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The Future of Post-COVID-19 Partnerships

May 25, 2021

Justifiably, most people have negative associations with the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, it has been a time of isolation, grief and unmeasurable sacrifices. However, even the worst of circumstances can produce silver linings. Case in point: we have seen years, if not decades, of medical progress compounded into one year to help in the fight against COVID-19.

One particularly notable area of progress is the emergence of post-competitive partnerships accelerated by the pandemic. Certainly, the first examples that come to mind are in the pharmaceutical industry, leading the way in developing life-saving vaccines that are helping prevent the spread of the virus. In January, Sanofi and Novartis agreed to use their own manufacturing capabilities to help produce more doses of the mRNA vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. In February, the White House helped to broker an agreement between J&J and Merck that would help produce the J&J vaccine by using Merck facilities. These partnerships required companies in the competitive pharmaceutical space to put aside their own business priorities and even their own efforts to produce a vaccine to create a collaborative solution to expedite vaccine production and bring the world one step closer to ending the pandemic.

However, pharma is not the only industry generating innovative partnerships that put aside business competition to achieve a common goal that links back to major global challenges. There have been several impressive examples of industry-wide partnerships coming together to work towards a joint solution.

  • Video games: Playing for the Planet Alliance brings together some of the biggest competitor companies in the video game industry to harness the power of their platforms to act on the climate crisis. Spearheaded by the UN Environmental Programme, the alliance brings together 28 gaming companies that are taking steps to encourage more than 1 billion of their active video game users make the collective shift to green energy and conscious gaming behavior.
  • Digital and internet services: The EDISON Alliance, a World Economic Forum initiative, mobilizes industry and government leaders to tackle digital deserts by creating affordable and accessible digital opportunities for everyone by 2025. Alliance champions, and usually business competitors, include Verizon, Qualcomm, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, and Nokia, among other large multinationals making the case for digital investment.
  • Healthcare: The Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative is a first-of-its-kind global effort—that APCO was proud to support—to accelerate the discovery, testing and delivery of precision interventions for Alzheimer’s. This initiative aims to create an innovation system to speed and scale up the global response, and brings together many industry competitors including Eli Lilly, Biogen, J&J, and Roche in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Why do these partnerships work? Each initiative represents a group of stakeholders coming together to address a major global issue that no single organization could tackle on its own, whether it’s the climate crisis, digital deserts or the fight against a virus or disease. In each example, the reason for collaborating outweighs business profits and instead focuses on working towards a solution that will benefit society at large—not just shareholders, the C-suite or the bottom line. Furthermore, these multi-stakeholder partnerships are even more effective when there is genuine alignment in participants’ mission and organizational culture, and an understanding that partners are there to complement each other’s contributions based on their core strengths and differentiators. These considerations are key for creating engaging and dynamic conversations around today’s biggest challenges, as well as launching successful and impactful partnerships that can truly make a difference.

While we hope that the pandemic will soon be behind us, there are certain aspects we hope will stick around in post-pandemic life. The ability of stakeholders with competing interests to come together to create actionable conversation around global challenges, is on the post-pandemic wish list for many. Impact-multiplying partnerships can—and should—become the model for addressing critical issues that are already at our door.

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