We did not see it coming; nobody did. When ‘the big one’, Covid-19, hit China, many there were in denial. A few months on, the whole world has gone into a lockdown that is unprecedented and, yes, pretty unsettling.
The world of FDI has risen to the challenge, however. Investment promotions agencies have adapted their mission to give foreign investors the information they need to navigate the crisis locally. They have also worked their contact books tirelessly to help governments source medical equipment. Free zones, consultants, and even the media, have promoted information and experience sharing.
As vital as they are, these adjustments are minor compared with the future challenge of rebuilding the world economy. The numbers are horrific. Bloomberg calculates that the economic pitfall from the pandemic and the consequent recession could reach $2700bn – equal to the GDP of the UK. Globalisation is being jeopardised. Worse still, the worst hit are the people who designed the world we know: our older population.
In a LinkedIn post that went viral, Italian entrepreneur Jacopo Sebastio (whom I’m lucky enough to have known since we were children) urged us to thank our parents and grandparents for their legacy. Today’s 'vulnerable individuals' are those who, young and often poor, built our world. In the wake of two devastating world wars, their fathers urged them to avoid conflict, and they took that ambition forward, embarking on a quest for global peace and prosperity.
They overachieved. The world has never been wealthier, more stable and interconnected. True, it is not perfect. Ambitious for peace, they turned a blind eye to pockets of violence. Seeking prosperity, they overlooked the environment and growing social inequalities. But the extent of what they accomplished is in full display today, as we experience our cherished freedoms and jobs being taken away. We miss the world they built. We miss them too, as much as they miss us, but we urge them to stay home and be safe.
Some observers argue that the pandemic is just accelerating the future, and say the global order was already creaking. The rise of populist leaders has weakened global institutions and markets; the coronavirus has divided us even further.
We will need a new vision to reshape the global economy. We need a new FDI agenda, where the UN's Sustainable Development Goals will finally be the number one priority for investment promotion. We need to address the fragility of global value chains without resorting to protectionism. We need to embrace digital technologies without losing touch with our communities. We need to strengthen, not weaken, global and regional governance.
We will do that. But first, I join Mr Sebastio in thanking our elderly for their drive for peace and prosperity. They inherited a world in ruins, and are leaving it a better place. Any reconstruction efforts must start with this gratitude we owe to those whom we now have to protect.
Jacopo Dettoni is the acting editor of fDi Magazine.
This article first appeared in the April-June edition of fDi Magazine. The full e-version of the magazine is available here.