The age of vulnerability
By Ed Amory, CEO
Two weeks ago, I was in South Africa, meeting colleagues in Johannesburg. We discussed the continuing volatile political, economic and security situation in that country, and I asked why so many of those I met seemed positive about the future, motivated to secure better lives for themselves, their families and their complex but extraordinary nation. They all responded with the same word – resilience. Life in South Africa had been hard for a long time, in different ways, and people there had adapted, as humans do, making the best of these difficult circumstances.
We all have something to learn from this. In the last few years, the lives of those living in Europe have changed significantly. From a position of relative confidence about the future, with developed healthcare systems, steadily rising standards of living, and political and military security, we have gone into reverse.
For the first time in many people’s memories, it’s likely that our children will be economically worse off than us. We faced a global health pandemic that left ordinary Europeans facing the reality that modern medicine does not have all the answers. In Britain, life expectancy, even discounting Covid, has paused its steady upward rise for much of the population (there is a disparity in life expectancy dependant on race and class). Mental health indicators have fallen, and individuals and companies are feeling increasingly financially vulnerable. Where initial rises in the cost of living were cushioned for many by increased savings during Covid, these are now running out. And all this against the backdrop of the first significant European war in most people’s lifetimes.
Politicians have struggled to find appropriate responses to these pressures. In Britain, the Conservative Party, an institution which prided itself on calm if occasionally heartless governing competence, precipitated a financial crisis and ran through three prime ministers in a year. In France, the apparently rational decision to increase the pension age in the face of an ageing population has led to riots across the country. In Italy, a competent technocrat was ejected from office in favour of an untested right-wing populist. Whatever politicians are doing, almost none of them have hit the right note with their electorates.
What is the rational response to this crisis on so many fronts? First, security. We need to look carefully at the supply chain behind vital supplies like food, medicines, computer components, energy and military equipment. If – like gas from Eastern Europe or pharmaceuticals from China – there are question marks about the reliability of the supply chain, we need to learn to think beyond globalisation.
Second, vulnerability. We need to look after individuals but also businesses that have been thrown off course by all this change, support them – emotionally and financially – as they learn to adapt. As individuals, as businesses, as countries, we will all learn in time a greater degree of resilience. But it won’t happen overnight and we will need support and guidance as we make this journey.
In the coming weeks and months, experts from Instinctif Partners will consider vulnerability and security in the context of six key sectors: Health, Food, Climate, Energy, Finance and Technology. Our aim is to shine a light on the challenge and provide a point of view as to how we can move forward.