A receptive & sensitive government can help in turning a disaster into an inspiring virtue

Guest Column: Atul Ahluwalia, Founding Partner of First Partners, writes why a synergistic interplay of public and private enterprises can set India on a path to recovery post COVID-19

e4m by Atul Ahluwalia
Updated: Apr 23, 2020 5:12 PM
Atul Ahluwalia

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing its destructive march across the world and from many vantage points, seems to be like an uncontainable and ceaseless whirlwind. With upwards of 2 million infected worldwide and tens of thousands of people dead, the sheer extent of human suffering and agony are heart-rending. Nations, both the developed and the developing, are deeply wounded and reeling from severe social and economic aftermaths. However, in the coming weeks, recovery is bound to happen, thanks to the tireless, selfless, and superhuman efforts currently underway in the halls and labs of medicine and science across the globe.

The question—and the challenge—before us is how to gather hope and marshal determination for the road ahead. Fortunately, the story of human evolution on earth is a continuing tale of grit and determination and undying hope in the face of the most severe of disasters and calamities. For this, the state, as well as private enterprises, have to rise together to the challenge of reconstruction. This has happened with great outcomes previously and there is no reason that success should evade us now.

The learnings from the last global scale disaster to singe and burn humankind may serve instructive for us today. In the years immediately following the Second World War, there was something of an unprecedented rate of economic recovery. The post–World War II economic expansion came to be known as the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’.  As guidance for planners and business leaders looking at the reconstruction landscape post-COVID, the resurgence stories of the many economies embroiled in various global and severely debilitating regional conflicts hold considerable promise.

If one was to take a look at Europe and the USA, the fact that light and brightness follow our darkest times is a truism adequately proven more than a few times. We are well aware of the post-WW2 recoveries in France where Les Trente Glorieuses ('The Glorious Thirty')—the thirty years from 1945 to 1975 following the end of the Second World War. It was then that the global transnational giants such as National Bank of Paris (Banque Nationale de Paris or BNP) and Crédit Lyonnais, and large industrial companies such as Renault came into their own. The Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle"), also known as the ‘Miracle on the Rhine’, aptly illustrates the rebirth and blossoming of the economies of West Germany and Austria after World War II and of the rise of such big businesses such as  Deutsche Bank, Lufthansa and VW.

Post-war Italy gave us inexpensive motor scooters (the Vespa and the Lambretta), and cars (from economical Fiats to luxury makes such as Maserati, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo), fashionable clothing (especially shoes), and so on. The shipping and mining behemoths of Greece and of course the storied accomplishments of post-WW2 USA manifest in its banking, hospitality, engineering, fast food, and of course, oil and automobiles are legion. For the United States, World War II and the Great Depression constitute the most important economic events of the past century. It was the war that ended the depression led to booms in industries ranging from oil, housing, auto, and quick service. This was the time which saw the rise and rise of iconic MNCs such as Exxon, Shell, Mobil, GM, and GE, among many others.

Another shining example of post-disaster reconstruction is the economic miracle in Japan. The country was able to recover from the trauma of WWII and managed to become the second-largest economic entity of the world (after the United States) by the 1960s. In the case of India, the commitment and impact of the older business houses such as those of the Tatas, Birlas, Singhanias, Mafatlals, etc., is eloquent testimony to the power of recovery post disasters.

For India to stand up and weather the current disastrous turn of events, it is important that the baton of recovery be carried forward by a synergistic interplay of public and private enterprise. The private sector, as we have seen both in our history and from global examples, is an indispensable force behind generating sustained economic growth that delivers jobs and prosperity to societies everywhere. But its importance is critical in a post-disaster context where physical, institutional, and social infrastructure has been damaged beyond the capacity of any single government or an international donor to restore. That is why supporting the development of independent business associations and chambers of commerce and establishing proper channels for public-private dialogue is as important as investing in businesses themselves.

 The journey on the road to recovery for India once we begin to gather our pieces and walk forward must be carefully judged and astutely planned. Local and MSME businesses need the full support of the government for these hold the key to rapid healing. There is a strong case for encouraging diaspora investors to come forward and rebuild India. This emotional and empathetic bond was very visible during the crisis and this emotive leverage can work wonders. By creating an enabling environment for businesses to grow and for investors to feel safe, a receptive and sensitive government can go a long way in turning a disaster into an enduring and inspiring virtue.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com 

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