A better recovery: getting to the other side of the fjord

Xynteo CEO Osvald Bjelland introduces the session summary of the Europe Delivers Leadership Roundtable 2020.

In common with much of the world, I spent many days secluded at home as COVID-19 inflicted a devastating toll on our societies.

I realise that I am fortunate: “home” to me is a quiet and peaceful small farm in western Norway. It sits perched on a cliff and nestled between steep mountains and a deep fjord.

The fjord has played a central role in the life of my family for generations. Traditionally, farming and fishing were the ancestral occupations.  But as the Norwegian economy flourished in the post-War period, greater opportunities sprung afar in manufacturing, teaching, nursing and other professions.

From this point, the fjord took on a symbolic value – to get to the other side of the fjord, as many family members did, meant to strive for more, for better, and for greater prosperity.

It became an aspiration of parents for their children to leave the farm, get to the other side of the fjord, and seek an education or employment.

Growth – in all senses – for my family became associated with progress and hope. An inheritance of ever greater prosperity for future generations was the driving motivation.

Today, worldwide attention is turning to the question of how to stimulate growth in our own times after the economic shock of the COVID-19 crisis.

In order to recover and to rebuild our lives, livelihoods and societies - we need to grow again.

Growth is a powerful force. But the last few months have been a stark reminder of the imperfect nature of the global economy we have created for ourselves.  

The crisis, in the most startling of terms, has exposed the profound failings of the growth model that the world has followed for the last century:

Social and economic inequalities have been amplified and for the world’s poor, their share in global prosperity has been revealed to be fragile.

Our youngest generation may be the first in living memory to be less well off than their parents, with their future mortgaged to address short-term challenges.

And in the absence of human economic activity, our planet has showed signs of recovery from the environmental damage that has been inflicted by the pursuit of growth without consideration of the consequences.

For us all, this crisis should be a wake-up call: the future must be different from the past, and we deserve a better kind of recovery.

If our economy and society is to be far more resilient and prepared for future shocks - such as climate change – then we must act now to reinvent growth.

It is within our reach – and our interests – to shift to a model of economic growth that works with and not against nature; that delivers benefits to the many and not just the few; and that creates value across generations and not just quarters.

The scale of change required is systemic.

Our economy must transform from top to bottom – from energy to food supply and transportation - so that business growth is focused on outcomes to do with purpose, people and the planet – just as much as it is to do with profit.

Today’s visionary business leaders understand that business cannot succeed for long in failing societies, and they are reinventing what growth means for their businesses by scaling commercial solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges.

They do not merely drive investment, but transform the systems and markets in which they operate through innovation and collaboration. Those who do – from Tesla to Amazon, Orsted to Verizon – are increasingly rewarded as capital and consumers shift to favour businesses who create social value.

This vision – of a society and an economy that is on the side of human progress – is not one of the distant future.

This crisis has created an opportunity for both governments and business to lead a global transformation, and lead it now.

Everyone has a role to play.

For the world’s business leaders, the challenge is to think big, collaborate across industries, and make bold commitments.

For the world’s political leaders, it means stepping up to show the political will to do things differently and do things better, and to coordinate that global response at a scale and speed that most of us have never experienced before in our lifetimes.

And for consumers – it means radically rethinking our lifestyles and behaviour so that we are contributing to the sustainability of growth and the wider system in which we live.
Recently, global business and government leaders came together at Xynteo’s Europe Delivers Leadership Roundtable, the report of which we are pleased to publish today.

I look forward with optimism to this crisis being a moment in which we can look back and know that we seized the opportunity that is before us to create something better.

A better recovery, and a more sustainable global economy and society, fit for the future, is the prize. That is what waits for us at the other side of the fjord. 

Learn more about Europe Delivers and see the roundtable session summary