The post-COVID-19 world could be less global and less urban – World Economic Forum, May 18 2020, Geoffrey Garrett
Safety May Come At The Cost Of Wellbeing
“For the past four decades, globalization and urbanization have been two of the world’s most powerful drivers. Global trade increased from under 40% of the world’s GDP in 1980 to over 60% today. Over the same period, the number of people living in cities more than doubled to over 4 billion people today — more than half the world’s population.
COVID-19 will reverse both of these trends, increasing the distance both between countries and among people. Some will laud these changes for increasing safety and resilience. But a world that is less global and less urban would also be less prosperous, less stable and less fulfilling.
Here are two core predictions about the world after COVID-19:
Less global, more isolated. Even before COVID-19, the decades-long trend toward ever-more globalization of trade, investment, supply chains and people flows was beginning to grind to a halt. We began to look closer to home in terms of the products we produce and consume, the people with whom we interact, and where we get our energy and our money.
Less density, more distance. Urbanization is likely to be the other major casualty of the coronavirus. Unlike globalization, the trend of ever greater-urbanization was unaffected by the global financial crisis. Even America — the land of all things suburban — joined the global march into cities. People were attracted to cities not only for economic opportunity but also for the urban lifestyle.”
Through the WI Lens
It’s perhaps not surprising that the WEF, an organisation founded on the premise that collaboration can enable countries to learn from each other and make the world a better place, should champion the cause of globalisation. This article, by the Dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, argues that a less global world will be a less prosperous one; and the shrinking of cities will have negative impacts from cultural life to climate change. The challenge, he argues, will be to not simply retreat from both globalism and urbanism in the face of the pandemic, but to find ways of managing them. It is widely recognised, in the hospitality industry for one, that city hubs are likely to be the last to recover, and on the positive side, any move back towards more rural home-based lifestyles could also be the catalyst for more focus on wellness, which in itself would be a good thing.
However, the prosperity that cities generate is itself a vital component of human wellbeing, as is the cultural buzz engendered by city living. On a global basis, major cities provide wealth and jobs on a scale that some individual countries are otherwise unable to create. In a more distributed, less centralised world, it may fall on employers and the collaboration of industries to take greater care of their people and indeed to protect and look after each other’s prosperity – the interdependence required has never been more stark and on increasingly numerous levels. All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”