Updated: Nov 20, 2022
In this blog, I share how collaboration at different scales helped us to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and questions why we haven’t done more of this before in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was originally written for UKSSD back in 2020, but I believe that collaboration is essential in resolving the current climate crisis, as it was in responding to the pandemic.
Covid-19 altered how we live our lives for the foreseeable future, and many businesses responded positively to this. A lot of the success stories during the pandemic have occurred where businesses worked together to achieve a common goal. For example, the partnership between industry leaders AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford enabled the global development, manufacturing and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine. If businesses learn anything from Covid-19 it should be that by working together, with a shared goal, the benefits to society and the environment can be much greater than what can be achieved alone. The SDG's can form the basis of these shared goals given their global and national relevance, as Sarah George wrote, they ‘provide a ready-made formula to build a green future that is just for all’. Working together at a global scale
While political leaders put their countries on lockdown, scientists did the opposite; we saw global collaboration on a huge scale. There were many experts across the globe simultaneously focused on finding a vaccine. The Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Flu Data (GISAID) does exactly what its name suggests. It allowed scientists to share virological data before formal publication to solve one of the biggest problems faced across the world in my lifetime. Increasing the amount of sequence data available provided crucial information to scientists around the world about the origins of coronavirus, revealing how the virus changes over time. These global scientific partnerships important in responding to Covid-19, but there was a wider lesson to be learnt here. The influenza research community successfully benefitted from pre-competitive collaboration. Communities and other sectors must take note and start collaborating too. It is increasingly important that businesses which normally compete now work together to achieve more.
Focusing on community impact
Collaboration also occurred on a much smaller scale and has shown the adaptability of many smaller businesses. London-based recycling service First Mile partnered with local farms and garden centres, and plant-based chemical company Delphis Eco during the pandemic. By using their ultra-low emission fleet of vans to deliver produce, they divert perfectly good produce to Londoners which would otherwise be wasted. Furthermore, all profits from their Plant Pack initiative are donated to NHS Charities Together. It should come as no surprise that smaller local businesses made significant changes to their operations during the pandemic. They are often deeply rooted in their communities and understand local needs. The plethora of business partnerships and community volunteering that emerged in response to the pandemic was a major contributor to the social change that is needed in pursuit of the SDGs.
Collaboration has proven an important tool in our ability to function during a global pandemic, we must sustain it
Humans have always been and continue to be a successful species due to our innate ability to work together for the collective good. Throughout history, we have seen many examples of collaboration that have allowed us to reach otherwise unachievable goals. We have just celebrated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day which marks the day that the Nazi's surrendered. This would not have been possible if the allies were not in fact allies. Good partnerships have the ability to use the limited resources we have to achieve more: we could have a greater impact, greater sustainability, and increase value through the collaborative advantage they give us. During the global pandemic, we saw communities working together better than ever, whether the global scientific and health community or local businesses. We must find ways to learn from this openness and adaptability to sustain the benefits of collaboration after the pandemic.