In the face of the most significant recession the world has seen in almost a century (1), global leaders are calling for cautious optimism and stronger private-public collaboration to assess the impact of COVID-19 and prepare for a possible second wave of infections.
On 16 July, B20 Saudi Arabia convened global leaders and experts from business, government and international organizations at its virtual event “Preparing for a Second Wave”. The event was an opportunity for leaders to create shared lessons learned as the world begins to move past the first wave and reflect on the wealth of information gathered over the last four months. As the voice of the business community to the G20, the B20 plays a critical role in championing conversation on how global issues such as the corona virus pandemic impact the world’s economic well-being.
The discussion, moderated by Linda Yueh, former BBC Chief Business Correspondent and Adjunct Professor of Economics at London Business School, witnessed global business and health leaders emphasize the importance of international collaboration to ensure governments and businesses plan discerningly/effectively for an anticipated COVID-19 rebound. Participants included Luiz de Mello, Director of the Policy Studies at OECD; Chris Nicholas, EVP & CFO of Walmart International; Rayan Fayez, Chair of Finance & Infrastructure Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia and CEO of Banque Saudi Fransi; Bob Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC; Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Diane Wang, Co-Chair of Digitalization Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia and Founder & CEO of DHgate; and Dr. Hans Kluge, Regional Director for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the OECD, in the event of a second wave triggering the return to global lockdowns, world economic output is expected to plummet 7.6% in 2020, before climbing back 2.8% in 2021. At its peak, unemployment for OECD countries would more than double the rate prior to the outbreaks, with little recovery in the next year.
Chair of B20 Saudi Arabia, Mr. Yousef Al-Benyan delivered opening remarks on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and the need to restart economies, but with precautions. He called for governments and businesses to implement programs and systems that will minimize the spread of the disease while getting businesses up and running again with integrity. Rather than returning to a lockdown which would create more complications financially and socially, business leaders stressed that it is important to learn how to manage the virus and live with it, taking utmost care of their communities while doing so. Taking into account lessons learned from the initial onset of COVID-19, there are three key elements to successfully accomplish this:
- There is no alternative to global cooperation, collaboration and consensus to overcome a multi-dimensional and systemic crisis like this one. International coordination will be key to helping businesses and governments plan for a potential second wave, from a health perspective in the form of controlling caseloads and from an economic perspective in ensuring businesses are strategically up- and-reskilling their workers to react to constantly shifting supply and demand. Identifying and implementing the common lessons and approaches to tackling the crisis are as much necessary as their customization to distinct realities and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Any effort to contain or mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic must be inclusive and tailored to individual communities as much as it is broad reaching.
- According to leaders during the discussion, business behavior through COVID-19 has shifted from efficiency to resilience, particularly when it comes to supply chains. Businesses shouldn’t focus on going back to ‘business as usual’, but rather adjusting to what the ‘New Normal’ will look like. It is important to move the mindset from rescue to recovery and allow businesses and their workers to reinvent themselves. While businesses have utilized digital solutions to quickly adjust their ways of operating to ensure business continuity, the pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide for people and businesses, particularly for women and MSMEs. According to data from the World Bank, nearly half of the world’s population has no access to the Internet. In order to become more resilient, businesses and governments must work together to reduce the digital divide. Accelerating digitalization is an engine for growth, recovery and a more inclusive future of work. This has always been true, but never more than in this moment with the complete disruption of offline channels of communication worldwide.
- The key to success is when global realizes the importance of local! Extensive relationships with communities are incredibly valuable to business, government and society. The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the social responsibilities that businesses have towards their communities for the future. It is also vital that businesses re-engineer the way employees work to protect their people and the citizens they serve. Doing so will play a fundamental role in minimizing the impact of a resurgence of COVID-19 without a viable vaccine to mitigate it. With the right approach, business interests and societal well-being will not only coexist but will be deeply intertwined. Altogether, the policies adopted by governments now will play a decisive role in what job growth looks like in the future. Governments and businesses need to be continuously optimistic about the future together and not become complacent. Globally, governments have realized now that there is no choice but to collaborate to overcome the current situation. Only through solidarity and working together will we beat this virus and emerge stronger.
To watch the event in full, click below.