Global Cooperation

Seizing resilience momentum: our existential opportunity

The world needs more leaders who can stay focused on long-term resilience objectives while addressing the short-term challenges.

The world needs more leaders who can stay focused on long-term resilience objectives while addressing the short-term challenges. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Børge Brende
President, World Economic Forum
Bob Sternfels
Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company
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Global Cooperation

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Global disruption is ramping up, everywhere from geopolitics to food and energy.
  • Addressing these disruptions cannot be done in a piecemeal manner — we must confront them systemically.
  • Sustained collective action by the public and private sectors is the only path forward; a resilient growth strategy is not only a necessity, but it also represents an opportunity.

In the past year, leaders of public and private-sector organizations have been confronted with a lifetime’s worth of disruption and crises.

Global conflict, energy uncertainty, food shortages, accelerating inflation and severe climate events rocked a world still unsettled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, leaders now recognize that our societies and organizations must function in an environment defined by continuous natural and man-made disruptions.

These disruptions cannot be addressed in a reactive manner as they arise one after the other and reverberate through our fragile ecosystems and stressed networks. An isolated, short-term focus on a discrete recovery from every crisis is not a feasible path — there aren’t enough resources in the world to do that.

We need to arrive at a longer-term perspective, a resilient growth strategy. This is the key leadership challenge of our epoch.

Building a resilient growth strategy

We must strengthen the resilience of our societies and institutions beyond a survival capacity, to enable long-term, sustainable and inclusive growth.

To stand still is to lose precious time and fall further behind. We must act, to make real progress on massive challenges in critical action areas. To support our agreed-upon climate objectives and supply our homes and economies with secure and affordable power, we need a green-energy transition. This means spending an additional $3.5 trillion annually on related physical assets until 2050.

Food and water security must be attained for a billion people who do not have this. Healthcare must become more preventative; digital and technological innovation has to be developed strategically and made more inclusive with wider access to poorer populations. Geopolitical fragmentation has to be peacefully managed and reversed where possible. We have to work out trade and supply-chain vulnerabilities to secure and stabilize value chains and address inflationary pressures.

The economy of tomorrow, which is already emerging, needs new skills, particularly in the fields of new technologies, data and the energy transition; education investment has to be directed more deliberately to reverse growing skill shortfalls and redress social inequalities. And all of this must be sufficiently funded and efficiently implemented — requiring a better long-term return on investment, including in improved sustainability and equality.

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The opportunity of resilient growth

If we believe current expertise, the opportunity of acting on this resilience agenda can boost global GDP by 20% while adding years of higher-quality life to today’s vulnerable populations. Make no mistake: we are not presenting a checklist of isolated challenges. Rather, these actions give a glimpse of central elements in the full resilience agenda that our disrupted world is now facing. Climate risk, technology risk, funding — the challenges are interconnected and they shift dynamically over time. Think only of the amount of change we have experienced in the last 12 months.

There are promising signs. Some governments are developing resilience agendas, often centred around climate risk and economic topics such as strategic sourcing of energy and global supply chains. Many company leaders are realizing that traditional risk-management practices cannot sufficiently address today’s resilience challenges. The resilience agenda is broader, adding new foresight and adaptation capabilities for geopolitical, supply-chain and energy risks, as well as strategic risks, ranging from organizational and talent issues to technological disruptions.

These efforts constitute a beginning, but are yet isolated. The path to success lies in magnifying existing resilience momentum a thousandfold. This can only be done in the context of a massive collective effort by public and private-sector institutions, led by true resilience thinking.

The world needs more leaders who can stay focused on long-term resilience objectives while addressing the short-term challenges, who can embrace uncertainty and provide guidance for the joint resilience agenda.

Sustained collective action by the public and private sectors is the only path forward. Through it we can preserve and strengthen our natural environment and enable our societies and economies to flourish in this century and beyond.

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