Businesses all have contingency plans and procedures in place to manage crises of various sorts when they arise. But in truth, no amount of planning could have prepared us for the sucker-punch dealt by Coronavirus and the subsequent social distancing measures, rightly and necessarily instituted to protect people and save lives.
With whole sectors of the economy on hold and global supply chains suffering disruption, the true test for all of us comes now: how will we bounce back from the unexpected? The answer, so far, has been quietly promising.
In my role as President of DEiK, Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, I hear first-hand how constraints on the movement of people, goods and services during this crisis are taking a heavy toll on businesses. Our membership makes up the majority of Turkey’s top businesses and despite the quietly promising outlook for the future, many are feeling the squeeze right now.
Industrial output has been hit hard by sagging demand in Europe and delays for intermediary parts. As the world’s sixth most popular tourist destination, Turkey’s tourism sector, which accounts for around one tenth of our national GDP, has taken a beating. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and many others look likely to suffer greatly during the crucial summer months as international visitors stay put.
And yet, while it’s easy to paint a gloomy picture of the economic situation, we have cause to take great pride in how businesses have responded to the crisis so far.
As global supply chains have run into virus-related blockages, businesses around the world have moved swiftly to release them. When China’s factories were paralysed by the virus in the early months of this year and its textiles manufacturers were unable to service all their orders, Turkish businesses stepped in to supply major European clothing brands. Agility brings rewards: our textiles manufacturers secured an estimated $2 billion worth of orders in the process.
We have seen the private sector display an incredible capacity for adaptation as the crisis has thrown up previously unthinkable demands. With the world scrambling to produce the necessary medical equipment for treating coronavirus, businesses have rushed to help. From US automobile to defence and electronics manufacturers here in Turkey, a wide sweep of industries has shifted their production to making life-saving ventilators and personal protective equipment. Businesses are answering the calls of governments to join the fight, and their capacity for innovation has been a game changer.
Initiatives like these shows how the private and public sectors can work together to confront the challenges we face. And it’s impossible to ignore how governments have risen to the occasion. As the insurer of last resort, unprecedented crises like this one call for governments to step in and provide support for businesses and help keep as many people in work as possible.
Coronavirus is a leveller; it touches all of us and it requires a unified effort to defeat it. Almost all major economies, Turkey’s included, are likely to experience contractions in GDP in the second quarter of this year. And the old adage remains, global problems require global solutions.
Some of the inspiring stories of cooperation between businesses during the crisis, demonstrate what can be achieved when we are all reading from the same page and confronting a common enemy.
Dialogue is now more important than ever, if businesses, governments and civil society are to continue their collective effort. I know organisations like my own have taken on a renewed sense of importance. DEiK is helping Turkish businesses to communicate with and support each other as they navigate the crisis, while also ensuring they speak as one on the global stage.
We must make no illusions of the scale of the crisis we face. But the signs are there, in the myriad tales of ingenuity and cooperation during this crisis, that businesses are rising to the challenge of coronavirus. We are still in the earlier stages of this global pandemic, but I believe there is cause for cautious optimism that we will weather this storm.
When we do come out the other side, I only hope that the spirit of togetherness that is carrying us through this crisis endures. One of the many lessons to be learned from this crisis is that we are greater than the sum of our parts. We must not forget it.