Holiday greetings and best wishes from the GBL family to yours.
This year we have all been educated at the school of hard knocks. Some of us have felt the anxiety of friends, family, and loved ones falling sick and fighting to recover. Some of us have mourned our personal and collective losses. Some of us have struggled to keep our sense of purpose, to stay motivated and focused, and to maintain our mental wellbeing. This year, in one way or another, we have all experienced first-hand what Buddha called the noble truth of suffering.
Yet amidst this dark we have all also seen light, and learned how to be better, stronger, and wiser people in the process. We have gotten a warm home-cooked meal, or a long phone call with a friend, or an empathetic nod from a mask-clad stranger when we needed it most. We have all witnessed heroism from sanitation workers, cashiers, delivery people, nurses, and doctors, who have all brought new meaning to the term “essential worker.” As Tolkien famously wrote, “There is still much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
At GBL, we have tried to be a small part of that effort. It has never been clearer that worker wellbeing is good business. The COVID-19 crisis has laid this thesis bare — every single business, from the smallest to the largest, has struggled to adapt and grow while keeping its workers healthy. GBL is no exception. When the pandemic hit, we shut down our in-person operations, and overnight completely changed the way we work together. Enumerators and field staff learned and developed new methodologies to conduct scientifically rigorous phone surveys. GBL employees still largely work remotely full-time. Each and every member of the GBL family adapted, innovated, and ultimately found a way to continue to contribute their unique talents toward furthering the GBL mission.
These collective efforts allowed us not only to survive but to thrive and grow amidst the global pandemic. We pivoted quickly to COVID19 related research with important insights on misinformation and financial remittances among migrant workers. Early on, we leveraged the capability of one of our younger verticals — design — to create a blueprint for factories to manage workers' anxieties as they reopened after a strict lockdown. This informed our largest partner Shahi's strategy in their 50+ factories.
Our team size grew from 34 members in January 2020 to 45 in December 2020. With a larger team, one of our other new verticals, people operations, took employee care systems quite seriously and implemented (among other things): workplace support for therapy, organization-wide holidays, wellbeing checklists, team-wide conversations with a mental health professional and leadership coach, 360-degree reviews, art therapy, onboarding support, and training & development sessions.
We are excited by the partnerships we have built this year; including with the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Population Fund in South East Asia. These have helped us grow beyond Shahi, India, and garment manufacturing. We are also excited by the opportunities GBL has to expand further with our partners in Latin America. Funding, another area of work that was formalized this year as a separate department, led efforts to partner with the World Bank, USAID, and Innovations for Poverty Action. As a strategy to help drive impact we have also started a ventures vertical responsible for launching two solutions we are developing: Inache, a worker voice tool, and a supervisor screening and training app.
We are so proud of these wonderful accomplishments, and for the humility, grace, and perspective that all members of the GBL family have shown in the face of this crisis. Amidst it all, we continue to learn. Our collective struggle this past year has taught us that vulnerability is universal, and that we derive power from sharing it with others. It has taught us that resilience, passion, and innovation are fundamental features of humankind, which when harnessed appropriately can help us overcome great challenges and come out stronger on the other side. And it has taught us most of all how much we need each other — brother and sister, son and mother, friend and friend, worker and manager. We survive and succeed when we work together.
For now, we draw strength from what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory” of time spent together and of human touch and connection. And we look forward to a new year and a bright future we will all share together.
Achyuta Adhvaryu, Anant Ahuja, and Anant Nyshadham