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Agilence for countries - preserve, persevere and pioneer (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, Agilence is defined as a higher order life-skill that will help every system and person adapt to the new (post-pandemic) reality. Part 2 was our observations of how people have consciously and unconsciously leveraged the principles of agility and resilience. This post is a discussion of how countries have adopted this very philosophy.

“Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist, everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate,” US Health and Human Services Secretary, Michael Leavitt, in 2007

Agilence is resilience + agility. For countries, this involves persevere, preseve and pioneer

COVID-19 has shown us what we deeply value – safety of home. When faced with danger, people head home. Migrant labourers walked back to their villages that were sometimes hundreds of kilometers away. Expats and immigrants returned to their countries of birth. And, people immediately began looking to their governments for help and protection. 

Yet, in spite of repeated warnings, nations and states were hardly prepared. And when the pandemic did strike, leaders were faced with hard choices - between the curfews and lockdowns for public safety, and the economic impact.

In this post, part 3 of our series on Agilence, we explore the major trends emerging from nations’ reactions to the pandemic. And, the key strategies that we’ve seen countries follow. 

Co-opetition at an international scale

Co-opetition is the act of cooperation between competing companies; businesses that engage in both competition and cooperation are said to be in co-opetition. During the pandemic, we saw many countries also come together. Countries worked together under the aegis of WHO to share information on the spread of the virus and produce vaccines. This approach is a clear example of agility and resilience: Agilence.

Yet, when it comes to enjoying the benefits of such agilence, rich countries tend to hoard an unfair share. Even though they represent only 14% of the population, rich countries have bought 53% of the world’s vaccines for COVID. This is enough to vaccinate their populations, three times over, while nine out of 10 people in poor countries may never be vaccinated at all. 

Countries with large (vaccine) manufacturing bases have leveraged the capability to negotiate massive contracts for vaccines from other nations with spending power. This has rendered developing countries, with less to no infrastructure for manufacturing vaccines, to fend for themselves. 

As a result, countries are ensuring sufficient food, medical and energy supplies by recalibrating their partnerships with other countries to be positive and symbiotic. Countries are also becoming more self-reliant because while boundaries might be opening up, international relationships are becoming more volatile, making self-sufficiency a key priority for all. 

For instance, we have seen the US leveraging the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce items (in short supply) such as ventilators and the Indian Prime Minister encouraging Atma Nirbhar (self-sufficiency) to protect their economies.

A key takeaway: National resilience and self-sufficiency are negatively impacted by rising inequality in resources and power, especially when facing a common global crisis.

Community welfare vs. individual privacy 

In trying to contain the pandemic, countries are imposing lockdowns, quarantines, mandatory testing, vaccinations, social distancing, mask-wearing and more. 

To guarantee these measures are being followed, a few European, South American and South East Asian nations are utilizing technologies like contact tracing, bluetooth contact tracing, monitoring mobile apps, cell tower triangulation and GPS tracking.

In March of last year, 19 countries used GPS mechanisms to track its citizens. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been too much furor about the obvious invasion of privacy with these moves, but there is a growing recognition of how the “choice between public health and the right to privacy must give way to a nuanced understanding of the right to privacy and data protection.”

A key takeaway: During a crisis, community welfare supersedes individual privacy. 

Eliminating bureaucracy for agility

The pandemic has forced governments to make decisions that would have otherwise been unimaginable. Italy awarded close to 10,000 final year medical students a degree without exams and pushed them into service. Spain nationalized its private hospitals to secure the country’s medical resources while fighting the pandemic.

Vaccines that would probably have taken nearly ten years to become available to the public were fast tracked and approved for general use within ten months of clinical research. We believe this happened because:
  • Multiple organizations — public, private and government — cooperated to develop the much needed vaccines
  • The widespread nature of the COVID-19 virus expedited phase 1, 2 and 3 trials 
  • Government bodies were able to fast track approval processes without compromising on safety or efficacy
A key takeaway: A common purpose and widespread support will see nations proactively remove obstacles to become truly agile. For instance, policy related agility during the pandemic.

Our observation was that the world expected ‘developed’ nations to be better prepared to handle the pandemic. However, in spite of evolved medical systems, better access to healthcare and substantial supply chain networks, several developed countries suffered staggeringly high death tolls. Interestingly, “much of the developing world has quietly shown remarkable levels of preparedness and creativity during the pandemic.

This observation will seem like a paradox. Nevertheless, we believe it substantiates our assertion that conventional preparedness is not the same as Agilence. 

A country’s success, in a post-pandemic world will depend on how agilent they can be. This will reflect in how countries:
  • Ensure larger healthcare budgets and renew focus on the welfare of their people 
  • Establish self-reliance and self-sufficiency as key priorities that governments will strive to achieve without compromise
  • Work on flexible protocols to enable quick pivots based on evolving needs. For example, even as vaccines are being administered, new strains of the virus are emerging
  • Prioritize tech to become core to citizen services, driving effective governance
Part 4, the final post in this series discusses how companies have fared in the new normal and how their success could lie in the exploration of newer processes and ways of working to suit the altered reality that we all live in.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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