“COVID-19 is the greatest peacetime disruptor of globalization in the history of the modern world and certainly represents an unprecedented threat to the international trading system.”
So said an article in Forbes magazine last month. Anything that makes the pages of Forbes, one of the world’s most respected business magazines, is worthy of respect.
Briefly condensed, the argument is that the closing down of the world economy thanks to Covid means that the existing, slight trend of recent years against globalisation might well be accelerated due to continuing disruption in supply chains worldwide, especially for multi-national companies. More specifically, the article identifies the four things which will have the biggest effect on globalisation strategies in the future: “the behaviour of national governments, the attitudes of consumers, the mindset of executives and key stakeholders in multinational companies, and the economics of business globalization.”
International power politics, underpinned by economic (and military) strength, will be central to how our world evolves in the next decade, yet my view is that we need to look much more at the long-term changes that will, again in my view, probably make us more interdependent rather than less. Let’s be honest: the human race has survived and come back from far worse than Covid and while communication and trade have grown the world has shrunk and become far more interconnected. The trajectory has been emphatically in one direction for centuries. Zoom and other technologies have brought this home to us all over the last year and there is no reason I can think of why this trend, underpinned by yet more and better tech, will not accelerate.
Consequently, I tend to take a more optimistic view that things will bounce back rapidly in the second half of this year. I base this optimism on the fact that the available evidence to date seems to suggest that the vaccines not only prevent death but are also effective in reducing transmission. This is probably the best news we’ve seen in the last year, but it’s how business responds that will make the difference. As the Forbes article suggests, ‘attitude’ and ‘mindset’ will be key to our future. Unlike the financial meltdown of 2009, the underlying structural basis of the economy is pretty sound: also, most firms and individuals have had a huge amount of government support that will allow for a more rapid recovery than would otherwise have been the case.
Certainly, from the perspective of Global Connects as a language company, we are going into the remainder of this year with our eyes wide open; expecting things to get better but prepared for a few mini-black swans (black cygnets?!), probably in the shape of virus mutations and associated panic, at random intervals. There will be quite a lot of “two steps forward, one step back,” but our approach is that when one door shuts we look to open another one (or preferably two). We could wring our hands at the disruption caused by Brexit – which in a few sectors is not good but overall seems not too bad – but we’d rather look forward to the new avenues for overseas commerce that will undoubtedly come as entrepreneurs seek new markets and discover new (business) worlds to conquer. Some supply chains will be disrupted, but new ones, especially using AI and quite possibly blockchain, will arise. The potential here for any translation company (Global Connects is strong in this area) is vast and will only grow. Covid has undoubtedly crushed some of our world’s human and business spirit, but the situation is improving every day. With a positive attitude and mindset we will climb out of the Covid crusher and Carpe Diem!
Fiona Woodford, Head of Language Services, Global Connects