After six years of fierce battles that involved more than 30 countries, including world superpowers, in two opposing axes; and after over 50 million deaths, more than 80 million wounded, and economic losses estimated at $4 trillion, World War II (1939 - 1945) finally ended. It was the biggest man-made disaster of the 20th century, with unprecedented humanitarian, economic, and political repercussions. However, as life taught us, out of crises and challenges can emerge opportunities and change. Other than its tragic consequences, World War II also led to the establishment of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and an international agreement on a charter for human rights. Moreover, inventions that were paused before the war, were accelerated after it, which completely changed humanity. Such inventions included computers, jet engines, nuclear energy, penicillin, copy machines, modern civil aircraft, the space sector, and more.
Today, humankind is fighting an unprecedented and non-discriminatory war that has a wider impact on the geographic, economic, and geopolitical fronts. A war that was the main headline of the year 2020, and which shook the most powerful, solid, and immune health systems in the world. No country was safe from this war, as humanity lined up on one front to face it. I am talking, of course, about Covid-19. This global pandemic has killed over 1.7 million people and caused over $11 trillion in economic losses so far. So, what are the major post-pandemic changes that the world will witness?
I think that the world will go through a new phase in which beliefs will change, constants will collapse, and new economic and societal mobility rules will emerge. For governments to be able to deal with the post-pandemic world, they must understand its new rules and major global trends. Here are five post-pandemic trends that are expected to shape the directions and performance of the governments of the future.
First - Reverse globalization: The global health crisis has forced all countries to build fences, restrict mobility, rebuild their logistics systems, and organize supply chains. The world watched as some selfish nations hoarded supplies and as geopolitical competition increased between major economic powers. Many governments' beliefs in globalization were shaken and national interests became of paramount importance. Moreover, national industries, especially in the food and pharmaceutical sectors, became existential issues in government strategies. All these factors can lead to the decline of globalization, and the world will witness more bilateral economic, tourism, food, pharmaceutical, and other agreements. Governments must get ready for a new world that is less globalized compared to previous decades.
Second - Trust in governments: The pandemic has pushed people around the world to rally around their governments and strengthened the reliance of various sectors on governments to manage different aspects of life, especially in the service sectors. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust in governments surged 11 points within a few months to an all-time high of 65 percent. The crisis also generated high patriotic feelings, with increasing populist tones in some countries. Today, governments around the world have a golden opportunity to strengthen this trust and build on the gains they made while successfully managing the pandemic. In contrast, some countries will completely lose that trust due to their mismanagement of the crisis, as their governments failed to upgrade their performance and tools, and their organizational and operational structures collapsed in the face of a global health disaster of this scale.
Third - National data and national sovereignty: Until recently, governments turned a blind eye to the transmission of data through intercontinental institutions, considering that part of facilitating their integration in the digital world. Today, however, protecting data has become as important as protecting the economy, borders, and the existence of nations as a whole, since the pandemic has forced hundreds of millions of people to work, study, and practice various life and professional activities from home; and most of the economic, social, and educational activities of societies have thus become virtual. Data monitoring and protection means will proliferate soon, and countries will need to set up mechanisms and systems to protect their digital privacy and sovereign data.
Fourth - A new government management model: Many governments attempted digital transformation in the past, but faced challenges related to budgets, bureaucracy, and old systems that resisted change and rejected innovation and development. However, the great pressure of the global pandemic will drastically change government management models. Today, governments are required to establish new regulations and rules to govern remote work, remote procurement, and remote human resources development and productivity. It is crucial to set up legislative systems to support all of this and develop new models to provide government services to the public to meet their aspirations and acquire sufficient flexibility to deal with any future crises or challenges.
Fifth - Public-private partnerships are no longer optional: The global Covid-19 pandemic has made governments realize that the private sector can make a huge difference during crises as it possesses resources; supply chains; medical, research, and logistics capabilities; access to personal data; and easy access to all societal groups. Therefore, without solid and clear private-public partnerships, it won’t be possible to build real internal sustainability, achieve food and pharmaceutical security, or manage future crises. Today, governments are required to build a new legislative, regulatory, and technical system through which they can achieve complementary roles and responsibilities between the public and private sectors.
As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The world has been facing a major crisis that transcends borders, races, and cultures, and made us think that life could end and that the world could collapse. We have incurred major losses during this crisis, but the real loss would be for future generations to live in a world that is not better than today’s, nor better prepared for new, unpredictable crises.
Governments are duty-bound to try to answer major questions transparently: What is their role in the future? How will they change their work models? What kind of international relations will guarantee the interests of all parties during future unpredictable crises? What is the role of science and scientists in determining our future? To what extent can governments invest their resources in supporting new research that seeks solutions and answers to emerging dilemmas and challenges?
And the most important question of all is: Has the global pandemic made the world more humane? Has it brought nations closer to each other? Did it unite hearts and minds to build a better future for humanity? Will Covid-19 be a major event that marks the end of the old world and the beginning of a new one?
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al- Awsat.