• In the early stages of the pandemic, many developing countries performed better in response than their richer counterparts.
  • One reason for this could be that they learned from the experiences of richer countries - and that should give us all hope.
  • The power of wisdom - coupled with modern technology - can accelerate global learning, and will help usher in the Great Reset.

The global health system is in a state of unprecedented crisis under the pernicious influence of COVID-19. Both narrow-minded hegemony in international politics and compartmentalized myopia in science prevail, while too many marginalized people are losing their lives, livelihoods, and dignity. Cash transfers and investment for the disadvantaged are at far from the required level, and rich countries are in the severest turmoil they have seen since World War II.

However, careful observation of our various activities and responses to COVID-19 all over the world gives some reason for hope. We may be able to build back a better, more resilient health system by learning from these.

Unexpected asymmetry

In the early stages of our global fight against COVID-19, we observed unexpected asymmetrical responses among rich and poor countries. At that time, poor and emerging countries in general showed better performance than the so-called rich and advanced countries, at least in terms of coping with the first shock.

The death toll in Viet Nam, for example, is far less than those of many rich countries. Bhutan's political leaders have been successful in mobilizing people power effectively to minimize the damage there. The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) at the University of Ghana and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) have performed many more COVID-19 tests than most institutes in Japan. Some government officials in Afghanistan have become more confident in accelerating universal basic education, since they are now aware of how the power of radio and TV can be more effectively utilized for kids in rural and remote areas, even while the digital divide is getting worse in many rich and middle-income countries.

The power of wisdom

How did this asymmetry occur? The simplest answer is that these countries learned lessons from the experience of rich countries - and then implemented frugal innovations based on them. What does this mean? It appears that the power of wisdom and the power of putting this into practice are much more important and effective than the power of money. Despite the severe reality of recent situations in poor and emerging countries, we must make a fair assessment of the power of wisdom by learning from their performance in the pandemic's earlier stages.

In Japan, we are suffering from a second wave of COVID-19 and the number of people infected is higher than in the first wave. However, people seem able to keep calm and the government so far has shown little intention to impose another lockdown. Why? Because we learnt from the first wave and our medical system has been relatively successful in avoiding rapid increases in the number of critically ill patients. This shows that learning and adjusting power is one of the most important elements of a resilient health system.

In 1980, when Alvin Toffler wrote The Third Wave, his prediction that information and learning would be shared globally seemed an unreachable dream. Today, however, nobody doubts that this has come true. We need to reaffirm, right now, that the power of wisdom is real, and that modern information and communications technology (ICT) has helped us learn this at an unprecedentedly low cost, at high speed, and on a large scale.

The surge in global learning processes

However, ICT itself is a double-edged sword. On the dark side, we see authoritarian regimes prevail – and that loss of transparency results in preventing people from learning freely from the important mistakes made by their authorities or policy-makers. On the other, brighter side, ICT becomes the accelerator of the global learning process. We naturally cannot avoid making mistakes, but in learning from them we can always improve ourselves if we have a transparent process with full accountability.

It was encouraging to see so many ideas popping up from the multi-actor setting when the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) organized the Africa Open Innovation challenge. But this is just one example from various attempts all over the world. There is a skyrocketing surge of global learning mechanisms or Hackathon-type open innovations by the big foiu tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), international organizations, global networks and other actors. New collaborative mechanisms such as COVAC and Act Accelerator have been established and have started functioning, although they are not yet full-fledged.

Towards the Great Reset

We had better not make these attempts in a scattered way, however. Rather, we need to make full use of them to scale up globally the above mentioned success stories of Bhutan, Vietnam, NMIMR, KEMRI and so on by putting them on the table of global learning. If this marriage between small success stories and the new mechanisms of innovation is carried out in a transparent way, then there will be a chance for the power of wisdom to become a real driving force in bringing about more resilient health governance systems and open and inclusive societies. At that point, the Great Reset – as advocated by the World Economic Forum – will truly have begun.