Innovative Partnerships In A Time Of Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis underscores the social and economic connectivity across the world, while at the same time exposing our vulnerability to extreme challenges like a pandemic. As governments and international institutions battle the pandemic, there are increasing calls for cross-sector collaboration to address pressing environmental, health, and economic challenges. The pandemic makes it clear that no government, corporation, agency, or supranational organization can address these challenges alone.

Cross-sector leaders speaking at a Goal 17 Partners roundtable underscored how innovative partnership models could tackle the spillover effect from health to economic and social volatility. Representatives from Guggenheim Partners, Environmental Defense Fund, UN Global Impact, International Finance Corporation, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, and Caterpillar Foundation joined together to emphasize the importance of cross-sector partnerships. 

You can watch the full video of the roundtable here.

Their consensus view was that the private sector has the ability to step up when needed and is doing so in increasing numbers. Rob Skinner, Executive Director, UN Office for Partnerships, said: “We’re fortunate that we have the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to come out of this crisis. If we look to that, work together, partner together across all sectors, we will have a better way of moving forward.” 

In the age of the COVID-19 crisis, partnerships will be crucial, especially when circumstances are far from ideal. “Good partnerships take time, trust, and personal leadership” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. “We don’t have time, and where we have new people interacting with each other you have to take a loss on trust, but we do need personal leadership, and we have many private sector companies stepping up.”

Asha Varghese, President, Caterpillar Foundation, discussed the importance of partnerships in forging resilience, building on a theme from Tuesday’s roundtable. “The Caterpillar Foundation has been focused on building strong and resilient communities,” she said. “It resonates even more in a time of crisis where we really need to band together. Collective leadership is absolutely necessary to ensure that we’re leveraging our resources effectively.”

The future of the world we’ve grown accustomed to is far from guaranteed. “If you look at past pandemics, going back to the black plague in 1347, societies have really devolved as a consequence,” said Michael Perkinson, Guggenheim Partners’ Head of Asia Business and Chief of Staff to the Global Chief Investment Officer. “But now we have a lot of arrows in our quiver that we haven’t had previously.” He made it clear that companies need to play their role in a crisis.  “The private sector as a whole has a role to play,” Perkinson said. “It’s a puzzle, and we each have certain puzzle pieces and they’re not necessarily identical. Guggenheim Partners, for example, must look for opportunities in the market and make capital available so that hotels and restaurants can reopen, and airlines can get airborne again.” 

There are also considerations for what life looks like after the crisis has passed. According to Tom Murray, Vice President, EDF+Business, businesses will begin to be held to a higher standard. “The social contract between government, business, and society, even before this global health crisis, had been stretched to its limits,” he said. “The expectations for how business engage in the world is higher than ever by stakeholders, investors, employees, and customers.” Murray believes that companies, in order to stay competitive, will have to focus on long-term strategies for sustainability.

Neil Gregory, Chief Thought Leadership Officer, International Finance Corporation, thinks that drastic change could open the door for opportunities. “Shocks accelerate the process of structural change, the economy doesn’t grow back in the same shape it has before,” he said. “That’s actually an opportunity, helping these economies grow back in a way which is more sustainable.” There are huge infrastructure and private sector opportunities contained within these regrowth sectors of the world, he said, particularly in emerging markets.

Sue Allchurch, Chief of Outreach and Engagement, UN Global Compact, looked hopefully to the future of partnerships in the pursuit of a sustainable world. “Collectively, with partnerships, with government, with UN partners, with the private sector, we keep our eye on the prize of the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said. “Our role right now, is to try and come out of this in better shape so that we can go faster across key sustainable goals.”

The discussion ended with the importance of leadership in this crisis. Each of the experts shared what they thought were the key attributes a successful leader must possess for successfully navigating this complex crisis: empathy, bravery, patience, humility, and the nimbleness to adapt in the face of adversity.