A COVID Postscript to “Social Impacts and the Practice of Direct Infrastructure Investment”

by: Dr. Patrick J. Schena, SovereigNET, The Fletcher School, Tufts University; Dr. Eliot Kalter, SovereigNET, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

With key contributions from project team members Matthew Gouett, Timothy Hu, Rebecca Israelson-Kurland, Madhuri Mukherjee, and Nathaniel Leach.

The report was originally published in September 2020, and the COVID postscript was subsequently added in December 2020.

Read the full report here.

While tragic and painful, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the power of stakeholder partnership to mobilize to solve an extreme – and unforeseen – global problem. Critically relevant to this effort has been 1) speed to action and 2) breadth of cooperation across all stakeholder groups – public and private – along with the embrace of civil society. This has required putting aside parochial interests and exposed an existential challenge: How to advance a sustainable, long-term solution to COVID-19 that frees the world from predatory disease.

The challenges posed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are no less important or pressing. Rather, the COVID crisis is a stark reminder of the very many “crises” that are abstracted into the SDG. Why does it require such destruction to move us beyond this acronym to the profound underlying human costs? Will “this time be different”? The COVID crisis is a call to action that can motivate the post-COVID global community: The world’s most pressing challenges are surmountable sustainably by empowered stakeholders who are stronger and more effective working together than apart.

The global infrastructure gap is one such challenge. It has been well-identified for many years yet continues to go unaddressed.  Failed public-private partnerships are scattered across this landscape. A post COVID world will require significant capital mobilization in order to jumpstart the global economic engine, repair global supply chains, and slowly resume global flows of goods and services to consumers who will be both relieved, but also cautious. Well-placed investment in public infrastructure is overdue and will be more necessary as streams of economic activity expand and grow.

A central lesson from our research is that building infrastructure sustainability and impactfully rests upon a natural partnership that includes government, private suppliers of capital and services, and an informed public, whose license establishes a necessary bond across stakeholders. Central to this partnership is 1) genuine, proactive attention to the interests of stakeholders, 2) transparency of both purpose and action, and 3) accountability. The lessons offered by successful partnering to finance and develop large scale, sustainable infrastructure are welllearned. For the immediate, macro-economic stimulus programs can stabilize global supply chains, while bridging economies to sustainable “re-openings”. However, a far more bold and concerted effort is required to bridge the persistent and potentially widening gap between the stock of global infrastructure assets and that are required to support the sustainable growth of the global economy. The time has arrived to embrace the energy and goodwill of public and private sector stakeholders to strengthen the structural foundations of the global economy as it emerges into the post-COVID dawn.

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