The B20 Saudi Arabia, which represents the global business community across all G20 members, yesterday hosted a virtual plenary session entitled “Reviving Business for a New Normal”. Moderated by the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett, more than 600 participants attended the plenary which featured three panel discussions with prominent business and public health leaders. They assessed what the response to COVID-19 has been to date, and what measures industry and governments need to implement as they begin to focus efforts on reviving the global economy.
“The only way to address a crisis of this scale and protect workers is through a coordinated response and ongoing discussions between the global business community and governments,” said Mr. Yousef Al-Benyan, Chair of B20 Saudi Arabia. “We must also prioritize micro, small and medium-sized enterprises across the world as they are being hardest hit and account for more than of 80% of employment in many countries. We must safeguard their viability.”
According to the OECD, a short-term outlook for the global economy projects a drop from original growth estimates of 2.9% to 2.4% in 2020, with growth possibly being negative in the first quarter of this year. More than 25 million people are expected to be unemployed worldwide because of the pandemic.
The discussion and input provided by panelists and participants during the virtual plenary will help inform a set of recommendations that will be submitted to leaders of the G20 member states.
In the first panel discussion, Taking stock of the global response on handling the pandemic, Paul Polman, Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said: “Companies that have multi-stakeholder, long-term business models are better prepared for COVID-19. If ever there was a time to rapidly shift from shareholder primacy to stakeholder primacy, that time is now.”
Emphasising the need for global collaboration across the political spectrum, Dr David Nabarro, Special Envoy for COVID-19 for the World Health Organization (WHO), said: “Now is not the time for point scoring or for finger pointing. It is the time for solidarity and for humanity.”
The second panel discussion addressed The new business reality – responding to the crisis while preparing for the future. “The way that we have learned to work in the digital world has been an accelerated crash course in digitalization and it will change the way we work forever,” commented Francesco Starace, CEO of Enel Group. Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, emphasised the need for more international global collaboration between the UN, G20 - involving B20 and the WHO.
The third panel covered Charting the course for revival: how technology can help economic recovery, Nasser Al Nasser, Chair of B20 Digitalization Taskforce and CEO, stc, noted the importance of collaboration between governments and businesses to improve access to digital infrastructure. "After COVID-19, online business and virtual work will be the norm."
In a fireside chat on Women on the frontlines, Rania Nashar, Chair of B20 Women in Business Action Council and CEO of Samba Financial Group, stressed the need for “an initiative to support women-owned businesses and protect against gender discrimination."
The virtual plenary was part of the B20 COVID-19 Initiative, a cross-border and cross-industry group established to assess the key issues for business arising from the pandemic and how industries will react to the effects of the crisis.
This initiative will review how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting businesses of every size, develop and submit recommendations to the G20, and inform how governments and businesses can join forces to manage and address the crisis. B20 Saudi Arabia expects the effort to continue in future presidencies in Italy, India and beyond as a legacy program.
The event included opening remarks by Mr. Al-Benyan and the G20 Sherpa, H.E Dr. Fahad Almubarak. It concluded with an address from the B20 Sherpa, Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun. The full list of topics covered in the virtual plenary were as follows: