Covid has made the world smaller despite the lockdowns

This summer Impact Investor talks to investors and entrepreneurs about how the pandemic changed their priorities. This week: Mike Debelak of Inclusive Business Sweden.

The curb on international travel has been frustrating at times, he says. “We work with developing markets. Seeing the impact in the communities and connecting with different partners and entrepreneurs is part of the satisfaction.” Inclusive Business Sweden

“We have just recruited our first employees in Uganda, and we can direct them, have them in Slack and make them part of the team in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” Mike Debelak says.

He is the executive director of Inclusive Business Sweden, an organisation he started in 2013 with an ambitious mission to enable businesses to meet global development needs.

The Swede is currently the investment matchmaking manager for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency’s €7.4mn challenge fund to combat poverty. Before that, he was programme director for the Inclusive Business Co-creation Accelerator, a three-year national innovation programme in Sweden.

He says Covid-19 has made the world a bit smaller, despite the travel restrictions and lockdowns. “I think that we have gotten much better at working globally, using online tools and being able to hold Zoom workshops,” Debelak says.

Virtual events to be the norm

He believes virtual workshops and events will become the norm even post-pandemic. “We also ran our inclusive business forum virtually last year and it was a massive success.”

“We had great speakers and a much more international group of participants than we’ve had before. This year, we are doing it virtually again as it allows us to work more easily with international partners. It also makes it easier for people who have families and kids to attend.”

“On the whole, I think we will have a much more flexible approach to work in the future. I doubt we’ll ever go back to being in the office five days a week.”

“We have always been very selective when booking plane tickets, understanding the impact of air travel. I would not say I feel differently about air travel, but perhaps more strongly about not taking off on a plane unless I must. It is possible to get most things done virtually.”

However, the curb on international travel has been frustrating at times, he says. “We work with developing markets and usually go a couple of times a year. Seeing the impact in the communities and connecting with different partners and entrepreneurs is part of the satisfaction.”

Buying local

“I have always tried to live as sustainably as I can. I buy less meat and mainly eat organic food. For me it’s not so much related to the pandemic, it’s more climate influenced.”

“I also feel that we haven’t been as impacted here, in Sweden, as elsewhere. I’m actually pretty amazed that systems haven’t collapsed. We could have been in a much more difficult situation.”

Inspiration

“I would say people’s resilience to carry on working and being able to adjust to new conditions,” Debelak says when asked what has inspired him. “My team, and other teams I work with, have all made significant adjustments.”

“Most people have faced challenging situations, or for example home-schooling kids and working from home during strict lockdown. But somehow people have continued to focus on getting the job done while adjusting and keeping an eye on the ball.”