Regional Perspectives on Leadership in a Global Crisis

The special UN Global Compact Academy series on business and COVID-19 took a trip around the world to spotlight perspectives on leadership in a global crisis across six regions. Throughout the sessions, participants called for a strong multilateral approach to lead the world out of this crisis. Each session emphasized the importance of blending regional efforts to coordinate sustainable and locally-led solutions to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The impact of COVID-19 is multi-faceted and presents an opportunity for the private sector to redefine its role as a responsible force for good. This involves flexibility, humility and adaptation, including thinking outside of the box to strengthen multilateralism and south-south cooperation. As businesses are faced with the challenge of protecting workers and ensuring continuity, they are encouraged to explore new opportunities for impact investing and use technology to integrate regional efforts to recover better.


Perspectives from Europe (in English)

Click here to access the session in French

Perspectives from China (In Chinese)

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Perspectives from Africa (In English)

Perspectives from Asia Pacific (In English)

Click here to access the session in Japanese

Perspectives from Latin America & the Caribbean (In Spanish)

Click here to access the session in English or Portuguese

Perspectives from the Middle East (In English)


Regional integration is both necessary for crisis response but also presents opportunities.

  • The crisis is an opportunity for south-south collaboration on a dynamic scale building on past moments of solidarity. All companies will need to look inwards to produce technologies and/or products vital to the restoration of each regional economy. For example, the energy and private sector play an important role in working across borders to develop Latin American and Caribbean novel electric services and industries including clean electric transportation.
  • One of the opportunities coming out of Latin America is to leverage the knowledge gained through enduring past crises. Brazil, alongside other countries in the region, can build off their experience developing antiviral drugs to combat the HIV-AIDs crisis, for example.
  • UNDP emphasized the high level of vulnerability of the majority of people in Latin America and the Caribbean who have faced physical crises and health shocks in the past, but not to the degree we see now coupled with this socio-economic crisis. It is more important than ever that recovery in the region must be done through a series of reconfigurations, cooperation and innovation. Response efforts must also be aligned to the 2030 Agenda to prevent future crises, including those related to climate change.
  • This crisis has also highlighted the need for drugs to be produced domestically. In the African region, US$ 14.7 billion of the drugs consumed on the continent are imported, and 55 per cent of those drugs come from the EU while another 20 per cent are from India or China. These markets have closed their supplies to Africa during the pandemic.
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is partnering with banks across the continent to identify local producers and ensure that they sign up to the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement to move goods into the continent. To date, there are over 100 local producers from Tunisia to Senegal producing test kits, and from Ghana to South Africa providing ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • In Europe, the European Union is emphasizing the need to work together to find solutions that build on the mutual dependency of countries.The transformational journey to recovery in Europe should be inspired by the resilience of social systems and rooted in the values held by citizens and health care workers which have become the heroes behind the recovery.
  • Across Europe, many stakeholders are clear that they do not wish to go back to old habits. Instead, European countries must work together to rethink, reconnect and rebuild in a resilient way. Building back better should be done through the lens of the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact and through a human rights-based approach.
  • Across Africa, many SMEs are operating at 40 per cent capacity, either because they no longer have demand, access to financing to meet the working capacity that they require, or their supply chains are interrupted. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure supply chains are protected.
  • In the Middle East, private sector leadership involves multiple measures, including re-allocating salaries, distributing medical supplies to hospitals and prisons as well as helping NGOs provide food and supplies to families in need. These needs, however, are increasing each day, and this crisis will test companies’ commitment to their community.
  • Furthermore, specifically in the Middle East, the private sector should find ways to support employees and take measures to retain employees. UN ESCWA emphasized that revisiting our consumption, fighting corruption and promoting transparency in the system should start with a firm commitment to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact.

Innovation and new technologies must be harnessed to respond and recover.

