On UN Global Compact Forum, panelists urge robust multi-stakeholder response to the coronavirus pandemic

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The African Development Bank is ready to be a partner in coordinated international responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and can offer expertise on the ground in Africa, an emerging and critical battleground in defeating the worldwide crisis. This was the top line message Acting Senior Vice President Bajabulile Swazi Tshabalala delivered during a United Nations Global Compact virtual panel titled Global Cooperation for Crisis Response to discuss strategies and recommendations for mounting a global response.

In her opening statement, the acting SVP drove home the imperative for close cooperation at every level. “No country is exempt or immune from the health and economic consequences which are unraveling. COVID-19 affects us all whether we are in a developed or developing countries,” she said

Tshabalala was joined on the panel by Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy on COVID-19 for the Director-General of the World Health Organization; Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of Wallace Global Fund, a philanthropic organization; and Paul Polman, Co-Founder & Chair of IMAGINE Foundation, which advocates for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Dan Thomas, Communications Chief at UN Global Compact moderated. The virtual panel event was held on Tuesday 5 May.

Panelists stressed that humanity will need to accommodate itself to a new normal in which “the virus is here to stay and what all of us are going to have to do is live with the virus as an ever-present threat in our lives and in our communities,” as Envoy Nabarro stated. Polman advised the audience to take the dual approach of being “physically distanced but also socially more connected” going forward.

One theme that surfaced during the panel, as well as in the recent African Development Institute’s virtual forum, is the extent to which the pandemic has exposed high levels of inequality across and within the world’s countries. Evidence for this came from the observation that industrialized countries have spent $10 trillion in economic stimulus while many developing economies cannot mount such a response. Polman urged, let us “start to think about not restarting the global economy but redesigning the global economy.”    

Dorsey pointed out that while the pandemic represents a crisis of unprecedented scale, other challenges must continue to be faced. It also provides an opportunity to reset. “Intersecting crises require systemic not merely palliative responses. If ever there was a moment in which we are shaken out of our complacency and called to act with audacious intent and collaboration, its now.”  Addressing the issues of resilience, Polman pointed out that societies built on a multi-stakeholder models tend to do better in these sorts of crises. “

Members of the panel observed that Africa seemed less hard hit than other regions by the health impacts of the pandemic, to which SVP Tshabalala responded, “from an economic point of view, we may be worst affected economically.”  She went on to point to estimates that Africa will require $110-$150 billion in stimulus to provide social and economic relief to its economies in the wake of the pandemic.

The Bank has been in the forefront of helping Africa, which is scrambling to protect its economies, health systems and livelihoods of its people. The primary channel for the Bank’s intervention is its Covid-19 Response Facility, a $10 billion  facility that will “provide cost-effective and targeted emergency budget support through a fast-tracked approval process to provide immediate relief to countries to address the crisis, additional resources for public health interventions, social protection programmes and to protect their economies at a time of global volatility and uncertainty.”

The UN Global Compact is a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals. The UN Global Compact in March and for all companies to take collective action to stem the outbreak through implementing ten Principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. Businesses are also being called upon to stand together to facilitate business continuity for a fast recovery.  The panel was one its Special Academy series.

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