The outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought about swift changes and revisions of our general attitudes, forcing us to completely reorganize our daily lives. The entire world has moved from normalcy into a state of emergency. And, today, we are bracing for a leap towards a “new normal”, in the shadow of the virus’ existence.
Yuval Noah Harari has argued that “the dominant cultural reaction to COVID-19 is not resignation, but rather a mixture of anger and hope”. Anger, stemming from the powerlessness to act in containing or otherwise efficiently managing the virus – especially from a medical perspective. Hope, helping us resume efforts to rebuild the world at large. The current pandemic is a litmus test of the values and systems that govern and inform our physical and professional existence. Yet hope must not be conflated with a failure to remember. We must recall that, before the coronavirus outbreaks even appeared, the globalised world already faced a series of serious challenges such as the migration crisis, terrorism, international criminal networks, economic crises, geopolitical tensions, social inequality and many others. In the absence of particular institutional efforts directed squarely towards resolving these issues, the ongoing pandemic only served to deepen and worsen them. Now, political leaders and policymakers must again focus their attention on these issues, efficiently and expeditiously resolving them that they do not become exacerbated. Yet even then, the world will no longer remain the same as we had known – and we must consider how we can improve it.
Globalisation and the freedom of movement it brings – the benefaction of the 21st century – have now become vectors for the virus’ dissemination. One of the questions that arises is: how secure is the world we inhabit anymore? As the coronavirus has invalidated all the commonplace metrics by which we used to measure relative security, the challenge becomes: how do we make the world safe again?
With the easing of lockdown regulations in many countries around the world, informed by a drop in infection and death rates among the population, it is now time to focus our attention on the ways in which we must rebuild the world after this crisis. Although the threat has not abated and the World Health Organization has not reviewed its official “pandemic” designation of the ongoing crisis, it is nevertheless critical that we act now, while the lessons learned over the past months remain fresh in our memory.
The virus has demonstrated the fragility of our existence both as individuals and as a society. The world has irredeemably changed – and we must learn to live according to its new rules. Our capacity to adapt stems from within each of us in turn, individually; and for this very reason, we need to create a more sustainable society. We must learn to reduce our reliance on global inputs, and focus our efforts on what we can achieve in the short-term. We must plan for the future by making effective use the latest data available, ever mindful that the future we craft could easily be invalidated by crises such as COVID-19.
Yet the most important lesson we must draw from this crisis is that of our own adaptability. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that we are quickly becoming ever more adaptable. The urgency with which preventative measures were taken – for example, the state of emergency issued by many states across the world – have occasioned a substantial decrease in human activity. This was done for no less than our survival; however, at such a time when we shall move past the survival stage we still find ourselves mired in, we must begin to craft “the new normal” in earnest, from the ground up.
This is a critical moment when it is essential that we capitalise upon dialogue and cooperation. During the worst of the pandemic, affected states rallied to each other’s aid, while other international organizations saw lamentable failures, though they championed solidarity as one of their operational principles. Together, we are stronger than the sum of our parts. And although the problems we face are global, we mustn’t necessarily seek global solutions. Perhaps each state will devise their own responses, tailored to their respective internal realities. Yet the overall approach can, however, be global – we require both a unity of perspective towards such crises, as well as a unity of action in counteracting them, in order to have the capacity to protect one another.
We are thus in need of a global debate, in order to change – at least normatively – the existing modus operandi of states, and the patterns of action and chains of command currently followed by decision-making bodies. We must show coordinated action, swiftness in decision-making and attempt to foresee consequences so that we might anticipate and prevent negative outcomes altogether. At this time, anticipation and foresight must become our primary tools, without which we can never position ourselves favourably for the future.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization is launching “The World Post-COVID-19 Pandemic: a Humanist Vision for a Sustainable Development” project and online academic platform, designed to bring together leading opinions from a variety of fields: education, culture, scientific research, technological advancement, natural resources and biodiversity, sociology, psychology, cultural diplomacy, ethics and moral philosophy, civic responsibility and leadership. Their contributions are called to answer a series of pressing questions:
- Which fields are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how might they be rebuilt?
- What are the dangers facing human society in the future once the COVID-19 crisis has been averted?
