Over the past decade, globalization and capitalism have often been made out to be key culprits for the problems we face. At the same time, the global campaign to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19 has underscored what these forces can achieve when they are properly aligned and incentivized.
The “old game” – blaming others or blaming abstract concepts like globalization and capitalism – may be convenient, but it certainly doesn’t get us any closer to solving the hard problems we face.
We also see that a true calamity – the outbreak of the pandemic – has triggered an intense wave of globe-spanning collaboration. As of mid-January, a total of 240 vaccines for COVID-19 are in development worldwide, with several already in use for vaccination campaigns.
Look at the positives
This not only points to our collective problem-solving capacity, but also underscores the positive side of globalization.
Calamities can also open up unexpected opportunities in other fields of the economy. For example, while the production of new airplanes has come to a halt, some aircraft manufacturers are intensifying their research into hydrogen-fueled airplanes.
Immense progress is also within reach in the energy arena. In particular, so-called “power-to-X” technologies – i.e., various processes that are key to move the world past fossil fuels by turning low-cost renewable energy into heat, hydrogen or synthetic fuels – can help industry worldwide to operate on a sustainable basis.
Don't ignore the blocks
To succeed with any of these efforts, the twin powers of collaboration and synchronicity – the essence of globalization – are the essential building blocks. As the effort now underway to distribute the vaccine underscores, the global logistics industry is the linchpin for many cutting-edge efforts and for overall economic efficiency.
Setting up closely time-sequenced as well as resilient operational structures to organize reliably optimized supply chains of goods – whether global, regional or national in focus and in reach – provides a daily, hands-on example of the power of collaboration.
All indications are that the actual distribution of the vaccine by the logistics industry is working very smoothly, underscoring its ability to link the global with the local.
It is encouraging that while the level of globalization unsurprisingly is set to decline somewhat this year, it nevertheless has proven surprisingly resilient and robust. As the new edition of the DHL Global Connected¬ness Index underscores, global trade, after a brief but sharp decline, has rebounded.
Trade and digital information flows are playing a critical role to keep the world connected and generate forward momentum. Obviously, the pandemic-related need for social distancing has resulted in an unprecedent¬ed decline in international travel. It is on track to fall to a level not seen in three decades.
Meanwhile, data flows were up massively due to the vast increase in internet traffic, phone calls and video-based communications that have allowed people to stay in touch. For humanity to succeed in the future, focusing on the power of collaboration is key.
The specific way in which we translate optimally synchronized collaboration into reality is different in every field of inquiry and for every specific big problem to be solved.
What the challenges ahead require is many different forms of smartly mixing public and private sector actors. The way in which public and private sector researchers, scientific institutes and corporations have been collaborating in the race for a vaccine shows us the pathway to how we can – and must – proceed in the future.
As long as these efforts are well aligned, there is little that human imagination and determination cannot solve.
Back to the high table
This is clearly a transformative moment. In that regard, it matters that the new US administration is showing renewed belief in the power of global cooperation. All promising solutions require smartly joined efforts that span across national and regional barriers.
While the world of politics can – and hopefully will – serve as a force multiplier, business needs to live up to its own aspirations and responsibilities. As business people, our task is to turn long-evident challenges into practical solutions and promising opportunities.
Ultimately, the solution to many of our challenges thus lies in rethinking globalization and capitalism so that they address the pressing needs of the world’s population in a more resilient fashion.
On occasion, this may even involve surprising forms of ownership. Remember how the inventor of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk, famously responded when asked who owned the patent on it: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
- John Pearson is CEO of DHL Express.