The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a difficult and frightening time for all of us, with health and safety implications -- not to mention economic ramifications -- becoming our top concerns. It's also given us a perfect illustration of the concept of interconnectedness, for better and, sadly, for worse.

It's an unsettling, if not scary time, for investors too. However, in some of the darkest moments, identifying corporate leaders and companies that have been quickly pivoting to provide COVID-19 response to protect and support a variety of stakeholders can spark a hopeful light, and even inspire the rest of us to think about how we help.

Taking the lead

Although we are all going through an undoubtedly difficult phase and are looking forward to the day when this pandemic is a distant memory, times like these can show us what true leadership means. Well-managed companies are quickly adjusting to a radically different environment, and the very best are actively seeking to be part of the solution instead of exacerbating the problems and pitfalls.

Every move that leaders and businesses make to mitigate the negative impacts and fight the ill effects of COVID-19 help them and their own stakeholders too -- including all of us and the economy at large.

 A doctor in scrubs holds up a heart with their hands

Image Source: Getty Images

You've probably heard stories of some of the admirable moves well-known business people are making.

Take the $250 million that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated in recent months to help fund the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Or how about Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Square (NYSE:SQ), who has directed $1 billion -- or about 28% of his net worth -- to a fund initially tackling COVID-19 relief?

Meanwhile, it's helpful to examine what the companies we own in our own portfolios are doing to address necessary business changes and cushion the blow of COVID-19, both to their own direct stakeholders and the rest of us.

I spoke to a few of my fellow ESG-minded analysts here at The Motley Fool, and we put together a selection of companies that we think are doing a great job on stakeholder-centric COVID-19 response right now.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT): The tech giant is one of the companies working with the White House to provide a coronavirus mapping tool to track global cases. Microsoft was among the first to institute work-from-home arrangements, and it closed its retail stores. It continued to pay its employees even if they were unable to work, including hourly workers who normally support its campuses, such as café workers, shuttle drivers, and janitors.

The pandemic is making life difficult for families with school-age children, and many parents struggle to juggle homeschooling their children and working. Microsoft devised another standout benefit for its employees: an additional three months paid parental leave to deal with school closures. They enjoy flexibility, too; they can choose to take the leave all at once or several days per week.

In addition, Microsoft donated $1 million to help launch the Seattle Foundation's COVID-19 Response Fund, which has gone on to raise more than $15 million to support local organizations and has contributed to other community campaigns.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL): Like Microsoft, Apple entreated its office employees to work from home, shuttered its retail stores, and continued to pay its hourly and retail workers. It has also sourced 30 million face masks and has worked with suppliers to design, test, and manufacture 7.5 million custom-made face shields to send to front-line medical personnel. The company is also donating millions of dollars to relief organizations.

In a direct technological solution to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, Apple and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) have formed a joint effort to release a contact tracing app that would work on both Android and iOS phones utilizing Bluetooth technology. This is not only a necessary tool, but it's an even more interesting move when you consider the fact that Android and iPhone products compete with one another. The companies are also vowing to keep privacy in mind.

Google/Alphabet: Speaking of Google, the fact that any of us routinely turn to the search giant simply to seek out the latest information on COVID-19 is no small thing in a time when staying informed is crucial. It's also dedicating $100 million to health and science, economic relief and recovery, and distance learning.

Speaking of which, Google donated 4,000 Chromebooks and free WiFi to 100,000 rural households in its home state of California in a bid to "help bridge the digital divide" that is making learning tough for so many students during this crisis.

salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM): The SaaS company has long had stakeholder-centric business at its core and that spirit continues during this crisis. Again, like many tech giants, Salesforce told its employees to work from home toward the beginning of the attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve. In late March, CEO Marc Benioff also vowed that Salesforce would not conduct any significant layoffs over the next 90 days and challenged other business leaders to do the same. In addition, Salesforce continues to pay its hourly workers as well as salaried employees.

The company also brought 50 million in personal protective equipment to New York and other hard-hit areas. Last but not least, Salesforce dedicated $1.5 million to relief efforts both in the U.S. and abroad .

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX): Although Starbucks is one of the companies most directly impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic (obviously, restaurants and retailers are extremely exposed to negative impacts such as store closures and the urgent need to devise different operating protocols when open), it continues to do right by its stakeholders.

A large part of Starbucks' initial COVID-19 response in the U.S. was to close access to its cafes and reduce service to drive-through and delivery only. On March 20, the coffee giant announced that it would provide all partners with catastrophe pay for 30 days, whether they chose to work or not. It also gave a temporary $3 per hour pay raise to those who did choose to work.

In other supportive measures, Starbucks has established a $10 million emergency relief fund for its employees who are suffering from extreme hardship. In addition, a previously planned perk came through just in time for a world that has become far more anxious, especially for retail workers -- in March, Starbucks also began offering mental health benefits to its employees.

Starbucks is also offering accelerated payments to strategic suppliers that may be hitting hard times. And here's to tokens of appreciation for America's COVID-19 heroes: as of April 23, the company had given out 1 million free tall coffees to first responders and front-line healthcare workers.

Here's how we're helping -- and you can, too

Here at The Motley Fool, we've been doing our part to help flatten the curve and support our stakeholders too. For example, in the first week of March, The Motley Fool's management told all employees worldwide to begin working solely from home until it's safe to come back to the offices. We've altered our collaborative culture to one that stays connected, works well together, and still has fun with one another -- virtually.

We have also dreamt up new ways to connect with our members from afar, from wherever we may be -- take live streaming our analysts during a volatile, tumultuous time for the marketplace through the newly launched Motley Fool Live.

Last but not least, on April 1, The Motley Fool donated $1 million to the New York government through Health Research Inc. (HRI) for COVID-19 relief efforts such as medical supplies and essential worker needs like transportation and child care. To date, The Motley Fool community has donated another $89,000 to HRI as well as taken numerous actions in their own communities around the world. If you'd like to contribute too, click here.

Hopefully learning about strong corporate actions to combat the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has left you hopeful and inspired in a difficult time. Here's to the power of business and individuals to pitch in to tackle this crisis, together.