessible

Up until fairly recently, most new ideas that impact society have been limited to being created by:

  1. Technical experts who have the ability to create new products. Zuckerberg could’ve thought of Facebook and Gates could’ve dreamed up Microsoft, but we likely wouldn’t know either of those companies if they weren’t built by the minds of Harvard-level software engineers.
  2. People with large amounts of capital. Without the money to pay for a team of coders, servers to host a website, and other high costs, it’s difficult for even the greatest ideas to come to fruition.

Today the landscape is different.

Online courses, including free ones from Ivy League schools, allow anyone to get educated without assuming a mountain of student loans.

Low and no code products have made building websites (and therefore a business) accessible to anyone who knows how to use a computer. Squarespace has simplified web development. Canva has democratized design. Tableau has brought ease to analytics. Google’s G-suite facilitates collaboration. RocketLawyer has made attorneys accessible. And Fiverr has made it cheap and easy to fill in the gaps.

Meanwhile, the cost of development has decreased drastically, too. This has largely been made possible by the rise of the Software as a Service model. Amazon Web Services provides web hosting as a Service. Stripe provides payment processing as a Service. Dropbox provides Cloud Storage as a Service.

By having access to these affordable, easy to use solutions, entrepreneurs are freed to focus their efforts on building their core product without being too distracted by periphery road blocks.

To give an example of all of this, at the beginning of the pandemic my friend and I realized that high schoolers wouldn’t be able to visit college campuses because of Coronavirus.

So with 5 days and $30, we built College Connect to match high schoolers with questions to college students with answers. In our first few weeks we’ve helped hundreds of students from 15 countries take some stress out of the process of going to college.

The power of community

From Zoom happy hours to drive-by birthday parties, we’ve found ways to tap into the power of community — even in this new era of social distancing.

Cities like New York take a daily pause to cheer our medical staff on. Despite being in a hard hit travel industry, Airbnb has provided housing for doctors and nurses so that they can work on the front lines without assuming the risk of infecting their loved ones at home. And FarmLink is helping farmers reroute food from restaurants to food banks.

It’s refreshing to see our ability and willingness to help others in times of hardship.

We’ve also been reminded of how interconnected the world is.

A virus in China has become equally troublesome for students in Milan, shop owners in Madrid, and grandmothers in Milwaukee. We’re seeing the importance, and perhaps finding a newfound responsibility, to care for those beyond our backyard.

Though they come at a high price, lessons like these can create lasting change for generations to come.

The promise of our future

Certain aspects of life will likely never return to how they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will this change the way we work, given the fact that we’ve proven many jobs can be done from home yet we still feel a need for human interaction? How will this affect the way our students learn, now that we’ve been given a chance to question the cost of education? What will be the effect on the way we vote, worship, eat and travel?

Little is certain as to what the actual outcome of this pandemic will be.

But while this will undoubtedly be remembered as a time of turmoil, grief, and struggle, it’s exciting to think of the innovation and positive changes that we’ll eventually attribute to this time.

The silver lining of COVID-19 is that by being forced to stop and look at the world as it is, we gain the opportunity to dream of the world as it should be.

Student at USC, entrepreneur