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The art of the long-term view

17 April, 2020

Calling on businesses to dig deep is an uneasy premise in these times. But if there’s one thing genuinely progressive organisations master, it is the art of the longterm view. And, bearing this in mind, we’d encourage every business to think long and hard about how they can respond to an $8bn challenge set out by Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, and world expert on infectious diseases, at the weekend.   

Farrar sets out a path for the world to move beyond a rolling cycle of lockdowns and distancing measures and get from COVID19 to COVID Zero. This path is paved by science. Science will deliver the vaccine that will stop the disease spreading and the treatments that will stop sick people from dying and get them out of hospitals. With laudable epistemic humility (see below) he recognises that no one can predict which efforts will succeed, but argues that we must scale up production in the absence of this knowledge, so that we’re ready when the answers are there. The problem is that the science is short of the aforementioned $8 billion, and Farrar calls on businesses to step up and help fill this gap. Wellcome, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Mastercard, have shown the way forward, contributing a joint $125 million to the initiative. But this leaves a gaping hole – and if it isn’t filled by the end of this month, critical opportunities will be missed.  

It makes longterm sense for businesses to step up. After all, it’s the route to getting the world back to work – the ultimate exit strategy. And it would also act as a deep demonstration of businesses sense of a higher purpose, of acting with everyone’s interests at heart. But it’s a big ask for businesses firefighting the multiple, complex demands that this crisis has thrown up, which are hitting finances hard. All of which makes us think  how can we make it easier for businesses to act? Could the banks and hedge funds use some wizardry to develop a new financial structure for the fund? Make it loanbased rather than donationbased? Could it be that the small swathe of businesses whose fortunes are rising, rather than falling, demonstrate humility and a recognition of their luck and lead the way forward? Could we use the principles of crowdfunding to spread the contributions wide? Make a Covid Pledge similar to Bill Gates’s Giving Pledge – so that those that can donate, do?  

If you have any good ideas, get in touch, as we’re talking to many businesses about how they can get involved with Wellcome. Because, if ever there was a challenge worth solving, surely this is it. 

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