While we were busy fighting the virus…

Published by rudy Date posted on September 30, 2021

By Ernie Cecilia and DPM, Manila Times, 30 Sep 2021

The world kept changing

If you watch the evening news on TV, you’ll probably notice only three main themes: 1) Covid-19 response, 2) politics, and 3) disasters. In fact, you can say it’s all about disasters, as 1) and 2) are really part of 3).

Some say that all people in the world are in the same boat. Actually, we’re in the same stormy ocean, but we’re in distinctly different boats. Some countries have definitely better Covid-19 responses than our own “excellent” (yes, excellent, according to sources in high places) handling of the pandemic.

This could sound like an exaggeration, but it seems that the Filipino nation’s attention is mainly on Covid-19 and politics. We’re on catch up mode again, as other countries are now busy rebuilding their economies and preparing for 2050, or at least 2025.

Megatrends 2025

Consultancy.UK reported in April 2021 that “strategists from Kearney have listed a number of major trends the firm believes are poised to dramatically shape the global economy and society through 2025.” Kearney is an American consulting firm founded by Andrew Thomas Kearney in 1926 and has offices in more than 40 countries today.

Kearney listed the top 2025 megatrends, and I’m sure our public and private sector leaders are familiar with these themes:

– Embattled governments. Governments continue to stagger due to heavy burdens posed by the current health issues, concerns about systemic inequality, climate change, unemployment and poverty. Last year, countries implemented fiscal stimulus packages to address these challenges. Japan pumped in the most in stimulus, as a percent of GDP or Gross Domestic Product — 21.1 percent. Canada had 16.4 percent, Australia 14 percent, United States 13 percent, Turkey 12.8 percent and Brazil 12 percent.

– Need for resiliency and self-sufficiency. Many governments realized the futility of single-handedly addressing the multifarious issues and have increased their collaboration with the private sector, “particularly in technology, manufacturing, energy and food sufficiency.” The good news is that some governments are also realizing that too much government intervention could stifle innovation in the long run.

– “Stranded” segments of society. Many futurists predict growing inequality over the next five years. While some say that Covid-19 is a great equalizer, the virus has actually widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Post-Covid, there will continue further marginalization of the vulnerable sectors of society, “including the poor, ethnic minorities, unskilled/low-skilled workers, students, children and working mothers.” Reintegrating them will be a tall order in a weak economic environment.

– Rising food insecurity. The virus, together with trade restrictions, will continue to tighten food supply. Covid-induced production disruptions and poor purchasing power will exacerbate hunger, stunting, and children’s poor physical and cognitive abilities. In the next five years, “53.1 percent of African population will experience food insecurity; 30.9 percent in Latin America; 21.1 percent in Asia; 13.5 percent in Australia and New Zealand; 8.8 percent in North America; and 8.2 percent in Europe.”

If we can use the latest technology in agriculture and food manufacturing, we’ll have enough food for Filipinos.

– Industry consolidations, M&A’s (mergers and acquisitions). Extended lockdowns and other Covid-related dislocations “have squeezed the profit margins of many businesses globally, leading to record levels of corporate defaults.” Successful companies will likely go shopping for distressed competitors during the next five years. This could result in “the realignment of market power in some industries, including healthcare, airlines, grocery, retail, manufacturing and auto components, which were already among the most oligopolistic industries pre-Covid-19.”

Other key issues

During the pandemic, progressive countries have continuously addressed issues other than Covid-19. I believe that our leaders are aware, but Filipinos find the issues still unresolved.

– Climate change. Mikko Dufva, leading Specialist at Foresight, Sitra, wrote on March 6, 2020 that “since the 1800s, the climate has warmed globally by approximately one degree Celsius. Warming will continue, but its extent will be affected by the actions taken now. Warming can be kept to 1.5 degrees, but only if a rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is achieved. At the current rate, the climate would warm by between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius within this century.”

The problem with short-termism
Our leaders have environmental awareness. What we need is environmental action. Culture change can mitigate the ill effects of climate change.

– Lack of education. Despite the increase in the number of children of school age, enrolment in the School Year 2021-2022 is significantly lower than the previous year. Add to that the issue of learning loss in virtual teaching environments. In fairness to our education sector, the problems in education are often caused by other antecedent problems — poverty, inequity, marginalization, lack of appropriate technology to support virtual learning, lack of trained and effective teachers, and teachers’ pay lower than other front liners’ pay.

At first, it was funny to think that the teachers (who mold the youth to be future leaders and who must have BS and/or MA degrees plus solid training and experience) are paid less than other jobs (that don’t require the same high level of education) whose skills entail shooting at people. It makes one wonder what kind of job evaluation system was used to determine the salary grades and the pay.

– Unemployment. Without education and skills, people struggle to find decent jobs, particularly among the 15- to 24-year-olds, where unemployment is highest. The reasons overlap in a vicious cycle — no job because of lack of education; no education because of poverty; poor because unemployed. But there are stories of poor people who worked hard to send themselves to school, get decent jobs, and are now helping others to get out of poverty.

– Hunger and malnutrition. In the world today, almost one billion people do not have enough to eat. To end hunger, leaders need to end poverty. In the Philippines, the government says that poverty incidence is down to 14 percent. That means one of seven Filipinos are poor — and six are not poor. Arresting hunger does not mean giving people noodles. Arresting poverty is not about distributing money to people. The longer-term solution is teaching people to find means of livelihood – not necessarily a college diploma, but perhaps gardening or construction skill, or any skill that can help create something of value that can be paid for by others among the six who are not poor.

Much has been said about teaching people how to fish, instead of just giving them fish. Much has also been said and written ad nauseam about what I wrote here.

The difference between progressive countries and the laggards is that the former did not set these issues aside but worked on them, even as they fight Covid-19 or engage in a short but meaningful electoral exercise. We don’t only have the longest lockdowns — we also have the longest election season, Christmas season and birthday celebrations.

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