During these exceptional times, many editorials will have two things in common: talk about the need for action and the need for change. The world is caught up in an experiment to address both the science and the impact of Covid-19; a pandemic that truly has touched the lives of each and every one of us. One of the biggest challenges for any government, or indeed any organisation, is to balance the urgency of crisis management with the need for forward planning and change. To focus solely on either one will almost certainly harm the relevance or the sustainability of organisations worldwide.

With this in mind, I have been reflecting on how membership organisations and professional bodies come into their own at challenging times. In a short space of time, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has been able to provide enhanced online support for teachers, students and parents, and repurposed grants and bursaries to reflect better the challenges currently faced by our communities in industry and higher education. I am proud of everyone at the RSC, and what they have been able to achieve, working in partnership with our members and the wider community.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Chemists’ Community Fund (formerly the Benevolent Fund). It is humbling to think that the reason the fund can help so many today is because of actions taken a century ago, when the world was emerging from the first world war into a global flu pandemic. I have worked directly with the Chemists’ Community Fund for 25 of those years and at times it has seemed that, while the fund grew, the demand for it was somewhat diminishing. However, it may be needed now more than ever before in its history – it has already seen a five-fold increase in calls from individuals, compared with this time last year. Rachel Brazil considers how the fund, and its dedicated staff team and volunteer network, has helped members and their dependants over the years.

This year is also the 40th anniversary of the RSC following the unification of the Royal Institute of Chemistry and the Chemical Society (into which the Faraday Society and the Society for Analytical Chemistry had already been amalgamated). More than 10 years of careful and detailed work led to the RSC’s formation and its charter, which clearly sets out our purpose to advance the chemical sciences through dissemination of knowledge, upholding standards in the teaching and practice of chemistry, serving the public interest and meeting the needs of our community.

Over the coming months, we will be reviewing our longer term ambitions and our strategy for the next few decades. We want to reflect the outcomes of our recent Science Horizons report, which determined that leadership, collaboration and curiosity are essential enablers for science to succeed and best support society. We are also keen to revisit the scenario planning work that fed into our 2015 Future of the Chemical Sciences report. The question now is whether these future scenarios are still valid and how Covid-19 will affect the practice, application and advancement of the chemical sciences. What will be the impact on funding, how will knowledge dissemination change, and how will standards in education and professional practice be set and measured? Most of all, how will the needs of our global community of members and partners change and evolve?

These are big, challenging questions. I strongly believe that the RSC, along with membership organisations and professional bodies worldwide, have a clear purpose and reason for existing. But, to exist, we must be relevant and sustainable and be willing to look hard at where we focus our efforts and our resources.

Now is the time to act and to understand our changing world so that we can plan for a future that thrives because of chemical science, and for a community that thrives with the support of the RSC.