Empathy in times of Crisis

by Kirthi Jayakumar

In times of crisis, there is a need for dynamic and empathetic leadership. Amidst chaos, information asymmetry, uncertainty, and fear, the impact that inclusive, dynamic, compassionate, and empathetic leadership can bring to communities is undoubtedly valuable. It also takes a lot of emotional labour, courage, strength, and personal commitment on part of the leaders themselves, to not only prioritize the nation, but to stand as a force of comfort and action through and through.

In today's post, we’ve listed some of the most comprehensive and impact-oriented efforts taken up by non-cis-het male leaders from all over the world, both at national and sub-national levels, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.






Erna Solberg, PM of Norway
Erna Solberg doubled up her impact on ground with her dedicated attention to one of the most vulnerable groups: children. She hosted a press conference exclusively for children, to address their questions, concerns, and fears around the coronavirus pandemic. She patiently answered questions on everything from whether birthday parties are appropriate (“If somebody has a birthday in the class, everybody should ring them and sing happy birthday!”) to what they could do to help (“By being home, you are helping other people not to be contaminated and get sick. It is important for those who already have a disease or who are very old.”). More substantively, the government has rolled out a self-reporting app calling for individuals to self-report and track symptoms of the disease using a mobile app. Aside from gathering public information, the app is not a replacement for medical help. With this, the burden on the public health system engaged in testing and treating people for the virus may ease up.

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
One of the earliest ones to get down on the ground to address the pandemic, Jacinda Ardern has been dedicated to keeping up conversations with her people, making it a point to dispel doubts, making information accessible, and responding proactively to immediate needs on ground. Even as most of the world’s economies were still waking up to the impact on small businesses, Jacinda Ardern announced a special COVID 19 financial plan package on Tuesday to reduce the forthcoming recession caused by the pandemic. She said, “We have gone hard with our health response.  Now we’re going hard with our financial assistance.” Replete with wage guarantees, tax relief, welfare provisions, and aviation bailouts, her financial support totals a whopping $NZ 12.1 billion ($11.98 billion). Her administration operates with a deep sense of prescience, acknowledging and acting on the “almost certain” reality that a recession is in the offing following the pandemic.

Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland
The youngest head of state in the world, Sanna Marin wasted no time in taking immediate control over Finland’s reserves of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, and closed borders. Between invoking emergency powers for the first time during peacetime to a 5 billion euros worth of measures to support the economy, Sanna Marin's measures include about 27 million euros in extra spending on healthcare and about 73 million euros to do avoid acute corporate funding pressure. The measures also include deferring corporate tax payments and the guaranteeing of loans to small and medium-sized companies. “Even though more difficult times lie ahead, Finland and Finns will overcome this,” she said. “Our health care professionals are highly skilled and our authorities reliable. The society is working. Now every one of us must think about our fellow citizens and their well-being even more than usual.”

KK Shailaja, Health Minister of Kerala  
With a proven track record of success and hard work in addressing pandemics, KK Shailaja or Shailaja Teacher as she is known, has made a tremendous difference on ground through her policies and actions. In 2018, when Kerala faced the Nipah outbreak, she was a steady and dynamic leader and helped control the outbreak. In her words, “Fighting an epidemic like corona requires scientific temper, humanism and a spirit for inquiry and reform. Superstition, credulity, emotionalism and irrationalism will derail the whole process by dispiriting and discouraging the experts and health activists who try hard to resolve the threat scientifically.” She launched a mass campaign to encourage hand hygiene habits to help “break the chain.” Her preparations began when the news broke of the coronavirus' emergence in Wuhan, and expanded on the number of laboratories that had permission to test samples. She issued strict action against anyone spreading false information, and has proposed a health package of Rs. 500 crores in addition to the social security pension to be paid in advance in April, involging an expenditure of Rs. 1,320 crores.

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Katrin Jakobsdottir’s dynamism ensured an immediate announcement of emergency measures worth 8% of gross domestic product to counter the impact of the coronavirus. The 230 billion krona ($1.6 billion) package provides state guarantees on bridge loans to businesses and the payment of as much as 75% of people’s lost salaries over the next 2.5 months. With a finger on the pulse for things to come, her government has moved forward projects worth 20 billion krona to this year, and has called for tax breaks to kick in sooner than originally planned. “We are looking at the next weeks and months. We are aware that we need to do more and we are determined to do what it takes to get Icelandic society through this.”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg
Prioritizing the sense of community and collective action over everything else, Xavier Bettel has stood steadfast in his call for respect and tolerance, and has impressed on the people that they are the solution for the unprecedented situation challenging Luxembourg. “It will cost what it has to cost to bring the economy back up and running, Bettel explained. Finance will not be put over the value of human life.” Constructing a provisional clinic facility on the grounds of Centre Hospitalier, the government has sought to present quality medical care and services for all those in need.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland
In perhaps one of the most rousing speeches in recent times around the coronavirus pandemic, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar dove right into supporting his people. Even as he warned that the surge is yet to come, he prioritized empathy and the proliferation of the right information by carefully laying out all the known facts and calmly building the rationale for appropriate action. Admittedly he did not lift the burden off the workers in the community, but he did recognize the potential for a sharp return of the virus if a complete lockdown was followed. He also took a step back to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and experts with experience and knowledge in handling infectious diseases. He said, “If you have a very sharp lockdown then the virus might come roaring back. What you need is a comprehensive strategy involving social restrictions, social distancing testing contact tracing, and isolation.”