Predicting the future in any detail is hard at the best of times, but in the middle of a pandemic, it actually might become easier – even though volatility has increased dramatically, our focus and options have necessarily narrowed. Existing vulnerabilities have been tangibly and tragically exposed – rich as well as poor countries have struggled to provide medical workers with basic supplies as patients have died in the tens of thousands.
Full or partial lockdown measures were affecting almost 2.7 billion workers in early April – four in five of the world’s workforce. And we are yet to see how poorer parts of the world will cope with the wild spread of COVID-19. We know that our future will be dominated by first managing the pandemic and then recovering from the destruction it has caused.
All around the world the virus is revealing the fragility of human life – of our public health systems, supply chains, economies, international institutions and alliances. Business cannot be successful without these things being in place: it thrives when it has access to healthy (and educated) employees and customers; it needs all corners of economies and supply chains to be efficient and resilient; it requires a level and open global playing field. If we are to truly recover from COVID-19, then it will not be about putting things back together to how they were – we need to build back better and address these deep systemic vulnerabilities that have been allowed to develop over the last decades.
So what are the main challenges ahead and how will business navigate them?
Here at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) we have been working to understand the underlying forces shaping the next ten years, how these are likely to interact with one another, and how COVID-19 is changing the picture. Last week we released two outputs in support of our COVID-19 Response Program, created in partnership with Volans and WBCSD members:
Macrotrends & Disruptions shaping 2020-2030 – we have selected 12 macrotrends, across demographics, the environment, economics, technology, politics and culture. In addition, we have proposed 10 “wildcard” disruptions that could plausibly materialize during the 2020s, resulting in significant impacts. Indeed, some of them already have, and already significant impacts are still snowballing.
The consequences of COVID-19 for the decade ahead – we have explored the systemic vulnerabilities being exposed by COVID-19 and how the crisis could shape the next decade through its interaction with existing demographic, political and cultural divides as well as by accelerating existing trends. In addition, we have looked at some lessons from the 2008-9 financial crisis responses to show us how COVID-19 responses could affect the next 10 years and beyond. We’ve included an initial overview of the ways in which business can support efforts to build back better, and will be releasing further issue briefs that examine these recovery routes in more detail in the coming months.
Understanding the existing trends, challenges and opportunities being exposed, influenced, and accelerated by the pandemic is critical to the development of recovery strategies in line with our Vision of 9+ billion people, living well, within planetary boundaries.
How business responds to COVID-19 will undoubtedly shape the decade to come. These issue briefs provide a starting point for constructive conversations about what needs to be done and the environment we are going to be doing it in.
Stay tuned for more insights generated by WBCSD through our work to refresh our Vision 2050!