If We Focus Our Recovery Efforts Solely on Government We are Bound to Fail
We need all hands on deck to steer us out of the pandemic — including the private sector and civil society
For the first time in 20 years, governments are the most trusted institutions, according to recent data from Edelmann, a global communications firm. From Mexico to South Korea to Canada, trust in government increased by ten points alone since the start of 2020. That’s a stark shift from the declining trust that Edelman and others have been marking for decades. It took a global pandemic — but people everywhere are now acutely aware just how critical government is, especially during a crisis.
This newfound trust in government is, however, fragile. Longer-term, it hinges on whether governments can tackle Covid-19 in a way that deepens democratic values and defines a transparent, open approach to business and citizens. Not only will governments need to create a space for citizen engagement, but they will also need to ensure models of collaboration that enable strong partnership among all actors.
Civil society must advocate for stronger public institutions and more responsible business
The need for collaboration and cohesion across stakeholders is greater than ever in a pandemic. As governments struggle to flatten the curve, they need to foster cooperation. Through all this, there is a unique opportunity for civil society organizations and business to begin building some new and lasting bonds, playing critical but complementary roles in relation to government and to society.
What does a shared roadmap for equitable recovery look like? First, civil society needs to use its expertise to identify opportunities for smart reforms that will help us rebuild better systems. For its part, business can help build and deliver some of those solutions. At the same time, civil society must advocate for stronger public institutions and more responsible business. For government, that means reinforcing consultative and participatory processes that enable feedback, and for both government and business, it points to a huge step up in the ethical use of data.
Government can’t go it alone
Both civil society and business are well-placed to draw on global networks to identify good practices.
The Open Government Partnership, with its focus on government reform, has crowd-sourced more than 350 of these examples of open response and open recovery practices. Nearly one third of these come from the work done by civil society organizations. OGP also produced a Guide to Open Government and Coronavirus, which contains recommendations and resources across more than a dozen topics, including public procurement, the right to information, whistleblower protection, and more.
Business needs to take bold steps to create jobs that are part of a regenerative, inclusive economy that better serves society
Additionally, to help governments understand the opportunities and the risk in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, the civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee issued a statement on Covid-19 focused on the principles of open government and creating a list of asks to government, donors and international institutions that cover transparency, accountability inclusion, and participation. More than 300 people and organizations joined us in signing the statement.
The private sector has its own challenge in the pandemic — going way beyond keeping business afloat — to show compassionate leadership and put workers first. Edelman surveys show that nearly four in five respondents expect business to protect employees and the local community and expect business to adjust their human resource policies including almost half who say business should guarantee paid sick leave to counter the pandemic. Many business leaders have stepped up, from leading the way towards treatments and a vaccine to adjusting policies on healthcare, teleworking and flexible work hours. Longer-term, business needs to take bold steps to create jobs that are part of a regenerative, inclusive economy that better serves society.
We still need watchdogs and corporate accountability
Danone provides a good example of what a company can do regarding its own practices. Not only has it adopted measures to enhance environmental, social, and governance goals, but it has also created independent committees to monitor this process. Businesses are also raising their voice to government: major multinationals recently reaffirmed their own science-based commitments to achieving a zero-carbon economy and called on governments to match their ambition.
We cannot afford to squander the opportunity of the pandemic — to drive responses that prioritise participation, inclusion and accountability
Given the larger role and authority of government during this time of crisis, it is equally essential that civil society and business call out abuses of power that have emerged. Where power has grown or become centralized under Covid-19, there must be a plan for roll-back, to ensure the rights of citizens are protected longer-term. There is a real risk that some emergency powers, which include imbalances in oversight, outlive the pandemic and create a backslide in democratic practices, moving away from open government values.
Civic rights and freedoms are not the only setbacks since the pandemic started. With the intention of easing the business climate, governments are hastily enacting rules that undermine best practice for accountability and inclusion. The UK government, for instance, suspended the requirement for companies to report gender pay gaps, citing an unfair burden during these extraordinary times. Suspending accountability measures actually hurts our collective ability to recover from the pandemic; in this case, it risks exacerbating the crisis’s economic effect on women and their families, who are already those most impacted by job losses and reduced hours.
The window of opportunity
Working together, but bringing unique skills and strengths, is in the best interest of governments, civil society, and the private sector.
The immediate aim may be to save lives and livelihoods. If the effort to create mutual goals is done with a long-term view, however, steeped in “open” practices, a knock-on effect will be the gain in trust we’ve already seen in the crisis. We cannot afford to squander the opportunity of the pandemic — to drive responses that prioritise participation, inclusion and accountability. By working across sectors, we can build back better, to a recovery that offers more cohesive and just societies.
Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash
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