  • The series demonstrated the importance of digital technology in coordinating society's responses to pandemics and other crises. Innovation is fueled in times of crisis when resources are limited. Many advances have been made throughout the regions in a short period of time due to the urgency that otherwise may have taken years to adopt.
  • In Africa, private enterprise needs to embrace this and be more supportive of efforts to use technology to encourage innovation to solve the challenges that are unique to the region. Given that the region’s problems are different, the approaches to tackle them must also be different.
  • In Asia-Pacific, there is a digital transformation of products and services as the private sector and governments work together to ensure the continued effort to turn the negative into the positive. Consumers are looking for healthier, more conscientious lifestyles. In the Middle East, uptake of digitization has been felt providing entrepreneurial opportunities to mission-driven start-ups and SMEs as well as new ways of doing business. In China, Government agencies and the WHO China Office have implemented the use of new technologies to guarantee the effectiveness of health and public safety measures. The successful results of using technology to coordinate the national response is an inspiration to other nations and regions.
  • In China, the concept of corporate sustainability has expanded to encompass a wide range of crisis response measures, including repurposing the supply of essential goods, better coordination with the Government and the rapid increase in the production of PPE. Funds were allocated to digital technologies to scale and mobilise efforts.
  • The energy and transportation sectors in Latin America were identified as two areas where Latin America and the Caribbean can provide a trajectory for powering economic development that can surpass the challenges presented by the current crisis. Financial institutions can use the digital space for dialogue to coordinate investments towards innovative projects, logistical operations and use the successful conversion of industrial processes to the production of PPE as an example of how investments and private sector activities can be redirected towards the most relevant needs of society.
  • In Europe, remote work, agility, and automation are part of the transition to the post-COVID-19 future. Companies should double down on their values and principles when approaching these important changes and spend time to figure out how to leverage the European Green Deal and cutting on unsustainable services. The digital space provides an opportunity to rethink how to root your actions through the Global Goals and connect to the European Union and other guiding institutions on how to navigate incoming technological changes.
  • Over the past few months, business activity across all industries in Africa has been drastically affected by travel restrictions, social distancing measures and economic instability. However, there is a huge potential for impact investing in Africa through new opportunities and new businesses that can earn money by addressing critical social needs caused by the pandemic such as health and well-being, food security, access to finance and education. Africa is regarded as among the top destinations to capture more than half of the over USD 8 trillion in assets under management that are being invested according to ESG principles. This represents a huge opportunity for SMEs, especially youth- and women-led entrepreneurs to break into local and global markets while also focusing on basic development pillars of key industries needed on the continent such as agriculture, education, health and financial inclusion – all within a clean energy context.

Leaving no one behind is central to recovery.

  • The pandemic has exposed the importance of the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact and the importance of eliminating corruption to develop a new social order that is fair for all. Perspectives from all regions discussed the importance of the necessary restructuring of the global and regional economies to address social inequalities – particularly for the most vulnerable populations, including women, migrants, domestic workers, healthcare workers and small-scale entrepreneurs.
  • We need to increase our resilience as the pandemic has shown that it does not discriminate between continents and societies.
  • Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 58% of small-scale businesses do not have access to the pension system or where social protection systems are not in place, the pandemic encourages us to discuss the importance of universal basic income. This universal basic income could be paid for by the 6.3 per cent of income that is not accounted for due to tax evasion. We must find a balance between economic structures and safety mechanisms to ensure public health.
  • UN ECLAC expects a 5.3 per cent contraction of the regional economy in 2020, constituting the sharpest economic fall in the region since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • On indicators of progress on inequality, environmental management, consumption on production, the impact to the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been devastating in Asia-Pacific. Decades of progress must be safeguarded through preserving the interconnectivity of economies, supporting SMEs, and preventing a resurgence of poverty. Social protection must be aligned with the healthcare system to shift towards better preparedness.
  • In the Middle East, a decline in economic growth is bringing more people into poverty. SMEs will be hit hard further increasing the unemployment rates. Recovery must be underpinned by a collective responsibility across the region towards peace and solidarity leaving no one behind.

Partnerships will play a key role in how we come out of this crisis.

  • Multilateralism is important across nations, the private sector and civil society. As each region moves to rethink, rebuild and reconnect their societies, Global Compact Local Networks are crucial partners to support systematic and regionally focused efforts by the UN system and to engage with relevant actors to foster this change.
  • There are efforts that can be taken at the macro and governmental-level that need to be coordinated well with the private sector to focus on targeting those respective stakeholders who are most in need. Sustainability will be the bridge to align social needs with business needs. Business must, now more than ever, build sustainability into their strategies. The SDGs must be integrated into core business strategies and sustainability indicators have to be part and parcel every business across all regions
  • Public-private partnerships will have to break away from the framework of how business was conducted in the past. The pandemic reflects the need for sustainability and strategic contingency plans as core aspects of the holistic analysis of projects and collaboration.


United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Carribean

United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean