According to a world bank blog post, it costs around $30,000 to create one job in sectors like trade, wood, or construction. In my opinion, this is not sustainable because we might never recover that investment.
I dreamt of bringing the cost of job creation down to between $1,000 and $3,000 per job.
I believe that I succeeded and want to share what I did to achieve this.
“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”
– Nelson Mandela
The challenge of rising unemployment
As a result of the worldwide 2020 pandemic, the world is facing unprecedented levels of unemployment. Some say 2021 will be worse as the economic effects of the 2020 lockdowns come into full effect. Millions lost their jobs, and many more will still as lockdowns persist.
We must find a way to replace these lost jobs, quickly and affordably and The Human Entrepreneur Program might just be the most cost-effective and quickest way to achieve this.
The first part of the program helps to identify potential entrepreneurs and business owners while the second part, the incubator, assists them to create working businesses in record time.
“Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we give our children a future or more or a future of less – this too, is a choice”
– Martin O’ Malley
Getting people to want to start businesses
Between August to November 2020, close to 1,700 candidates completed The Human Entrepreneur EDP (entrepreneurial development program) online. It helps you make an informed decision between finding a job and following a career or becoming an entrepreneur by starting a business. It also provides the basic information needed to start a business right there and then.
At the end of the online program, candidates had to make the actual decision between finding a job and following a career or becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business. The results were surprising.
29% said they want to become entrepreneurs, 36% said they want to follow a career, and 35% indicated they want to do both, to have a job and build a business on the side.
I spoke to many candidates who chose to do both (get a job and build a business on the side) and found the chief reason for this choice was driven by the belief that you need a lot of money to start a business, which is a myth.
Thus, after doing The Human Entrepreneur EDP, 64% showed an active or delayed intention towards entrepreneurship and starting a business.
The program serves as a tool to identify people with a desire and drive to start a business and The Human Entrepreneur EDP is affordable and makes it possible to serve large numbers of people cost-effectively.
Employers benefit from having people working for them that can think like entrepreneurs.
In a nutshell, the program assists in awakening potential business owners and serves as an excellent work readiness tool.
Starting businesses in record time
As mentioned before, the first part of the program helps to identify potential entrepreneurs and business owners while the second part, the incubator, assists them to create working businesses in record time.
Due to extreme time constraints, I could only interview close to one hundred candidates who chose entrepreneurship and want to start businesses to go into The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program.
53 candidates were chosen to attend the 21-day incubator program. 21 Days were chosen due to time constraints. In future, I suggest 28 days instead.
Desired outcomes of the Incubator Program
Candidates have to build a business, with actual paying customers in 21 days. The aim is to generate enough profits to replace the salary they receive as part of a work experience program.
The candidates come from previously disadvantaged communities. The salary is not large, however, it covers their living expenses and a bit more, giving these new entrepreneurs the ability to live while building a business. They have independence, self-reliance and self-determination from the start.
This is significant since it has a huge impact on focus, drive and motivation for an entrepreneur. Trust me, when the school says they will not allow your child entry tomorrow due to non-payment of school fees and you are behind on rent, then I am not giving my best to my business and customers possibly resulting in eventual business failure.
A solution for effective job creation in Africa and the world
60% of candidates replaced their salary while the remainder is well on their way. Some achieved it in 7 days.
The incubation program created 35 new businesses in 21 days, all with customers, generating turnover, and many being profitable past the desired outcomes. 35 Businesses means 35 new jobs created in 21 days, giving people the power of creating their own economy and self-determination.
This was achieved starting with just over 50 people. What will happen if we consistently take people through this program? At its current price point, this is absolutely possible.
“The only limits in life are those we impose on ourselves.”
– Bob Proctor
Types of businesses created
Most of these businesses are low tech or no tech, ranging from hairdressers, food businesses, car mechanics, clothing brands, simple trading businesses. These are the types of jobs that Africa needs right now.
All of these businesses ended up serving the communities they were founded in and is an excellent way to stimulate the local economy. Thus this program can be used as a targeted economic stimulus tool for struggling communities.
“… The best way to help the poor is to promote economic growth and job creation.”
– Myron Magnet
What are the possibilities?
Imagine a struggling or disadvantaged community. You take 100 people per week through the EDP then absorb 25 people who want to start a business into the incubator program, with the aim of creating between 15 and 20 new businesses within that community every week. Where would that community be 12 months from now?
Even if you only run this program monthly, it would mean between 180 and 240 jobs annually in businesses that serve the community while you have trained 1,200 people on The Human Entrepreneur Entrepreneurial Development Program.
You would have improved the general view, understanding and practice of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking as well as help to create future workers for the businesses created.
“The saddest thing in life is to see people suffer from hunger and poverty in a world of plenty”
– Mouloud Benzadi
Interesting mindset shifts
Here are some interesting mindset shifts the candidates experienced on The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program.
#1. No External Money Required to Start
In South Africa, we suffer from a major problem; most people believe that they require a lot of money to start a business. This belief is hampering the development of new businesses.
However, 100% of the businesses created on this program were started with the limited money the candidates had. Some business owners needed money to buy stock and dealt with that hurdle by asking customers for 50% deposits, and it worked. It is about finding creative solutions to problems and working with your customers.
#2. Start Today, Make Money Today
Some candidates got their first customers in 1 day, another added 13 new customers to his business in 24 hours after being stuck on 10 customers since the inception of the business.
One candidate had an idea at the start of the program, and 7 days later, they made 1,5 times their monthly salary in profit.
People are hungry, they have direct financial needs now, and I feel this is where 6 or 12-month programs fail because why would anyone be motivated to build a business over 6 or 12 months when they need money to care for themselves and their families now.
The Human Entrepreneur Incubation Program is a cost-effective feeder for longer-term incubation programs because we provide real businesses, with customers, making money making sure you sit with the right people with the right mindsets before investing a lot of time and resources into them on a 6 to 12-month program.
“You can make a life out of what you have, not what you are missing.”
– Kate Morton
#3. Many Started, Closed and Started Another New Businesses during the 21 Days
Many new businesses were started in week 1; some were closed down in the same week, and different businesses started instead.
I have worked on other incubation programs, and even though people were working on businesses that were going nowhere, they simply could not let go of it. Their sunk cost was too high.
With The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program, the timeframe is so short; there is little or no sunk cost. They created and destroyed businesses based on actual performance and the businesses’ ability to generate an income NOW.
#4. Real Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a Nguni term meaning: “I am because we are” and it very powerful. However, in my experience, it is something people like to throw around to create a feeling of unity.
What inspired me was that candidates in the incubator program helped each other freely. They gave each other new business ideas (without asking for a cut or a profit share) and even encouraged each other to copy each other’s business ideas that already worked.
Because of this, the group as a whole moved forward faster and performed better. Think of how this would play out in a community and the long term benefits of such thinking and working. This is ubuntu in action.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
#5. Some Started in Week 3, and Still Succeeded
One person started the program in the third and last week. On the first day, they came up with 6 ideas to make money and had their first paying customer by the end of that day.
The results are truly inspirational in a year filled with despair and disappointment.
“Keep looking up. That is the secret to life.”
– Charlie Brown
Let’s create 1,000 jobs in 2021. Can You Help?
I am looking for assistance. I want to use this program and create 1,000 new jobs in Africa or anywhere else in the world during 2021. That would require me to run this program many times through the course of 2021, and I require funding to do so.
If you are in this field, please reach out to me.
If you do not actively work in this field but might know someone who does, please arrange an introduction.
Please contact me email@example.com
“I started my business last year in June. When I started this business I thought I would get 10 customers at the same time but I only got a few customers. I started to lose hope in my business. Since I started the human entrepreneur incubator program I realised that I have to work hard and I don’t need funding for my business. All I have to do is work hard look for customers because customers can’t look for me if I don’t work hard.
Now I’m happy because my business is running smoothly and I have more than 100 paying customers. I would like to thank the human entrepreneur incubator program for pushing me, I really appreciate that.” – MPHAHLELE MGIBA
“I am grateful for the human entrepreneur incubator program. I always wanted to start a business but I always wanted to ask for funding. This program taught me that I don’t need funding to start the business.
I’ve learned that to get customers I need to speak to customers. I don’t need to rely on social media only. During this incubator program, I learned from my colleagues and classmates that it doesn’t matter the business idea but that you can make it.
I started my cleaning business two weeks ago and I’ve made money and I have 10 paying customers. I am very grateful to the human entrepreneur incubator program because I now have registered and working business.” – JERMINA THAGISHA
“I started my intrapreneurial training two weeks ago and learned how to make money and be able to start a business. It was an easy thing to do, but I never thought I could open a business and operated in one day. The human entrepreneur incubator program made this possible.
In just two weeks I have 16 paying customers which I charge R90 per customer once a month. I am happy that I am making money.
What is interesting is that I was able to register my business and I got the knowledge of that there is no need for a business plan and funding. If you want to start your business start now.
I’m very grateful for the great opportunity that I got.” – LINDIWE MOSEA
“It was a great opportunity to learn to become an entrepreneur through the human Entrepreneur incubator program.
I learned many things like you don’t need funding to start a business.
My business is transporting school children and in two weeks of this program, I have six customers.
I was planning to start my business only next year January but luckily from those six customers two customers will start on 1 December.
My colleague who is one of my classmates suggested that I can keep my business going getting the festive season by transporting people who work in restaurants or shops in the mall near my community. So luckily next week I will have more customers.
The incubator program gave me the opportunity to start my own business and it’s really going well. My target is eight customers and I already have six customers. Thank you to the incubator program.” – NANETHI KOKETSO MNCUBE
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Llewellyn van Wyk, B.Arch; MSc. (Applied), Urban Analyst
“Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.”
– A Few Good Men, 1992.
In a court scene in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men Colonel Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) is being cross-examined by Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) about the death of a marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Goaded on by Lieutenant Kaffee, Colonel Jessup finally loses his temper and retorts with the line quoted above.
While I am not a big supporter of war analogies, it is perhaps apt under the current circumstances as multiple political leaders have referred to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic as a “war”. Covid-19 will not be stopped by wars, and hopefully, we will not resort to guns as a defense, but standing watch stresses the need for vigilance i.e. keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. Two capabilities are required – anticipation, and response.
David Quammen, writing for the New Yorker, questioned Ali Kahn, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on what went so disastrously wrong. Where was the public-health preparedness that he had overseen at the CDC? Why were most countries – and especially the US – so unready? Was it a lack of scientific information, or a lack of money? Kahn’s response was, “This is about lack of imagination.” [i]
The best time to panic, i.e. overreact to a potential pandemic, says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, is shortly after a novel pathogen has been detected.[ii] Unfortunately, at that point, few people have the virus and therefore it does not seem like a threat to the whole community. In hindsight, he concedes, it is perfectly obvious that the extraordinary efforts now being made by individuals and communities across the world to prevent the spread of Covid-19 should have been made in those areas where the virus was first discovered when it appeared.
However, it is natural that authorities do not wish to be criticised for “crying wolf” and, if they are elected officials, beaten at the next election for unnecessarily interfering with the life of the community. But it is precisely what would be called an “overreaction” that might have stopped Covid-19 in its tracks at the beginning. Taleb has previously written about those whose jobs are to make sure that small problems never become large and that some problems never even appear.
Almost without fail commentators are emphasising how unprepared governments were for an event of this kind.
With a few exceptions, most notably South Korea, governments’ failure to act quickly and decisively contributed to the rapid spreading of the disease. In the US the disastrously tardy, inadequate, confused, and (for many citizens) confusing response of the federal government to Covid-19, both before and after the first case, derives from too many factors to list, but David Quammen mentions two: failure to appreciate the SARS and MERS warnings, both delivered by other coronaviruses; and loss of capacity at high government levels, within recent years, to understand the gravity and immediacy of pandemic threats.
The result of that loss is what Ali Khan means by lack of imagination. Almost paraphrasing Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, Beth Cameron, a former head of the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense on the National Security Council staff, calls it the absence of “the smoke alarm.” Those in power, she says, who are charged with “keeping watch to get ahead of emergencies” need to smell the smoke and smother the fire while it’s small, As Cameron warns, “You’re not going to stop outbreaks from happening. But you can stop outbreaks from becoming epidemics or pandemics.”[iii]
Of greater concern is that several scientists expressed their alarm at an increasing emergence of the transmission of zoonotic diseases well before Covid-19 emerged. This was highlighted in, among other, a paper published in the Journal of Emerging Infections in 2010 where the authors noted that “current global disease control focuses almost exclusively on responding to pandemics after they have already spread globally.”[iv] Citing the response to the HIV pandemic as an example (it took over 25 years to develop a viable vaccine), the authors argue that this wait-and-see response is inadequate and what is urgently required is the development of systems to prevent pandemics especially given their rapid pace of spread and mutation.
As Jeffrey Sachs puts it, “There are many aspects of any major crisis that are similar in character, in that they require governments to assess the situation with sophistication, to identify options, to come up with strategies, and to implement them. Although crisis management has a lot of common points, the core issues are the capacity of political leaders and their inner team, and the capacity of the institutions of governance – agencies, departments, and ministries – to be able to process information in a timely way and to be able to harness expert advice and evidence in a timely way.”[v]
A similar situation applies to medical research funding: intermittent, stop-and-start funding that is provided only when there is a public health emergency undermines the ability to create capacity for rapid response as new pathogens emerge. Research must be ongoing before, during and after a disease outbreak. Several promising vaccines were in development during the SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks – but once infections waned, so did the research funding. Proto-vaccines that could have been useful in developing a rapid response to this novel virus were literally put on ice at the University of Texas and elsewhere – thus handicapping the current development process by many months.[vi]
Dennis Carroll, a former research virologist who led a pandemic-threats unit at the US Agency for International Development for almost fifteen years, believes the global community has a difficult time investing in what many think of as risky.
Spending big money is itself a form of risk, especially if it is public money, even if you are spending it to insure against a greater risk.
What if you spend a billion dollars, or ten billion – small change compared with what Covid-19 is now costing—and the pandemic does not occur during your term in office? “There’s very little appetite for that when the threat isn’t clear and present,”
Carroll said. When SARS happens, when a swine-flu pandemic happens, when an Ebola epidemic happens, political leaders and private donors react with fretful largesse, but when the crisis ends, he said, “we see a total collapse of those kinds of investments.” Homeowners buy fire insurance, governments buy vast armouries of weaponry hoping they will not be used, but there’s reluctance to invest seriously in preparedness against pandemics. “It’s attention-deficit disorder on a global scale,” Carroll said.
Sustained funding is necessary to support the full range of discovery – from elucidating the biology of the virus to developing drug candidates to creating improved systems of care delivery.
Still, some countries fared worse than other countries not because they lacked information or funding, but because they failed to learn the lessons of last outbreaks.
Some governments have been keen to lay all the blame for the virus at Beijing’s door, but while initial coverups and lack of transparency undoubtedly delayed the international response, by February 2020 much of what is known about the virus – including its severity and ability to spread quickly – was common knowledge, and yet countries, at best, still failed, or, at worst, refused, to act.
Authorities and experts were certainly taken unawares by how quickly and widely the virus spread itself, however, multiple experts agree there was also a general sense of complacency among governments in the West that the outbreak was a China – or an Asian – problem, and would not necessarily behave the same way inside their borders. Some of this response is often a “feeling in countries that they might be affected in a different way because their community has a different structure … or that hot weather is going to keep it away, or their community is more spread out.”[vii]
Despite signs, the threat was making its way across the globe, there was a clear pattern of response in many parts of the world – denial, fumbling and, eventually, lockdown. It is especially puzzling that in our globalised world, so few lessons were learned in the early weeks of each country’s outbreak when the chances of containing and stopping the virus were highest. After all, this is one of the key arguments of globalisation protagonists.
There’s a lot to be said for the argument that any government would have been hard-pressed by a crisis of this nature and scale, but there were already clear indicators of what resilience looks like in the face of a global crisis such as this.
Although Asia has been able to start easing lockdown measures quite quickly, (Asia, after all, has been dealing with the coronavirus since late 2019, so governments have had longer to respond), the situation has grown increasingly dire in the West. While considerable attention has been paid to China’s initial response to the virus, anger is growing within countries over their government’s failure to respond when the alarms went off.
