Civil Society, Health

Moral leadership in the age of the Covid

Jul 7 2020

Paolo Lembo, Khalid Malik, Arsenio Rodriguez – WE THE PEOPLES

Recently, at one of his daily addresses on Covid-19, the New York Governor Mario Cuomo posited that ‘government is essential to humanity’. Arguably, one can claim, so is global cooperation, as the virus knows no borders. Both national leaders and global institutions appearto have stumbled in meeting the challenges posed by the Covid-19 virus.

Whether at the United Nations or at the G-20, there have been fewattempts to propose coordinated one-world approaches either to address the Covid health crisis or to recover from it economically. But these plans are urgently needed, since by all accounts the crisis will be with us for some time, one way or the other.

Why has this happened? Certainly there are many credible voices raising relevant concerns, especially from the civil society and the private sector. Is it a failure of leadership or are we prey to deeper historical forces that make us somehow unable to act collectively even if it is in our own best interest?

The Covid-19 crisis has made everyone painfully aware that human society is now profoundly interconnected-from global supply chains to climate change, to the ability to connect around the world at the click of  a button. More than that, the crisis today has engulfed all of humanity.

The last time that happened was during the Second-World War. Faced with the resulting devastation and carnage, leaders were resolved to never again go down that path of self-destruction. The United Nations and other global institutions were created to preserve the peace and advance human well-being.

At the turn of the millennium, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General presented a report to world leaders entitled “We the Peoples”. It highlighted progress in life expectancy, health, education, and in the economic prospects of nations, but it also noted with alarm growing inequalities, the threat of pandemics, and the erosion of nature’s life sustaining services.

In this opinion piece, we would like to argue for the pressing renewal of moral leadership. The Covid 19 crisis has produced a profound shock for societies around the world highlighting underlying system deficits and vulnerabilities. This crisis and those underlying vulnerabilities
undermine progress on meeting the UN agreed sustainable development goals.

In a forthcoming book on the life and legacy of Kofi Annan, moral leadership is defined as leadership that is sincere and honest, even if circumstances may make it difficult personally in conveying such views. Such leadership strengthens trust, and reinforces the bond between
people and their institutions. Kofi in his last public speech as UN Secretary General also underscored the growing gap between what the people of the world and their governments expect from the United Nations. Somehow we have to bridge these gaps. In 2012, at the Asia Society, Maurice Strong the Secretary General of the first 1992 Earth Summit mused on how and why our leaders were failing us in fashioning a sustainable future, and concluded by stating that we all, all of us, have to become active leaders in shaping our future. Today, beyond specific policies, however much they might be urgently needed, our biggest undertaking at this pivotal point might be to shape and connect awareness around the world.

Polls remind us that citizens everywhere are increasingly aware that ‘we are in this together’, and that common challenges require shared strategies. Indeed our very survival as a human society depends on the notion of exercising more effectively our individual and collective agency. By being actively engaged citizens become the moral leaders we need at this point of history. Their voices shape this growing consensus, and energize movements and influence policy making. ‘We the peoples’ need to make our voices heard even more now. Only through this solidarity can we usher in the collective thinking and collaborative action that is needed. Which in turn will encourage their representatives to do the right thing and do it soon. In short, ‘we the peoples’ must become the moral leaders to drive our collective future.

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