The New Era
Deconstructing the New Era, is a formidable task. As I am writing these lines, the world has nearly stopped, with more than 180 countries fighting the Coronavirus, imposing different forms of social distancing and lockdown measures. The pandemic of COVID-19 has changed the world in ways and to lengths that we can still not begin to fathom. Economics, politics, international relations, and governance, on all levels seem to be fundamentally changing. The ways in which firms, governments, international organizations, societies, and even families and individuals operate will change forever. Until a fully-fledged and widely available vaccine alleviates the health risk and contributes to efficiently managing the crisis, social distancing, restrictive measures in work and travel, fear and insecurity, instability and uncertainty will be part of our lives. And, even after the vaccine, the major global effort of preventing the next pandemic, by building a sustainable early warning system with solid safeguards and rapid response mechanisms across the globe and within states and societies will need to become our top priority.
Leadership, Global Governance & the Next Pandemic
Averting the next Pandemic, is the foremost collective responsibility, for leaders of all fields; from politicians to doctors, from health experts to corporate leaders, from researchers to philanthropists; we all need to contribute to the race for a vaccine, for effective and accessible cures, but also, to develop the action plan which will change the habits and the vicious cycles that generate new viruses. In our interconnected world, where poor hygienic conditions in a wet market in China, can within months bring the world into a standstill, global governance undoubtedly requires an overhaul.
The same applies to dealing with the root causes of infectious diseases such as influenzas, the bird flu, and then the swine flu -the previous pandemic- for which we had been warned a year in advance, in 2008 and had failed to act. More systematic global monitoring, early warning and proactive prevention models, need to be developed on a global level. Crucial institutions like the World Health Organization and the United Nations will need to be revamped, strengthened and upgraded. Shortcomings in global leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic came at a great cost, and a major global crisis was treated very poorly and highly unsystematically in some of its most decisive phases. Leadership cannot be a la carte, and global cooperation in the face of existential global crises cannot be elective. Pandemics, climate change, conflicts, resource scarcity, and other major crises or challenges that require to some measure global responses, will need to be managed differently going forward. If not, the next crisis may be one with unthinkable damage to our world and societies.
Simply put, if we were to have another pandemic in 2022 with a different deadly virus, could we survive it? And at what cost? The global political economy and the very fabric of our societies nearly crumbled the past two months. A change of course is inevitable, if we want to secure the future of this world. And fresh leadership on all levels is direly needed.
The Domestic Dimension: Health (&) Economics Revisited
For most countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an existential challenge. The predominant fear has been the risk of a collapse of the national health systems; with healthcare seen as a mix of separate and antagonistic spheres – public health, private healthcare, supporting infrastructure such as health units belonging to the armed forces, or the police; and very different responses in each country, even within the European Union. For example Greece, emerged as one of the world’s most exemplary cases of good management of the crisis, when larger states in Europe, Eurasia and even the US, fell short of a well-coordinated and timely response.
In regions of Italy, for example, the capacity of the health systems was exceeded, with devastating ramifications. Better and more comprehensive planning of health systems will be imperative, and the pandemic has catalyzed a multilayered rethink of the complementarity of public and private healthcare, as well as the decisive investments needed in so many countries to furnish their health systems going forward. Private-public partnerships, coordinated research and innovation campaigns, unprecedented national and international synergies will need to be part of the new compass if we are to emerge victorious in the long-game too.
Rebuilding our Economies & the New World Order
The global political economy has shifted. The balance of power too. The world has transitioned to multipolarity and the aftermath of COVID-19 will inevitably demarcate a new era. Several pre-existing trends and dynamics – such as digitization, digital transformation, e-learning – have been accelerated, and new have emerged. I wonder who believes that travel and mobility will rapidly return to the status quo ante. Or who can now imagine that all these convenient tele-conference and e-meeting platforms will simply go away. So much time, money and energy is saved. Productivity unlocked. We are looking at a new normal, not a return to the pre-COVID-19 reality. E-commerce, greater degrees of energy autonomy, a rethink of the agrofood economy, the role of agrotech, better monitoring of food production globally, the degrees of self-sufficiency, are just a few of the dynamics that we will be called upon to manage in the coming months. The applications of 3D-printing, the importance of good internet access, the costs of pollution and the need for clean cities, the importance of well-organized states and societies, good hygiene and the notions of collective and individual responsibility are just some thoughts of what’s now becoming part of today and cannot be allowed to be lost tomorrow. In other words, the way now is forward; and we cannot move forward swiftly if we are to keep carrying with us the burdens of the past.
In the digital realm, it appears that globalization will continue to accelerate; in the physical realm, however, the return of national borders and different degrees of isolationism suggest that globalization as we experienced it before 2020, will change. A new set of rules must be agreed upon in healthcare, medical research, sustainability, the food industry, immigration and environmental policies.
The rise of e-commerce, coupled with the evolution of robotics, will create new pressing challenges – for real estate and employment. And these dynamics that are rapidly unfolding, accelerated by the pandemic, come at a time when the preventive measures imposed have affected close to 3 billion professionals (or 81% of the global workforce according to the ILO), and when unemployment is rising exponentially in some of the world’s leading economies (e.g. US and UK).
Corporate leaders who acted fast in response to the pandemic, placing corporate social responsibility and their patriotic responsibility above all else, will most likely find a warmer embrace by the public in the new era, rewarded for putting health before profits and human life before balance sheets. The need for fresh leadership from businesses will once again be pivotal, in rescuing the economy and ensuring a rapid recovery. Most countries are looking at a massive recession in 2020, anywhere between 5-15% of GDP. Innovation, new business strategies, new revenue models, more circular business ecosystems, more sustainable projects and investments, cleaner and greener will have to be part of the new compass. More furnished and safer supply chains, comprehensive global agro-food standards, upgraded monitoring, empowered international organizations and more powerful, responsible states. Not because it is the right thing to do. Not out of ethical commitments to future generations. But because we all know now, that our very survival depends on it.