- What instruments are needed to rebuild societies at a global level in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis?
- How might we protect against future crises, drawing from our recent experience with this one?
- What will our lives look like after the coronavirus?
- What does future leadership look like?
The purpose of this endeavour is not to put forward sterile or empirical solutions to the crisis, but to create natural and instinctive approaches on how to best capitalize upon certain fields (and implicitly upon their operative instruments) in order to contribute to the worldwide post-pandemic reconstruction. Moreover, any solutions identified must not be understood as standardized recipes for success, but rather as the expression of particular points of view, which can then be adapted and tailored on a case by case basis in order to revitalize those sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, and return the global society to a desired state of normalcy.
The “What will the world look like after the pandemic?” project aims to collect a series of contributions – opinion pieces, essays, recommendations – from a number of renowned specialists active in a variety of fields, who will put forward their own solutions and ideas for global post-pandemic reconstruction. Their observations will be presented on the Institute’s website, and will later be collected in a published volume.
- To identify existing vulnerabilities that led to the outbreak of the pandemic;
- To formulate sustainable instruments capable of counteracting such vulnerabilities in the future;
- To establish operational guidelines in crisis situations;
- To capitalize upon the available opportunities and lessons learned from managing the pandemic;
- To identify priority fields for concerted actions of post-pandemic reconstruction in the short-term, and anti-pandemic measures in the medium and long-term.
The World Academy of Art and Science is organizing an international conference on “Global Leadership for the 21st Century. Strategies for Transformative Global Leadership” for June 2020, in partnership with the United Nations Office in Geneva. The conference, held digitally over the course of 5 days (June 15th-19th 2020) is structured into separate panels divided across different fields of activity relevant to the Academy’s areas of interest – peace and security, governance and human rights, health and welfare, finance and business, economy and the labour market, education, energy security, ecology and climate change, and science and technology, respectively. For this event, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization is organizing two distinct panels: “The responsibility of the academic environment in elaborating a vision and strategy for global governance in the 21st century” and “The role of the academic environment in fostering sustainable regional development”. The conference is part of a broader project led by the World Academy, titled “Global Leadership in the 21st Century”.
The Nizami Ganjavi International Centre has been extremely active in collecting opinions on how the coronavirus pandemic might be more efficiently managed. To this end, the Centre has organized periodic online debates between members of its Board and other prestigious invitees, publishing a series of articles via its newsletter – Global Policy Analysis – and drafting open letters on a variety of topics, which are signed by all of its members. Two such initiatives are “An Open Letter to the UN, the G20 and National Governments on COVID-19 and Agriculture for Food and Nutrition Security” and “An Appeal to the UN Security Council in Support of the UN Secretary General’s Appeal for a Global Ceasefire in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
The Marmara Group Foundation was one of the first organizations interested in sounding out opinions and recommendations for the pandemic that had then only begun to manifest at a global level. To this end, it created a newsletter – “Corona Days” – which, by way of approximately 70 interventions, showcased the ideas, thoughts and recommendations of the Foundation’s membership, their collaborators and associates on the crisis which was only beginning, on the ways in which it was being perceived and the ways it might be better managed in the future.
The Berlin Academy of Cultural Diplomacy, through its Global Health Security Project, has been monitoring all actions taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by the following organizations and institutions: the European Union, the World Health Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the African Union and the White House. This project also saw the launch of the “Health Shield Europe” initiative by the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria. The aim of this Initiative is to elaborate concrete proposals to be presented to the European Commission in order to take efficient steps to prevent the future appearance and spread of similar pandemics.
The Black Sea Universities Network has proven receptive to the project of a platform launched by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization. As such, the Network has, to date, organized three video-conferences attempting to analyse the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education activities in general, and on the activities of the academic environment in the Black Sea region in particular. Moreover, the conferences put forward prospective scenarios on what the world might look like after the pandemic, from the point of view of specific sectors, industries and fields of activity.
Timeline: May-August 2020
Themes: education, culture, scientific research, technological advancements, natural resources, biodiversity, sociology, psychology, cultural diplomacy, ethics, moral philosophy, civic responsibility, leadership.