Rick Bright, who filed a whistle-blower complaint after being removed from his position as head of the agency in charge of the pandemic response, testified for just under four hours before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee. In his testimony he warned there is still no “master, coordinated plan” and noted that a “comprehensive strategy” was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic that included widespread testing, tracing and ongoing efforts to “develop a cure,’’ as well as what to do with a vaccine once one is developed.[viii]
In the United States, a national shortage of diagnostic kits for the emerging coronavirus meant that only people who had recently visited China were eligible for testing. Even as beds began filling in Seattle with cases of flulike symptoms, doctors were unable to test them for the new disease, because none of the sufferers had been to China or been in contact with anyone who had. For nearly a month, as patients complained of aches, fevers, and breathing problems – and exhibited symptoms associated with Covid-19, such as “glassy” patches in X-rays of their lungs – none of them were evaluated for the disease. Calls to implement life-saving social distancing measures in the United States faced “a lot of pushback.”[ix]
Consequently, nationwide social distancing guidelines were not put in place until 16 March despite the country’s first case being recorded on 15 January, and the first signs of “community spread” detected in late February.
As noted by David Quammen, author of unsettling 2012 book, Spillover, which warned how (as we continue to disrupt the natural world) viruses are increasingly spreading from wild animal populations to humans, has not been surprised. He notes how the lack of preparedness is the only thing about this whole situation that has surprised him. “I didn’t have any illusions that the people who control the wheels of power and government were listening carefully to the scientists, but I thought they were listening at least enough to have some preparedness. And in this country, of course, I knew that [President] Trump was trying to defund the Centers for Disease Control as much as he could and had gotten rid of the key people on the National Security Council who were in charge of pandemic preparedness” he notes.[x] “Still, I am surprised at how unprepared we’ve been and how badly we, meaning this administration but also state governments, have managed this thing. It’s appalling” he concludes. Ultimately the lack of a timeous response cost the lives of at least 36 000 people.[xi]
The UK too dragged its feet on taking concerted action, only instituting lockdowns and a stay-at-home order in late March, two months after its first case was recorded. In the UK there is a growing scandal over, for example, the lack of protective gear for frontline medical workers. In the United States, some nurses had to resort to cutting makeshift protective clothing out of black rubbish bags. Both countries have also struggled to test enough people, with the US suffering delays due to the release of a flawed test that had to be corrected, while the UK lagged behind many of its European neighbours forcing people to order testing kits through the mails. The European Union’s chief scientist resigned over the bloc’s response to the virus.
In Asia, there is a growing sense of astonishment that the long lead time many countries elsewhere had was not better used. Unfortunately, responses to crises are equally shaped by experience, regardless of how much we try to look beyond them. From the outset, many saw the current pandemic as a rerun of SARS, from its emergence in China to that government’s apparent attempt at a coverup, to how it spread through Asia. The two viruses are related and have similar symptoms, but the novel coronavirus has long overtaken SARS in terms of death toll and spread. Nevertheless, an inability to look beyond SARS may have negatively shaped responses. Complacency, combined with calls to preserve the economy at all costs, appears to have caused governments to refuse to see what was staring them in the face, or being shouted in their ears, by increasingly desperate scientific advisers.
Still, while learning from mistakes is useful, learning from success stories is equally valuable.
Despite the pandemic hitting Europe hard, in Germany, with more than 100 000 people infected, the percentage of fatal cases has been remarkably low compared to those in many neighbouring countries. Much of this can be attributed to their response, which included the testing of far more people than most nations. That means it catches more people with few or no symptoms, increasing the number of known cases, but not the number of fatalities. The testing has included medical personnel: medical staff, at particular risk of contracting and spreading the virus, are regularly tested. To streamline the procedure, some hospitals have started doing block tests, using the swabs of 10 employees, and following up with individual tests only if there is a positive result. Health authorities also plan to roll out a large-scale antibody study, testing random samples of 100 000 people across Germany every week to gauge where immunity is building up.
