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Op-Ed: How Multilateralism Through Public-Private Partnerships Is Key To Flatten The Curve

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Myriam Sidibe, Siddharth Chatterjee, and Paul Polman join Kenya's First Lady Margaret

By Paul Polman, Siddharth Chatterjee and Myriam Sidibe

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that now is “a defining moment for modern society.  History will judge the efficacy of the response not by the actions of any single set of government actors taken in isolation, but by the degree to which the response is coordinated globally across all sectors for the benefit of our human family.”

Governments, the private sector and development institutions need to come together in innovative ways not just to flatten the curve of infection and mitigate the economic disruption, but also to prepare for the new normal of the post-Covid world in Africa and the rest of the world.  Greater partnership between the public and private sectors is going to be critical. The fight to flatten the coronavirus curve is an acid test for stakeholder capitalism and especially for multilateralism.

As Covid-19 continues to spread sickness and death, Africa has so far escaped the worst effects. The continent’s lagging healthcare infrastructure, however, makes it highly vulnerable if the virus reaches the high-velocity community transmission we have seen in Italy, Spain and New York.  Not only are health systems delicate, but crucial medical supplies are far from sufficient, and social protection as a whole is weak.

With the health crisis also becoming an economic and soon a social crisis, the continent is under siege.  Many companies are struggling through the economic slowdown, with tourism and smaller enterprises the most challenged. With bankruptcy and job losses looming, many families are already reducing spending and consumption.  In the absence of significant fiscal stimulus – which few African countries can afford anyway – some projections are cutting the continent’s GDP growth in 2020 by as much as eight percentage points.

No one knows for sure what is ahead, with scenarios changing daily as new information comes through. Many firms are focused on business continuity, employee safety and simply survival and lack the luxury of assisting external stakeholders. But it’s time for an all-hands-on-deck response, both to flatten the curve of infections and keep businesses resilient, and to be ready to restart as physical distancing ends.  More than ever before, the private sector needs to deploy its full capabilities to innovate and bring positive, sustainable change – to help secure strong markets in the future.

There are several areas where private sector support is essential. Current priorities include unified communication platforms to enable populations to practise the needed preventative behaviors (washing hands, wearing masks, and practising physical distancing), as well as managing stocks of essential materials, test kits, ventilators and oxygen and PPE. Support would also include protecting the most vulnerable people from the economic effects of the pandemic, especially where curfews are enforced.

This is also a unique opportunity to challenge sceptics, in both the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors, with a new blueprint of collaboration. The World Health Organization has issued guidelines on engaging the private sector as part of a whole-of-society response to the pandemic and has signed an iconic partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce. The African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have also launched a public-private partnership known as the Africa Covid-19 Response Fund, which raises resources to prevent transmission and support sustainable medical responses.

In Kenya the national government has led the charge in fighting Covid-19 by rapidly scaling up a large array of public health interventions and putting into force social interaction rules. To complement the government’s preparedness and response efforts for the next six months, the UN, together with humanitarian non-governmental organizations launched a flash appeal seeking over $267 million to respond to the critical needs of 10 million of the country’s most vulnerable people. 

So far, the pandemic has not been the finest hour for international cooperation. But the role of the UN and the private sector have never been more critical as an enabler of multisectoral partnerships for deliveries, and also to keep the focus on the most vulnerable that these partnerships need to reach.  

In Kenya, and under the leadership of the government, the UN has built a model to catalyze public-private action: the SDG Partnership Platform. It is a tested instrument for engagement that has brought together a variety of private players in previous initiatives to co-create and rapidly deploy, with government, large-scale shared-value solutions to address the challenges our societies and the planet are facing. It is through such a mechanism, for example, that the UN mobilized the private sector to carry out a maternal mortality reduction campaign in Kenya’s northeastern counties, one that was recognized as a global best practice.

Kenya’s National Business Compact on Coronavirus, a gathering of companies aimed at accelerating local action and supporting governmental efforts against the pandemic, got successfully off the ground with the help of the UN SDG Partnership Platform, and champions from private sector and civil society.  

The Kenyan model of cooperation could take shape all over Africa. Such models allow governments to foster an ecosystem of purposeful partnerships; to amplify private-sector philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and policy advocacy for national mitigation; and to accelerate shared-value partnerships. It also allows the UN to play its role as a neutral broker, and steer a much-needed balance between lethargic action on one hand and misdirected reactions on the other. 

This may well be the blueprint needed to fight the next global pandemic, whose speed and fury could surpass what we are witnessing now.

Paul Polman is co-founder of IMAGINE, Chair of the International Chambers of Commerce and former CEO of Unilever; Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator of Kenya and Myriam Sidibe is a Senior Fellow at Mossavar Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School.

