2020 will go down in history as a year of global health, economic and social crises occurring against the backdrop of increasingly catastrophic climate events. It is a year that defines disruption. However, as we jump into 2021, I’m taking a cue from last season’s development optimists to look for how to convert crisis into opportunity. This year, I will explore with my guests how they see us leveraging disruption for good in a post-COVID world.
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We started the 2020 season of A Deeper Look by discussing trends that are shaping the future of human development. Little did we know the extent to which a global pandemic would shake and shape our world and set the course for human development work for years to come. While many major trends have been emerging for years, COVID-19 has shifted their trajectories and amplified challenges in ways that are expected to slow — and in some cases reverse — development progress.
Nevertheless, when I asked each of my guests this season whether they were pessimistic or optimistic about the future, I heard almost unanimous optimism and faith in human resilience, ingenuity and adaptability.
This year’s conversations with leaders, innovators and humanitarians yielded valuable insights and observations. Here are some of the key takeaways from this season of looking at the shape of things to come:
A little more than a month after World AIDS Day 2019, COVID-19 started to impact our HIV programs in Asia as countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam began quarantine. Community testing ground to a halt. People living with HIV worried about access to their medications. HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) enrollment slowed. COVID-19 testing diverted laboratories from HIV services. By March 2020, the rest of the world was equally impacted. FHI 360’s HIV programs were determined to continue serving people, but there were deep concerns. We were not alone, of course; the global HIV community was facing COVID-19 together. But with so much uncertainty, we wondered: Would COVID-19 substantially set back hard-won gains toward epidemic control? Did we have the tools in hand, or could we develop the tools, to weather this crisis?
We have come a long way from the haunting, early days of the HIV pandemic when hopelessness characterized the situation for children living with HIV. Without treatment available, approximately half of those children were destined to die before their second birthday. The global public health community did not know if it could halt transmission of HIV from mother to child. There were no effective, child-friendly formulations of antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have reported alarming rates of violence, exploitation and other abuse, especially intimate partner violence among women and other marginalized groups. UN Women has warned that, as countries continue lockdowns and sheltering-at-home measures, a shadow pandemic of violence is growing. More than ever, the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an important opportunity for international development organizations to commit to identifying ways to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and other abuse in the communities where humanitarian and development projects are being implemented.
The sheer volume of financial resources flowing into and out of developing countries has exploded over the last two decades. To keep pace, international banking and financial standards have matured, requiring more sophistication in institutions that oversee economic systems. This month, I sat down with Andrew Spindler, President and Chief Executive Officer of Financial Services Volunteer Corps, to talk about the evolution of frontier markets in recent years. From combating corruption and money laundering to mobilizing domestic resources, Andrew shares insights about the major factors and trends that are shaping development finance in increasingly interdependent global markets.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the United States, the stark observation that African-American, Hispanic and Native American populations were disproportionately affected was met with justified shock and anger. After all, the United States has the world’s largest economy, a high standard of living and a sophisticated health care system and is often held up as a model for many countries.
The global pandemic and ensuing social and economic disruptions have led to significant uncertainty about the future and the need for global actors to adapt. While we may not have a crystal ball to show us what is to come, this month’s guest on A Deeper Look podcast, Lars Gustavsson, may be the next best thing. Lars studies global issues and phenomena to predict megatrends and their accelerants, so that we can effectively plan for and respond to them.