.
I

n a matter of months, the world’s economic arteries seized up.  The price of oil, ordinarily buoyed by ravenous carbon hungry industrial production, bustling city streets, crowded skies, and shipping lanes, went into negative territory. This following a brief and ill-timed price war between OPEC rivals Russia and Saudi Arabia. All other warning signs on the global economy’s dashboard are flashing red. Silence descended on the world’s megacities, urban centers with more than 10 million inhabitants of which there are more than 40 around the world. In the face of a 100-year pandemic, as SARS-CoV-2 spreads around the world fueled by globalization, international travel and anthropogenic perils, such as urbanization and population density, the world’s institutions seemed paralyzed, frail and ill-equipped to rise to the occasion.

This institutional frailty was evidenced in advanced economies, as much as developing ones. The one major difference maker in the league tables of how countries and communities fared (and continue to endure) is leadership and particularly where women are at the helm. Leadership alone, however, is not a transferable skill or capability in the same way that robust, functional and highly effective institutions are when it comes to governance, accountability, readiness and response. Leadership after all is an idiosyncratic trait enshrined in people who rise to the occasion, and not a characteristic that singularly makes institutional gears turn. Rather, these gears turn based on norms, accountability, organizational mandates and the ability to spring into action.

The post-war era, for example, gave rise to a range of international institutions with the twin mandate of preserving the peace so that great wars and their great human and economic toll was consigned to history. Their second charge was to build up the preconditions for shared prosperity, therefore removing the incentive for nation state conflict by establishing and guarding a rules-based international system. From international security, to the global economy and public health, the tension between nation state interests and international institutions was laid bare by the pandemic. At the core of this tension is a deep-seated distrust and lingering doubts about the motives, efficacy and accountability of many of the world’s institutions. That doubt, in far too many cases around the world, now has a body of public evidence showing that in many cases public skepticism was warranted.   

Each year for the last 20 years, this sentiment of institutional distrust is captured by Edelman’s Trust Barometer. In the year before the pandemic, trust in both public and private institutions was at an all-time low. 66% of respondents reported that societal leaders of the very institutions that have the resources, accountability and capability to protect wellbeing, wealth and the world’s collective commons will not be able to address challenges. 

There may be three silver lines in the dark clouds of this crisis, however.  The first, is an enduring reminder that humanity has more in common than our short-term, partisan and often tribal politics betrays. Like in the war to reverse the tide of climate change, a war against a pandemic is also a whole of society priority—albeit waging this fight “alone together” because of social distancing. The second, is how technology can provide a semblance of operating continuity and normalcy amid such a paralyzing event—therefore we would be well served to universalize access. The third, is that people clearly need well-functioning governments at all levels and cannot merely rely on deified political leaders.  Rather, we must rely on the hard-working, behind-the-scenes leaders who make public institutions run.  

Pandemic response has been a crucible for effective institutional leadership and governance. We should take no comfort in the fact that the world is confronting 21st century challenges with 19th century institutions laboring under slow, often analog 20th century technologies. Just as corporate balance sheets must take the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental priorities as co-equal business objectives, public institutions must take the post-pandemic transformation challenge of modernization, transparency and effectiveness as co-equal priorities. The dislocation of generational wealth and the forestalled economic productivity that will set many countries back decades, not to mention the dreadful loss of life when all is reckoned, demands that less is said, and more is done. Chief among these is the need to restore confidence in the social compact in many countries around the world. This is especially true for the worst performing countries and communities in the pandemic, where the crisis did not break systems or social safety nets, but rather revealed which ones were weak or broken in the first place. The pandemic is a powerful reminder that government and public and private institutions are not abstractions but are experienced locally.

The fastest institutions to bend or break with the onset of the pandemic should be the first ones to fix in the post-pandemic world. Entirely new ones should be created to ensure the next crisis yields better coordination and outcomes in the public and private sectors. For example, earlier calls for the creation of a public-private pandemic preparedness and bio-defense accelerator should be heeded. Additionally, broad cross-sections of the population with no access to basic healthcare coverage, paid medical leave or on the margins of the formal economy, with 2.5 billion people who are unbanked or underbanked, exacerbated pre-pandemic vulnerability. This greatly slowed relief and recovery efforts, even in advanced economies. This much was revealed by the slow pace or inability of many countries to provide direct relief payments to citizens where countries labored under a one-directional payment system—one that supports tax collection but not direct aid in a crisis, let alone in real time.  

As with all large scale disasters where the coronavirus pandemic has the dubious distinction of triggering a declared disaster in all 50 U.S. states and territories, along with virtually every country on the planet, speed of government response matters nearly as much as societal adherence to public health rules. The absence of trusted, open-source technologies in the public sector has been a challenge, despite efforts to inventory working examples. These technologies could facilitate a two-way relationship between the citizen and public institutions, as well as support privacy preserving contact tracing or anything close to real-time high-quality reporting on confirmed COVID-19 cases. The fact remains that much of the fight against an invisible enemy has been like flying blind on both the numerator and denominator of affected populations. Not since the great wars, have so many owed a debt of gratitude to so few. In this case, rather than donning military fatigues, the heroes of this time are donning lab coats and medical garb. Modernizing existing institutions and creating entirely new ones to ensure the sacrifice of lives, livelihood and national treasure is not in vain is the greatest way we can repay this debt.

