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Charles Koch: How individual actions can make a difference during the coronavirus pandemic

May 18, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC
Workers wearing protective masks stand behind protective barriers at a Stew Leonard's supermarket in Paramus, New Jersey, U.S., on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
Workers wearing protective masks stand behind protective barriers at a Stew Leonard's supermarket in Paramus, New Jersey, U.S., on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Stew Leonard Jr. said that meat packing plant the company uses is operating at about 70 percent capacity, and he expects it to rebound to full capacity in about a month, CT Post reported. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Angus Mordant—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has upended lives, shuttered businesses, and profoundly altered our expectations for the future. The situation is so overwhelming that individually we might feel powerless to make a difference. But America has always overcome challenges because seemingly ordinary people have risen to meet them.

This crisis is no different. The sum of our individual actions can create the innovation and momentum necessary for our country to come through this crisis stronger than before.

We all have a role to play. Finding yours depends on your unique talents and circumstances. The pandemic has given rise to many urgent needs, from food to medical equipment. Different people can creatively apply their distinct abilities to meet these needs. As they do, they will set an example for others to do the same. This can spur a virtuous cycle in which all of us continually increase and improve our efforts to help those around us.

Millions of people are already showing what’s possible. The medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. The grocery store workers who manage to keep a smile on their face as they ensure we have food to eat. The delivery drivers who stepped up when restaurants had to close their doors. Workers at factories critical to the supply chain. Law enforcement. Pharmacists. The list goes on. This is the best of America on full display.

My own perspective on the importance of individual initiative is partially shaped by my experience in business. At Koch Industries, each of our 130,000 employees has aptitudes and knowledge they can creatively apply in this crisis, and a large percentage are doing so. The same is true of companies in every industry.

A personal contribution can take many forms. It may be an employee finding a way to make machinery more efficient, enabling more consumer goods to be produced. It may involve a junior staffer making a suggestion that helps a small business remain open and its workers employed. Or it could mean running a laboratory experiment that brings us closer to a coronavirus treatment or cure. No action is too small; combined, they can make an enormous difference.

This is the reality behind every positive story coming out of businesses now. Behind clothing companies like Gap and Eddie Bauer shifting their production lines to make masks and paint manufacturers like True Value making hand sanitizer are the suggestions and efforts of people motivated to contribute. In countless industries, if you look beneath the surface you will find people of all backgrounds applying their unique skills to make a difference.

These examples show how meaningful each of our actions can be when directed to solving the pressing problems around us. Your opportunity could be through the workplace or in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s in your church or at a local charity. Wherever it is, and whatever it may be, it’s just a matter of finding where you can help the most.

We all urgently need to find our role. Given the widespread damage wrought by the coronavirus, our task will be daunting. But so were the challenges faced and overcome by those who preceded us. If we each dedicate ourselves to where we can best contribute, we can do the same, and come through this crisis even stronger than we were before.

Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries and founder of the philanthropic community Stand Together.