The COVID-19 pandemic cast a new spotlight on the economic disparities of the global South, speakers at the latest Distinguished Speakers in International Business Series (DSS) said this week.
The discussion, the latest in an ongoing series from Maryland Smith’s Center for Global Business (CGB), featured Zeynep Kantur Özenci, MS Finance ’00, principal investment officer at the International Finance Corporation; Alejandro Prada, MBA ’18, principal advisor for strategy and corporate affairs at IDB Invest; and Aloysius Uche Ordu, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.
The discussion was moderated by Susan Parker, a professor in the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy.
Parker opened the discussion by asking about the speakers’ observed trends in inequality. While North-South and South-South global relations emerged as a common theme, each guest had a distinct point of view concerning the impact of the pandemic.
Ordu commented on the “recipe for disaster” that is the divide between the rich vaccinated and poor unvaccinated, adding that COVID-19 “does not carry passports.” He emphasized the inequality seen in Africa concerning not only vaccine distribution, but also manufacturing. According to Ordu, Africa requires 25% of global vaccines but has to import 99% of its vaccines.
Özenci also noted the divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated, and referred to the vaccine supply chain challenge, saying that because 80% of vaccines are produced by five companies, the concentration in supply chains causes “stockpiling.”
Observing how “the pandemic hit at a weak moment in [Latin America’s] economy,” Prada brought the focus from a global to a national view. “We cannot let ourselves off the hook for things that we have caused in our own societies, over years and years,” he said. The pandemic, he added, must force us to “analyze our own societies.”
CGB’s guest speakers also touched on the future implications of these trends, with the pandemic’s disruption of education and rise in virtual learning likely to have severe long-term impacts, especially in Latin America, where poorer households’ internet connection often consists of a single cell phone.
Future sustainability practices will also become essential, Ordu added, advocating for proportional global responsibility for greenhouse gas production.
Looking to the future, Prada said, “Helping [the global] South should be good business. Otherwise, it’s not sustainable.”
The challenge in seizing opportunities to address current crises lies, according to Ozenci, in the “missing coordination” between global efforts. She emphasized that entire continents should strategize growth as a whole, rather than forcing nations to work on siloed, redundant rebuilding efforts. Özenci said she holds hope for the future: because COVID-19’s disruption has forced governments to see how vulnerable their countries are, the tragedy may be the catalyst for turning the present disparities into future equality.
The DSS brings together policymakers, industry leaders, academics and students to present and discuss emerging trends in international business throughout the year. Join the center for the next DSS event on Nov. 16, 2021, when the topic will be “Global Competencies for the 21st Century Workplace.”
This event was supported in part by CIBE, a Title VI grant administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
– By Beth Rendely, graduate assistant, Center for Global Business
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