About
Dante Alighieri Disparte
:
Dante Alighieri Disparte is the vice chairman and head of policy and communications for the Libra Association. He is the founder and chairman of Risk Cooperative and serves on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Advisory Council.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The Emergence of Post-Pandemic Institutions

May 27, 2020

I

n a matter of months, the world’s economic arteries seized up.  The price of oil, ordinarily buoyed by ravenous carbon hungry industrial production, bustling city streets, crowded skies, and shipping lanes, went into negative territory. This following a brief and ill-timed price war between OPEC rivals Russia and Saudi Arabia. All other warning signs on the global economy’s dashboard are flashing red. Silence descended on the world’s megacities, urban centers with more than 10 million inhabitants of which there are more than 40 around the world. In the face of a 100-year pandemic, as SARS-CoV-2 spreads around the world fueled by globalization, international travel and anthropogenic perils, such as urbanization and population density, the world’s institutions seemed paralyzed, frail and ill-equipped to rise to the occasion.

This institutional frailty was evidenced in advanced economies, as much as developing ones. The one major difference maker in the league tables of how countries and communities fared (and continue to endure) is leadership and particularly where women are at the helm. Leadership alone, however, is not a transferable skill or capability in the same way that robust, functional and highly effective institutions are when it comes to governance, accountability, readiness and response. Leadership after all is an idiosyncratic trait enshrined in people who rise to the occasion, and not a characteristic that singularly makes institutional gears turn. Rather, these gears turn based on norms, accountability, organizational mandates and the ability to spring into action.

The post-war era, for example, gave rise to a range of international institutions with the twin mandate of preserving the peace so that great wars and their great human and economic toll was consigned to history. Their second charge was to build up the preconditions for shared prosperity, therefore removing the incentive for nation state conflict by establishing and guarding a rules-based international system. From international security, to the global economy and public health, the tension between nation state interests and international institutions was laid bare by the pandemic. At the core of this tension is a deep-seated distrust and lingering doubts about the motives, efficacy and accountability of many of the world’s institutions. That doubt, in far too many cases around the world, now has a body of public evidence showing that in many cases public skepticism was warranted.   

Each year for the last 20 years, this sentiment of institutional distrust is captured by Edelman’s Trust Barometer. In the year before the pandemic, trust in both public and private institutions was at an all-time low. 66% of respondents reported that societal leaders of the very institutions that have the resources, accountability and capability to protect wellbeing, wealth and the world’s collective commons will not be able to address challenges. 

There may be three silver lines in the dark clouds of this crisis, however.  The first, is an enduring reminder that humanity has more in common than our short-term, partisan and often tribal politics betrays. Like in the war to reverse the tide of climate change, a war against a pandemic is also a whole of society priority—albeit waging this fight “alone together” because of social distancing. The second, is how technology can provide a semblance of operating continuity and normalcy amid such a paralyzing event—therefore we would be well served to universalize access. The third, is that people clearly need well-functioning governments at all levels and cannot merely rely on deified political leaders.  Rather, we must rely on the hard-working, behind-the-scenes leaders who make public institutions run.  

Pandemic response has been a crucible for effective institutional leadership and governance. We should take no comfort in the fact that the world is confronting 21st century challenges with 19th century institutions laboring under slow, often analog 20th century technologies. Just as corporate balance sheets must take the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental priorities as co-equal business objectives, public institutions must take the post-pandemic transformation challenge of modernization, transparency and effectiveness as co-equal priorities. The dislocation of generational wealth and the forestalled economic productivity that will set many countries back decades, not to mention the dreadful loss of life when all is reckoned, demands that less is said, and more is done. Chief among these is the need to restore confidence in the social compact in many countries around the world. This is especially true for the worst performing countries and communities in the pandemic, where the crisis did not break systems or social safety nets, but rather revealed which ones were weak or broken in the first place. The pandemic is a powerful reminder that government and public and private institutions are not abstractions but are experienced locally.

The fastest institutions to bend or break with the onset of the pandemic should be the first ones to fix in the post-pandemic world. Entirely new ones should be created to ensure the next crisis yields better coordination and outcomes in the public and private sectors. For example, earlier calls for the creation of a public-private pandemic preparedness and bio-defense accelerator should be heeded. Additionally, broad cross-sections of the population with no access to basic healthcare coverage, paid medical leave or on the margins of the formal economy, with 2.5 billion people who are unbanked or underbanked, exacerbated pre-pandemic vulnerability. This greatly slowed relief and recovery efforts, even in advanced economies. This much was revealed by the slow pace or inability of many countries to provide direct relief payments to citizens where countries labored under a one-directional payment system—one that supports tax collection but not direct aid in a crisis, let alone in real time.  

As with all large scale disasters where the coronavirus pandemic has the dubious distinction of triggering a declared disaster in all 50 U.S. states and territories, along with virtually every country on the planet, speed of government response matters nearly as much as societal adherence to public health rules. The absence of trusted, open-source technologies in the public sector has been a challenge, despite efforts to inventory working examples. These technologies could facilitate a two-way relationship between the citizen and public institutions, as well as support privacy preserving contact tracing or anything close to real-time high-quality reporting on confirmed COVID-19 cases. The fact remains that much of the fight against an invisible enemy has been like flying blind on both the numerator and denominator of affected populations. Not since the great wars, have so many owed a debt of gratitude to so few. In this case, rather than donning military fatigues, the heroes of this time are donning lab coats and medical garb. Modernizing existing institutions and creating entirely new ones to ensure the sacrifice of lives, livelihood and national treasure is not in vain is the greatest way we can repay this debt.

About
Dante Alighieri Disparte
:
Dante Alighieri Disparte is the vice chairman and head of policy and communications for the Libra Association. He is the founder and chairman of Risk Cooperative and serves on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Advisory Council.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.