Martin Wolf encourages business leaders to reflect on a series of questions (“Business leaders need to play a better political role”, Opinion, January 19) who casually evokes the spirit of those familiar words delivered 61 years ago this week: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.
But while the rhetoric of President John F Kennedy’s inaugural speech makes a powerful point, one must ask whether we are missing a more urgent question at the heart of the debate over the role of business in local and international policy-making.
Specifically, do governments and international institutions have the necessary mechanisms and, indeed, instincts to take full advantage of the power of business as a force for good in the world?
Take the pandemic. Wolf is certainly right to point out the success of public-private partnerships in the development of new vaccines.
However, the global response to Covid-19 has too often been hampered by an inability – or refusal – of governments and agencies to use business networks effectively to accelerate the deployment of the tools needed to beat the virus.
A similar pattern is evident in the domain of global policy-making.
While many international institutions have made progress over the past two decades in developing so-called “stakeholder engagement” mechanisms, too often it keeps businesses – and, for that matter, civil society – firmly on the periphery of decision-making.
Given the shortcomings in multilateral governance exposed by the pandemic, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that institutional innovation is needed to enable new forms of hybrid governance that will position business as a true partner to provide political solutions to the world. ‘s problems. .
To be clear, none of this means that business leaders should not act with the greater good in mind when engaging in matters of public policy. Rather, governments should also ask whether their forms of involvement in business are adequate for the urgent challenges we face today.
To paraphrase Kennedy’s campaign slogan, we can probably do better.
John WH Denton
International Chamber of Commerce Paris, France