An important key to the success of broad-based testing was that it did not cost the patients anything, a notable difference with the United States where individuals had to pay for the tests in the first several weeks of the outbreak. Regarding testing and tracking, Germany learnt quickly from the strategy that was successful in South Korea. Germany also learned from getting it wrong early on: it is now recognised that the strategy of contact tracing should have been used even more aggressively.
Germany benefitted from a robust public health care system: for example, hospitals have expanded their intensive care capacities across Germany for some time. And they started off a high base. Germany projected a need of about 12 000 beds at the peak of the outbreak according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Crucially, it has over 147 000 beds, more than 10 times it needed.
Beyond mass testing and the preparedness of the health care system, many also see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as one reason the fatality rate has been kept low. As an academic stated in Germany, “Maybe our biggest strength in Germany is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”[xii]All told there are significant factors that have kept the number of deaths relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed.
Taiwan, with a population of around 24-million people, had, by 15 April, recorded just over 390 cases and six deaths, and on the same day reported no new cases at all. It managed to achieve that without implementing severe restrictions, like lockdowns, or school and nursery closures. In terms of its death toll, at least, Taiwan does not have much of a curve to flatten, more like a stepped line. Compare this to the United States which had reported over 60 000 deaths at the same time. Adjusted for population size, a level of Taiwan-like success could have meant just 83 deaths in the US. Among the early decisive measures taken was the decision to ban travel from many parts of China, stop cruise ships docking at the island’s ports, and introduce strict punishments for anyone found breaching home quarantine orders.
In addition, Taiwanese officials also moved to ramp up domestic face-mask production to ensure the local supply, rolled out island-wide testing for coronavirus – including retesting people who had previously unexplained pneumonia – and announced new punishments for spreading disinformation about the virus. Taiwan also went big on the use of big data and technology. It successfully merged national health insurance data with customs and immigration databases to create real-time alerts to help identify vulnerable populations. Having a good health data system helps with monitoring the spread of the disease and allows for its early detection. Critically again, although Taiwan has high-quality universal health care, its success lies in its preparedness, speed, central command, and rigorous contact tracing.
New Zealand, another government that has been praised for its handling of the pandemic, was also faster to introduce restrictions and widespread testing than the United States or Great Britain although not without several significant challenges. Not only was there an apparent shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), the greater threat lay in a capacity shortage to test and contact trace.[xiii] While New Zealand had a stockpile of 24 886 kits, at the rate of testing that would have lasted only a fortnight. The shortage was due to a lack of specialised swabs used to collect mucus samples from the back of the nasal passages. However, the main global supplier of these swabs was a factory in Italy that was already struggling to meet local demand, creating a weak link in the supply chain that appeared at the time to potentially be the difference between New Zealand having a chance of containing Covid-19 or not. A further weakness in the supply chain became evident: disruptions to air freight undermined the ability to get aircraft to transport the swabs. Fortunately, the aircraft, and subsequent orders, were able to get through and make the crucial deliveries. However, reforms had to also be brought into a system that was found to be already overextended to enable the scale of testing and contact tracing required.[xiv]
In Cuba, its public health infrastructure supported community workers to identify vulnerable citizens and support their isolation early on, averting the overwhelming pressure on hospitals, staff and equipment that has characterised situations in either northern Italy or New York.
Iceland’s prolific approach to testing has enabled its government to keep the economy moving and keep the rate of infection down at the same time.
In all of these cases, the ability to respond has been supported by a long-standing commitment to investment in reliable broad public infrastructure — healthcare and the universal provision for basic human needs like housing, energy, sanitation, water and food. These are the structures that make a lockdown event viable in the first place. Where such structures have either been compromised by underinvestment or do not exist at all, a collective vulnerability has been glaringly exposed.
The lessons that become abundantly clear from the above are be prepared; be quick; test, trace and quarantine; use data and technology; be aggressive; get the private sector involved; act preventatively, respect privacy; learn from the past; increase testing as restrictions ease; build capacity in the health system; and funding for medical research must be sustained and predictable.
The clear message is: the precautionary principle applies whenever we are faced with problems that have the potential to cause systemic ruin. In future we will have to “overreact” and panic early to contain such potential pandemics. You may never know if you are overreacting, but you certainly will know if you have under-reacted. That could force us to do that right thing – even when the right thing seemsextraordinarily out of proportion to the risk – in order to prevent a massive problem that is many orders of magnitude worse that the inconvenience and economic loss associated with the early preventative steps taken.
