Finding a silver lining: Community service during COVID-19

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Skal Philadelphia President Greg DeShields was featured in a blog article for IMEX! Check out the blog here, also found: https://www.imexexhibitions.com/insight/blog/finding-a-silver-lining-community-service-during-covid-19?utm_content=buffer78bff&utm_medium=Buffer&utm_source=IMEXLinkedInPage&utm_campaign=IMEXsocialmedia

Greg De Shields, Executive Director, PHL Diversity business development division, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau is just one of many talented speakers taking part in PlanetIMEX, the October Edition. With a panel of experts, he’ll be discussing the impact of COVID-19 health disparities and provide suggestions how your organisation can have a positive impact in “COVID-19 – where are we?”.

In the following blog, Greg introduces us to the subject and explores the ways meetings and events can help.

2020 had the promise to be another record-breaking year in many ways for the meeting and convention industry, supported by economic growth.

Yet, unknown at the time, coronavirus was approaching the U.S. in late December and early January. By February, the health and human tolls were becoming a reality, and by March, the economic impact was becoming apparent.

The coronavirus pandemic changed the nation, leaving businesses, especially small businesses, with little choice but to adapt and adjust, implementing temporary strategies such as work from home, digital meetings, expense reduction, staff reduction, and creating new forms of business delivery.

The hospitality and tourism industry is among the hardest hit due to fears of community COVID-19 spread through travel and group environments. This has resulted in the postponement and cancellation of events, conferences, conventions, and sports leagues, immediately driving down travel and tourism for business and pleasure.

The global events industry has been valued at more than $1.1B in 2018 and was anticipated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.3% to reach $2.3B in 2026. But, after COVID-19 hit, those projections have changed. Meetings and events will return; however, they won’t be exactly the same.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the devastating impact of COVID-19 is a reality today in the United States; there are 7,740,934 cases and 214,108 deaths (figures correct as of 12 October). Among those most dramatically affected, communities of colour are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, health disparities have brought attention to long-standing inequities that pervade the health care system and society.

Understanding health disparities

Health disparities during COVID-19 reflect two critical patterns of inequity. First, minority communities have a high likelihood of contracting the virus by living in urban areas and disproportionately working in higher-risk environments.

Second, racial minorities also experience higher rates of chronic medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease, which are risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19.

These inequities are tied to long-standing barriers to accessing essential resources such as food, transportation, housing, and a long history of unequal treatment, discriminatory policies, and systemic racism.

COVID-19 has stopped vital social programmes that are community lifelines, such as schools and senior centers.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are tied directly to creating a culture that advances education, healthcare, and prosperity for all.

Diversity includes how people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different.

Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation by marginalised groups plagued by an unlevel socioeconomic playing field.

Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to participate fully.

How can the meetings and convention industry make a difference?

By prioritising social responsibility!

Generous conference organisers have long found ways to turn events into opportunities for generosity. It’s our responsibility to be a good corporate citizen through charitable giving and community involvement.

These are great suggestions to include during an upcoming meeting:

  • Charitable fun run
  • Matched monetary donations
  • Provide books, reading experiences, and tools to children
  • Encourage volunteerism
  • Sponsor a charity event

COVID-19 has revealed the need to understand better the environmental, social, and health issues affecting community residents in their homes and provide long-term sustainable solutions.

Consider an advance meeting in a destination, establishing a partnership involving community residents, partners, civic associations, and neighborhood churches.

Explore the social determinants of a community’s health and design programmes to promote health and reduce health disparities.

  • Invest in social determinants:
  • Conduct COVID-19 testing
  • Assist with COVID-19 contact tracing
  • Provide masks
  • Produce health education, awareness, and prevention workshops

Finally, resources should be targeted to address social determinants of health, focusing on areas of greatest need. Health disparities are inextricably linked to housing instability, food deserts, and lack of transportation access.

Producing community service days during a meeting and convention is an impactful way to ensure your event can leave more than economic impact while also advancing the quality of life one city at a time.

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