Differentiation in a global environment: Adaptation and resilience in the context of the pandemic

Credits: YOUTHShare

After a year, which disrupted perceptions and standards in lives and economies in Europe and the world, phenomena that were, presumably, “novelties” changed and came under a different light.

Among them, constantly growing during the last decades, the use and the role of the term globalisation has emerged almost like a “mantra” in the public discourse. Its chimeric definition allowed the phenomenon to be present and at the same time forthcoming; to be the reason and at the same time the cause. Most importantly, among its strange dualisms, globalisation lingers between a peculiar notion of demand and supply. On the one hand it promotes the uniformity of needs; from basic rights to superfluous goods. On the other hand, it requires differentiation if an enterprise, a product, a service, or even a geographical area is destined to be sustained.

In this duality the burden of adaptation is upon the unit. It is the person, or the business, or the region, or the country on its own that must change. The responsibility lies with the supply, never the demand! It is crucial to stress, however, that supply and demand, in that context, have interchangeable roles. Multi-national companies stand, from an economic point of view, on the supply-side but their networked capacities appoint them, more and more often, on the demand-side. They “demand” policy changes; they “demand” public investments; they even “demand” a certain type of consumer! In reality, the division between supply and demand side is nothing else but a division of power. Dominant parties demand and dominated parties conform.

In that “globalised” environment Southern Europe had come to terms, gradually but certainly, with the role it was destined to perform. The uniform global need to rest under the sun during the annual leave and taste uniquely fresh products seemed to be the perfect match for the differentiated role of the island and coastal regions of the Mediterranean. Local communities, small businesses and individuals were responding rather effectively. Resilience, the new term that replaces sustainability under conditions of crisis, seemed to be high in tourism and agro-food sector. Of course, myriad cracks were hidden under this generalised image mainly in connection to the quality of employment in those sectors; especially if we consider the low paid unskilled labour positions as key to the sustainability/resilience success. But the perception of sustainability is sometimes as powerful as sustainability itself. And when the “matching” was not very successful, then the burden of adaptation was always on the supply side: upskilling and reskilling the labour force, introducing new technologies in businesses, establishing new specialised policies in regional level and many more in order to differentiate and survive in a globalised environment.

The limits of this arrangement were shown by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and travelling restrictions had immense and known effect upon the resilient sectors of island and coastal regions of Southern Europe. The GDP contributions of tourism, travelling, accommodation, catering and related sectors were fairly limited in Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain during 2020 and, most likely, they will also be in 2021. Consequently, the respective employment rates suffered a huge decrease.

One might wonder, why the pandemic sets limitations to the supply/demand arrangement of the Mediterranean EEA countries. There is, of course, an obvious irony; the globalised network of commerce and travelling turned a viral infection into a pandemic and as a result that network had to be reduced to almost no-existence and lose its globalised dimension. Aside that, one must delve into the essence of what is in reality the Mediterranean resilient sectors in order to understand the limitations of the globalisation arrangement.

Gastronomy and tourism are much more than the satisfaction of needs. They are experiences and they are commercialised as such. Especially tourism is nothing more than a memory production industry. Physical presence is fundamental for the creation of the full experience and memory. Technology, e-services or global networks cannot create even a fraction of the memories formed by physical presence.

In that respect the differentiation required in the globalised economy and the fact that the supply-side in island and coastal areas of the Mediterranean had indeed exceled in differentiating their product, offered no services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local producers, local entrepreneurship, small businesses, specialised labour force, local authorities and many other actors were hard hit by the travelling restrictions.

This development puts globalisation under a different light. If the cause of resilience/ sustainability embodies sincere efforts, its attainment requires sharing the burden of adaptation. The COVID-19 pandemic has just revealed a pre-existing issue. The demand side has to adapt too, to an environment in which social, geographical and political localities have reached their limits.

The solution is, of course, not the rolling-back of differentiation of services or products but the balance of differentiation between the provider and the user. YOUTHShare project serves the cause of resilience by upskilling and reskilling young women and refugee NEETs in niche sectors of the Mediterranean economies and, amongst else, in social and solidarity economy. In that respect we contribute to the formation of an alternative business model that values equally the consumer and the producer of the same value chain. We support former NEETs in delivering differentiated products and services and at the same time becoming differentiated consumers.


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