On Monday, March 23, the G20 finance ministers held a virtual meeting to lay the groundwork for today’s session of the G20 nation leaders. This meeting resulted only in broad declarations of commitments to address COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn; unlike past sessions of the finance ministers, a formal declaration from the March 23 meeting was not issued. More will need to come from today’s virtual session of the G20 leaders themselves to steady the unprecedented global economic turmoil resulting from the COVID-19 health crisis and to inspire the public-private collaboration needed for the response.
What to Expect from the G20 Leaders Meeting
There has been a range of sensible recommendations put forward for what the G20 must try to achieve today.
A comprehensive emergency package:
- As Paola Subacchi of London’s Queen Mary Global Policy Institute wrote, “There is an urgent need for fiscal stimulus, measures to keep global supply chains operating, commitments to eschew protectionist measures and unilateral currency devaluation, and arrangements to ensure ample liquidity in the global monetary and financial system.” Each of these steps is beyond what individual countries are doing, such as the Federal Reserve’s efforts to inject massive amounts of dollars into global markets, and the announcement by the World Bank that it will “fast track” $14 billion for the private sector and countries to strengthen public health preparedness.
Protection for the most vulnerable:
- As part of the emergency package, the G20 leaders must be acutely aware that the worst of the virus has yet to hit some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. There is still time for global leaders and health experts to assemble additional financing measures and work with on the ground providers to establish the necessary infrastructure and public engagement efforts to slow its spread as much as possible. For example, countries in West Africa learned valuable lessons in fighting the spread of Ebola in 2014 that can be applied to COVID-19 in 2020.
Reinforcement for the global health response:
- John Denton, Secretary-General, International Chamber of Commerce recently asserted in the Financial Times that the G20 must develop “a set of cast-iron commitments to get infection control products and medicines into the hands of those who need them the most — including by reversing the recent escalation in trade barriers now wreaking havoc in key medical supply chains.”
What Companies Can Do Next
Although not formal participants in the G20 meeting, private sector leaders – especially those running multinational corporations – have a critical role to play. Given the tensions among several G20 countries, corporate executives may find themselves helping facilitate country to country dialogues and implementing workable solutions to conceptual ideas proposed in the meeting. In other words, the private sector can help keep lines of communications open so that solutions are quickly brought to fruition.
Create Innovative Business Solutions for the Crisis
- Regardless of how the geopolitics play out, the companies must continue to address the COVID-19 crisis. Companies like Unilever, 3M, Estée Lauder Companies, and Hanes are stepping up production of soap, disinfectants, and masks. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a vaccine. And technology leaders like Google and Microsoft are making their products available to allow for widespread remote working and online collaboration. These important efforts must accelerate, not slow down – no matter what happens (or does not happen) at the G20.
Demonstrate Values Based Leadership
- Most fundamentally, the private sector has an opportunity to show real leadership in a time of crisis. Employees, consumers, partners, policymakers want honest, factual information about what is taking place. People know more layoffs are coming, there will be shortages in the supply chain, and consumers will be inconvenienced. No one wants doom and gloom; nor do they want unrealistic assessments that defy reality. They want to see companies rolling up their sleeves, identifying solutions, and working with governments and their peers at a level we haven’t seen before. Fortunately, we are already starting to see some of that type of leadership emerge.
Partner with the Public Sector
- The public sector and government leaders cannot address this crisis alone, it will take the best from all of us to stop this.
Hopefully, today’s G20 meeting will produce meaningful outcomes that address both the accelerating spread of COVID-19 and its economic consequences. Either way, the private sector has a clear role that we should all support, in the spirit embodied by SDG Goal 17.