Heads of Global Organizations and Foundations, it’s your time for Leadership

Radu Magdin
6 min readApr 15, 2020

A global pandemic demands a global response, and in a leaderless world, the void must be filled by international bodies and global foundations.

We are now facing a crisis of big proportions: a health disaster coupled with an economic one to follow. And what makes both worse is another type of crisis: one generated by the perceived lack of leadership. Some countries made it very clear that their trajectory points in-wards, and if “America first” is now unfortunately first in the number of Covid-19 cases, we can just imagine how the effects of the pandemic and economic crash would look like in the emerging and developing world without global cooperation and coordination. In fact, international organisations and foundations were created to deal exactly with complex and transnational crises such as the one brought by the pandemic. In the broader scheme of things, it is hard to comprehend why so many voices are preaching the end of globalization and international cooperation these days, when in fact we need more of both to survive the healthcare crisis and navigate its economic aftermath. Starting with the UN and ending with more specialized (e.g. NATO, Asian Development Bank and AIIB) or regional institutions (EU, the African Union, AfDB, ASEAN etc.), we desperately need common responses and united voices. And coordination even in continued times -and narratives- of great power competition.

Humanity needs guidance and a platform for cooperation in order to fight this “war” against an invisible enemy, and whereas countries’ leaders failed to live up to the expectations, international organizations and global foundations have now the opportunity to step up the ladder, prove themselves resilient and pro-active, and provide what people desperately need now — global leadership, decisive action, some resources and, yes, hope. Any rally around the internationalists will not happen automatically and calls for solidarity should be backed by the effort to reframe and deliver the narrative of sustained global action. Here are some ideas of what the international organizations and global foundations could do.

Act as a platform for cooperation and coordination. Your role here is of utmost importance, because you can act as a liaison between states, enable discussions and transfer of knowledge, provide actionable feed-back, as well as facilitate decision-making. The general tendency on the international scene nowadays is one of nationalism. But from history we learn, as Yuval Noah Harari pointed out very well, that we would need to go back in the Stone Age, not even in the Middle Ages, if we want to stop epidemics from spreading globally through national approaches. Therefore, the wise thing to do for coping with this kind of crisis is unite against the common enemy, coronavirus, in a collective battle against it — after all, we are in this together, literally. Moreover, we are not dealing only with a health issue but an economic one as well. Contrary to all these, we have seen very little global action taken, except for, to give two major examples, WHO and UN for which inertia would have definitely questioned their very existence (their leaders have now stepped up and are doing their best to lead). International and regional organisations, as well as global foundations, we need you to bring leaders together at the table and make them communicate. Internal consolidation in each country will not be enough. We need regional action, coupled with an international one. In the age of social media and instant communication, global public opinion could be your greatest tool and ally, provided you can expertly convey a sense of urgency, determination, and solidarity.

Assess and anticipate, and help others adapt. It is difficult to navigate through these uncertain times, so we better make uncertainty our friend and resilience our know-how. To cope with the feeling of jamais vu (the opposite of déjà vu) and avoid acting completely instinctively or waiting too long to act, you need to continually collect information as the crisis unfolds and observe your results. Help fight misinformation and disinformation by throwing your weight around science communication and knowledge translation. Also, be the main player in sharing global and regional best practices, most of the capitals remain clueless and paralyzed by the present or looming health chaos management. This is general advice for all leaders coping with this crisis, and I am afraid (this is just how the saying goes, but I am in fact optimistic to tell you) that (some of) you need to go much further than that, as people count on you to provide a vision for understanding the world after the Covid-19 crisis and provide niche guidance for its impact. Scenario planning and solutions, who puts the smartest and quickest draft on the table, will be listened to. People and states will need to adapt to the “new normal” on all aspects: economic, politics, new social contract etc., and will need ideas on how to do so. This is one of your opportunities to change the world for the better.

Strengthen the norms of unity and collaboration. It is sad to see that, in time of crisis, humans use their money to buy weapons instead of donating money to help other humans, if they could spare some. People need examples of actions (as you, world’s help enablers oftentimes do, through donations, scientific research, etc.) from bodies whose voices emphasize globalization, unity and cooperation, when all they hear now is “closed borders” and “self-sufficiency”. This will also help fight the nationalistic or populist trend which might very well follow in the next elections after the crisis. Another reason to do that (although the others suffice) is that social cleavages are deepening due to coronavirus and discrimination is on the rise, and rather than playing the “blame game” on different groups, nationalities or ethnicity, we must now more than ever unite and put our differences aside. One of the lasting EU lessons here is unity and diversity. When our own leaders, around the globe, point out to a foreign virus, citizens blame their fellows who came back from other countries, and minorities who live in bigger families are segregated rather than being well informed and helped, we need leaders to show us the opposite. There is no better time to shoot for the moon — and this should not be restricted to what national governments are doing, given the immensity of the task ahead. Fighting against pandemics as part of the battle for a better and more inclusive world is exactly what globalists should do. This goes beyond governmental bodies, as international foundations can fill a gap of resources, knowledge, and competence. We need more creative solutions and here I am thinking particularly at the substantive contribution that Asian, Australian, African and Latin American foundations and think-tanks can make. The Global South needs also inspiration and thought leadership born at home.

And last but not least, show us (more of) what you are doing. Of course, nobody likes to see someone else bragging just for the sake of it. But people need now more than ever to see a good example, they need to be inspired, lead, to hear good news, have hope, and also have access to more accurate information about what is happening around them. You can fill these needs. Because YOU are doing things. Sometimes, crisis can bring out the worst in people, but this happens due to fear, and basic survival instincts. On a small scale, we see people panic buying, stockpiling more than they need, and their fellow citizens, such as old people, or even doctors who work to save their lives, cannot find, at the end of a tiring day, anything to grab from the shelves. And this is just one small example. Sometimes you do extraordinary work, but people count only the sick and the deaths when they read the news or turn on the TV. Their so-called leaders do not communicate with them the way they should in this time of crisis, they are often times not transparent and honest, they do not empathize, and they do create inconsistencies in their speeches. Citizens feel it. They need to be treated like adults, entrusted with accurate information, but also empowered and given hope. When they are not provided with these, they fear, and the response is natural. You can step in, become informal leaders and fill any gaps in leadership, by being more visible with your work, present accurate information, and stand up as an example of good practice. People and formal leaders will react accordingly. Trust them so that they can trust you and together let us restore faith in humanity.

Image Credit: Gulf News/File/Agencies https://gulfnews.com/world/coronavirus-billionaires-give-money-but-how-much-would-it-take-to-defeat-covid-19-1.1586338719394



Radu Magdin

Global analyst, consultant, trainer & think tanker. Former PM adviser in Eastern Europe. Power Strategist -focus: #leadership #competition #communications #risk