Lessons from nature on preparing for a crisis like Covid-19


Have households and businesses been able to pass the resilience test during economic lockdowns as a result of Covid-19? How prepared is our society to deal with future financial shocks with similar magnitudes as this global pandemic we’re dealing with now?

Covid-19 has put many businesses and households to the test and sad to say many have not been able to survive the storm. We can look to nature for answers. This is called biomimicry. Let’s take ant colonies specifically.

Ants are referenced by the ancient Israeli King Solomon and commended for their ability to organise themselves without having a commander, overseer or a ruler and their wise act of storing food away in their nests during summer in order to have sufficient food during the winter season. Ant colonies are an example of a decentralised society and we learn through scientific research that ant colonies are extremely resilient during times of crisis.

Ants have a clockwork way of operating during “normal” circumstances but are agile enough to pivot their operating model during times of crisis. Because ants operate in a decentralised society, individuals make decisions independently or in smaller groups. This allows them to act more quickly because there is no dependence on dissemination of information from a central source. This system allows for resiliency, making it possible for ants to endure and recover from distress. The ant colony’s strength is proven during periods of food shortages or famine, an ant crisis if you will.

Usually individual ants have defined roles in their colony and these roles are completed within specific areas of the nest. However, when a famine occurs, these ants can move anywhere in the nest to help spread the food. In order to feed everyone quickly, foragers (the ants who collect food) move deeper into the nest to pass food to more individuals. Ants that take care of the young usually live deep in the nest. In times of famine, they move to the edges of the nest to receive food faster from the foragers.

From the above we learn that ant colonies make careful provision for the winter periods (in our case Covid-19) and that they are agile enough during periods of crisis to demonstrate their resilience. In this context consider the severe financial impact that Covid-19 has had on households and businesses.

We have enough evidence to prove that many businesses and households didn’t have the financial fortitude to weather with the financial shocks storm as a result of Covid-19. We have seen how entire societies have become dependent on centralised systems and how slow these systems have been in distributing emergency help to the affected individuals.

The poor and most vulnerable were promised so much from governments, but it seems the help didn’t always reach the beneficiaries from this centralised system on time. In many cases these vulnerable members of society didn’t get anything from government.

In the South African context we’ve experienced the benefits of decentralised distribution of benefits from within communities. Ordinary South Africans in communities rallied around each other like the ant colonies and took care of one another and that is how most people survived abject hunger.

In the context of financial planning it becomes apparent that close knit communities need to come together in groups to create financial relief mechanisms for the next crisis. As South Africans we can leverage faith based organisations, stokvels and similar community structures. Businesses should also mobilise relief mechanisms to shoulder the burden of such financial shocks in the future.

In conclusion, we need to build more decentralised financial mechanisms so that we are more resilient for future financial shocks because this is not our first and it certainly won’t be our last.

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