Private sector providing crucial help amid coronavirus challenges
Five years ago, Bill Gates filmed a thought-provoking TED Talk titled “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.” The global philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder warned of countries’ lack of preparedness for the next deadly pandemic. Gates referred to the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa as a live example of how unprepared the world was. He lamented the delayed response in containing the virus. As a result, the epidemic claimed the lives of more than 11,300 people — five times more than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. Unknowingly, Gates also shared his advice for being ready for the next global epidemic, emphasizing the importance of investing in better health systems, vaccine research, health workers, and medical technologies. Failing to do so could cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars globally, he claimed.
Today, that premonition has come true, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak sweeps the planet, wreaking havoc wherever it goes. Economies all over the world are being negatively affected by the unpredictable and fast-spreading nature of this pandemic. Countries have been struggling with overstretched public health systems and have shut industries, banned mass gatherings, closed borders, imposed travel restrictions, and told citizens to remain as isolated as possible. Consequently, the OECD projects a drop in annual global gross domestic product growth to 2.4 percent in 2020, compared to an already weak rate of 2.9 percent in 2019.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to increase, surpassing 475,000 cases on Thursday. But a growing number of philanthropists and corporations are offering a helping hand to alleviate the damage caused by the outbreak. This is commendable, as partnerships between the private sector, governments and civil society are essential. Corporations are transitioning from their outmoded roles as profit-generating entities to a more humane, agile and sustainable form of capitalism. This entails harnessing their unique expertise in various sectors, colossal resources, extensive networks, and operational efficiency to deliver valuable and socially responsible initiatives.
According to Fortune’s annual Global 500 list, the companies that made the list generated $32.7 trillion in revenue and $2.15 trillion in profits in 2018. A study published by Global Justice Now compared the 2017 revenues of corporations and governments, revealing that 157 of the top 200 richest economic entities worldwide were corporations.
Candid, an organization that publishes information regarding philanthropic contributions, estimates that $1.9 billion has been donated by private entities worldwide for coronavirus relief. Philanthropic efforts come in various shapes and sizes, encompassing the funding of research efforts on coronavirus detection and treatments, augmenting public health care systems, providing financial security to impacted employees and families, supporting small businesses, and launching mental well-being programs.
One of the pioneering contributions for the coronavirus outbreak was made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $100 million to the “COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.” This encompasses efforts to detect, manage and treat the virus. Partners are also working on providing equitable access to vaccines and treatments, making them widely available and affordable. The foundation has also made a $5 million donation to public health entities in Seattle to help them test for the virus more widely.
Many corporations are also strengthening the work of public health care systems. Luxury fashion brands have been particularly generous in this regard. For example, LVMH, the parent company of the likes of Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, is aiding French health authorities by manufacturing hand sanitizers, in addition to donating 40 million masks. Moncler has donated $10.9 million to the construction of a new hospital in Milan. Giorgio Armani has donated $1.43 million to four hospitals in Milan and Rome, as well as to the Civil Protection Department, which is in charge of managing emergencies in Italy. In the UAE, business magnate Khalaf Al-Habtoor pledged to donate 50 ambulances, in addition to establishing a virology laboratory specializing in medical research in an effort to support the global medical community in the fight against the coronavirus.
As the economy shuts down to prevent the spread of the virus, many corporations continue to pay their employees. Companies such as Lululemon, Microsoft, Apple, and Disney continue to pay their full-time and temporary employees despite the closures. Additionally, large corporations are supporting small enterprises amid the economic downturn spurred by the outbreak. Amazon has pledged $5 million to local business in Seattle, while Google has donated $1 million to companies based in Mountain View, California, where it is based. In the UAE, the Al-Futtaim Group has established a Dh100 million ($27 million) fund to offer rent relief for eligible at-risk tenants in its shopping malls.
Partnerships between the private sector, governments and civil society are essential.
Social distancing is also affecting many people’s mental well-being. That is why Starbucks has announced that it will increase its mental health benefits to include 20 in-person or video therapy sessions a year for employees and their family members. Meanwhile, several telecoms companies in the US have launched the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” which aims to ensure individuals are connected to the internet so that they keep in touch with loved ones.
With such concerted global efforts from the private sector, we can hopefully accelerate the recovery of societies and economies.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.