With over a third of the world’s population at one time or another been shut away at home, the big question is what next. An opinion piece in the Economist makes a compelling case for dealing with this next phase. It argues that it is hard to think of any policy ever having been imposed so widely with such little preparation or debate. It argues that closing society was not a thought-out response, so much as a desperate measure for a desperate time. While it has slowed the pandemic, it has done so at a terrible price. Now as governments seek to put lockdowns behind them, governments are not thinking hard enough about the costs and benefits of what comes next the article argues.[xv]
Lifting lockdowns risked a second wave – and that is evident now. To limit the risk, it is suggested requires an epidemiological approach that focuses on the places and people most likely to spread the disease. An example is care homes, which in Canada have seen 80% of all the country’s deaths even though they house only 1% of the population. In Sweden refugees turn out to be high-risk, perhaps because several generations may be packed into a household. So are security guards, who are often elderly and are exposed to many people in their work.
For this approach to succeed at scale, you need data from tests to provide a fine-grained picture of how the disease spreads. Testing let Germany rapidly spot that it had a problem in its slaughterhouses, where the virus persists longer than expected on cold surfaces. Likewise, South Korea identified a super-spreader in Seoul’s gay bars. Without testing, a country is blind. Armed with data, governments can continuously refine their policies.
Some are universal. Masks were once thought ineffective, but in fact help stop the spread of the disease. Like handwashing, they are cheap and do not impose hidden costs. However, closing schools’ harms children and stops parents from working. In contrast with flu, it turns out, the benefits to health are not especially great. Schools should reopen, under conditions that lower the risk to teachers and vulnerable pupils.
Too many governments failed to spot what was coming, but then did what they could. In the much longer second phase they will have no such excuse. They must identify groups at risk; devise and enact policies for them; explain these so that vulnerable people change their behaviour without becoming scapegoats; provide vital infrastructure; and be ready to adapt as new data come in. This will sort countries where the government works from those where it does not. The stakes could not be higher the Economist concludes.
So, what happens after the virus has been contained (it will not be eradicated)? Complacency and apathy is what worries Brenda Ang from Tan Tock Seng most. Her concern, mundane but crucial infection control measures, like the assiduous hand washing and wiping of doorknobs with alcohol – can lapse after a crisis as people become complacent and begin to believe that no new bugs exist. As for the larger lessons, beyond the outbreak locale, understand that there is no point in protecting your own turf. Infectious diseases are globalized, or, as Ali Kahn puts it, “a disease anywhere is a disease everywhere.”[xvi]
One of the implicit assumptions about western capitalism has always been that wealth was what would allow a democratic government to provide for the public during good times, and to protect it from harm during the crisis.
Sung notes that the pandemic has altered this view and points to the example of the U.S. and that of the Indian state of Kerala to show that wealth is not a sufficient condition for a good government response. He argues that it is not even a necessary one. Kerala, he argues, showed that three things matter: one, does the state actually have the ability to do something when a crisis like COVID-19 happens; two, even if the state can do something, does it actually do it when it needs to; and three, has the state been exposed to a crisis of this sort before?[xvii]
Lastly, ponder this: Taiwan, Germany and New Zealand have received accolades for their impressive handling of the coronavirus pandemic. They are scattered across the globe: one is in the heart of Europe; one is in Asia and the other is in the South Pacific. But they have one thing in common: they are all led by women. [xviii]
Read more in Green Economy Journal: Is Covid a salvo from Mother Nature?
[iv] Pike, B., Saylors, K., Fair, J., Le Breton, M., Tamoufe, U., Djoko, C., Rimoin, A. and Wolfe, N. 2010. “The Origin and Prevention of Pandemics.” In Journal of Emerging Infections, CID 2010:50 (15 June), p1636-1640.
Global forest sector and workers: providing solutions for pandemic recovery
This week, the global forestry advisory body to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released details on how sustainable forest management and forest products are well-positioned to drive a healthy, green, and inclusive recovery as we continue to face serious challenges related to COVID-19 around the world.