Current Affairs

OPEC And Its Allies Are Ready To Boost Production, But Here’s Why An Oil Market Recovery Isn’t Guaranteed

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After record production cuts in April intended to prop up the market amid a demand crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s largest oil producers are expected to ease up on the restrictions and begin to increase their output next month.

KEY FACTS

  • Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the other members of OPEC+ will meet Wednesday to discuss the current market situation and debate future production limits, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, adding that most delegates in the organization support loosening restrictions.
  • As lockdown measures ease across the globe, demand for oil is slowly beginning to rise again as shipping and air travel resume. 
  • Oil prices are still down significantly from pre-pandemic levels, however, with the Brent international benchmark priced at about 30% of January levels. 
  • The International Energy Agency said Friday that while global demand for oil had recovered strongly in China and India in May, world demand is still projected to decline during the second half of the year before recovering in 2021. 
  • The recent spike coronavirus cases and new lockdowns are creating “more uncertainty”: additional lockdowns could discourage travel and international trade, which would put more downward pressure on prices.
  • The risk to the oil market is “almost certainly to the downside,” the IAE said. 

KEY BACKGROUND

In April, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies agreed to record oil production cuts of 9.7 million barrels a day as the coronavirus decimated global demand for crude oil. The agreement put an end to a weeks-long price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that added even more pressure to an already-struggling market. 

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“If OPEC clings to restraining production to keep up prices, I think it’s suicidal,” a person familiar with Saudi Arabia’s thinking told the Journal. “There’s going to be a scramble for market share, and the trick is how the low cost producers assert themselves without crashing the oil price.”

Sarah Hansen, Forbes Staff, Markets

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Current Affairs

Zindzi Mandela passes away, aged 59

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Picture taken for the December 2014 cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA by Jay Caboz

Zindziswa ‘Zindzi’ Mandela has died. The 59-year-old is believed to have breathed her last in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of July 13, Monday, SABC is reporting.

Zindzi was the daughter of struggle icons, South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and currently serving as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.

In December 2014, Zindzi graced the cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA alongside her mother, a year after her father’s death.

She lost her 13-year-old granddaughter, Zenani, in a car crash after a pre-tournament concert during the 2010 FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa.

In 2018, her mother Winnie, passed away.

Zindzi is survived by her four children, husband and grandchildren.

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Heroes & Survivors

The Test, Trial And Triumph

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment for FORBES AFRICA

After 14 days in isolation as a Covid-19 patient, this FORBES AFRICA photojournalist recovered to see the world with new eyes and realize he had the gift of life.

It was around 3PM on June 24 when a nurse called to tell me that I could now officially end my 14-day self-isolation period at home. I had tested Covid-19 positive three weeks before and now was in total disbelief that I had survived this particular physical trial and mental ordeal.

Before testing positive, I was like any other ordinary South African, pursuing my work from home, and as a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist, recording the impact of the coronavirus.

I had thought my face-mask and hand-sanitizer were my armour against the virus, but I guess one can never be too careful.

The first 72 hours of knowing that I had confirmed positive for Covid-19 came with its own set of emotions and experiences. Some friends, and even family, criticized and judged me for carrying the virus, but I also came to know about the ones who cared.

A group of doctors visited me at home to check if I needed hospitalization. They were young and not cloaked head-to-toe in PPE as I had thought. One of them was wearing a camouflage top and sported a few tattoos on his left arm. After his consultation with me, he spoke excitedly about the baby he and his wife were expecting, due later in the year.

There was hope in the world.

I was confident my health was getting better until a nurse called me a few days later. She was the pin that burst my bubble, as she stated things I didn’t want to hear at the time. They were facts, she clinically warned, as she sees people dying daily of the virus.

My mind raced to the previous two nights, when I experienced mild short breaths and thought how the attack could have been worse. I could have died at night all by myself, just trying to breathe. I shed tears as she spoke.

Soon after that, an old friend of mine, who had been shot (and injured) in the spine during an armed robbery attack, called. His timing was perfect. He encouraged me to live on and smile, and told me that the nurse was only doing her job, in advising me to keep to a healthy diet during this time. He brought a smile to my face.

A week later, it was my mother’s birthday. Every year, I visit her with a gift and a cake. This time, all I could do was video-call her; she was both happy and sad not to be able to see me. Two days later, it was my own birthday. I felt low and lonely, but was glad to be alive as my two weeks in self-quarantine was going to be over soon.

“I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed.”

I was reluctant to leave the house, but on June 24, the call by a lady who identified herself as “Nurse Nomsa from the Department of Health” liberated me. She was following up on my health status for the previous two weeks and I had ticked all the right boxes. I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed. She told me I had recovered, but should continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Today, I can stand outside my home in Soweto and watch the neighbors’ kids play, shout and scream, asking from their yards, “Malume (uncle), are you okay?”

With a gentle laugh and nod, I acknowledge my story of survival to them.

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