Why getting the world back to normal is not enough

By:

Jul 2, 2020

When will the world get back to normal? It’s a question many have asked since the COVID-19 global pandemic began upending economic, social, and health systems across the world. I’ve even found myself asking the question; to my friends, to my colleagues, and to strangers I run into on the occasional walk to stretch my legs. It’s a seemingly innocuous question that gets at our collective nostalgia for normalcy. But as innocuous and, perhaps even caring as the question seems, embedded in it is an assumption that getting the world back to normal is okay. It isn’t.

What normal is for many

Before the pandemic overwhelmed the global economy, billions of people in our world struggled to make a living for themselves and their families. Around half the world’s population lived on less than $5.50 a day and had no access to social safety nets, leaving them one accident away from sliding into extreme poverty. 

From an education standpoint, more than 250 million children were out of school, of which 56% were “not learning.” In sub Saharan Africa, the percentage goes up to 90%. In healthcare, many emerging economies suffered from a lack of infrastructure, with recent findings showing that Africa had a severe shortage of ventilators and was unprepared to manage the coronavirus from an equipment, facility, and healthcare worker standpoint. It’s no wonder so many countries were ill-equipped to manage the disease when you look at healthcare expenditures in emerging economies. It becomes increasingly clear that hundreds of millions of people have been living on borrowed time. 

Country classificationHealthcare expenditure per capita in USD
High income5,369
Upper middle income490
Middle income274
Low & Middle income251
Lower middle income83
Low income34

Source: World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.CHEX.PC.CD

The aforementioned statistics describe what’s normal. But going back to a world where hundreds of millions of children are out of school and where most people in most countries do not have access to decent healthcare facilities should not be the goal. In short, getting the world back to normal is not enough.

An opportunity to be bold

Too many development programs aren’t bold enough to be transformative, often focusing on helping those who are poor lead slightly better lives rather than transforming poverty to prosperity. Unfortunately, this breeds dependence as governments in emerging economies become more dependent on aid from those in wealthier economies. This strategy is also ineffective—according to a large-scale 2009 World Bank study, only 0.3% of people credited NGO activities to economic transformation such as jobs, new income sources, and new businesses.

What if, instead of focusing on helping the poor lead more efficient lives, the stakeholders in global development focused on empowering poor communities and countries to lift themselves out of poverty? 

In The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, a book I co-authored with the late Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, we describe the indispensable role of innovation in helping nations prosper. The book identifies the limits of common economic development models and offers a new framework for economic growth based on entrepreneurship and market-creating innovations. These innovations focus less on solving acute signs of poverty and provide an opportunity to truly create prosperity for people in emerging economies.

Getting back to normal simply isn’t good enough. If anything good is to come from the devastation caused by the coronavirus, let it be an opportunity to rethink, reconsider, and redefine a new normal for many in our world who currently suffer to make a living.

To learn more about market-creating innovations, see:
5 reasons why these powerful innovations might be our best shot at solving poverty

Efosa Ojomo is a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute, and co-author of The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty. Efosa researches, writes, and speaks about ways in which innovation can transform organizations and create inclusive prosperity for many in emerging markets.