Building healthier, more resilient societies to tackle global threats

Big 3_Patricia Geli
The Big 3: Three questions, three answers

August 2, 2022 – The Reform for Resilience Commission (R4R) has a lofty goal—to help ensure healthier and resilient growth everywhere amid dire global threats such as COVID-19 and climate change. Patricia Geli, a former World Bank economist and research scientist in Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Global Health and Population, is executive director of R4R’s Americas Hub and Secretariat, both based at the School. Here, she discusses the Commission’s work.

Q: How did R4R come to be, and what is Harvard Chan School’s role in it?

A: The Commission was formed in March 2020 by George Freeman, a life sciences expert and currently a member of the U.K. Parliament. It was established with three co-chairs: Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams; José Manuel Barroso, chair of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and former president of the European Commission; and Malcolm Turnbull, former prime minister of Australia.

While it grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had broader goals from the start: We aim to support the development of a greener, healthier, and more economically resilient world. We all know how many challenges governments and businesses face in today’s world. There’s so much to tackle, it can feel overwhelming. And when everything feels urgent, nothing gets done well. That’s where we hope the Commission can help. We’re bringing together academics, business leaders, and global policy experts to develop metrics and policy recommendations that can shape a more resilient future.

To give you a specific example: One of our deliverables will be a Resilience Index, a common framework for assessing resilience in both the public and private sectors. The Commission will leverage the Resilience Index — along with other tools for identifying needs and tracking progress — to frame policy and investment recommendations for national governments and global organizations such as such as the G7, the G20, the OECD, and WHO. We will also work with corporate leaders to help them develop policies aimed at healthier growth.

Harvard Chan School runs the Americas Hub of the Commission, which seeks to serve and represent North, South, and Central America. The school is also the site of the global Secretariat, which oversees and coordinates R4R.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Commission?

A: We live in a very uncertain world. Back in 2008 and 2009, the world was faced with the so-called “triple F” crises: fuel, food, and financial crises. That seems like a different era. Then the world was less fractured. Global challenges were addressed in a multilateral way. The G8 and the G20 acted in unison. They urged the IMF, the World Bank and regional development banks to do whatever it takes to address these crises.

Today, we’re in a completely different world, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, inflation, the debt crisis, and ongoing issues such as the climate crisis. It is important to understand the interplay of these complex global disruptions and how we build resilience to withstand them, now and in the future.

One big hurdle is that, unfortunately, the conversation both about the pandemic and climate change has become unnecessary polarized, not to mention clouded by conflicting information and disinformation. I really hope that we can bridge some of these political divides. We don’t want to run our policy on these crucial issues in a stop-and-go manner depending on who is in power. We are hoping to help develop effective solutions to climate change and pandemics that everyone should be able to get behind.

We also want to ensure that our focus is not just on fighting current problems. We need to have solutions in place so that we can bounce back quickly from future shocks—because the next shock may be very different from the ones we’re facing right now.

Q: Could you share a specific example of how R4R is tackling pandemic preparedness?

A: One of our work streams focuses on supporting a greener cold chain, which is crucial for equitable distribution of vaccines and therapeutics.

Maintaining proper cold-chain storage for these life-saving medications is crucial, yet it’s very challenging in parts of the world where infrastructure is limited and the power supply is spotty. The Commission aims to tackle this issue by identifying and supporting innovative technology that maintains cold storage with less energy. We’ll also be looking at ideas to bypass the need for a cold chain altogether by formulating vaccines and therapeutics to survive higher temperatures.

Such solutions could significantly improve delivery of vital drugs and vaccines to remote and rural parts of the world. They could also be very helpful in reducing the tremendous amount of greenhouse gases produced by traditional cold chain storage, which would aid in the fight against global warming. In short, a greener cold chain could help many societies around the world become more healthier and more resilient—which aligns perfectly with R4R’s goals.

We are actively working on this issue now, and we see some exciting opportunities in this space. We hope to convene a Green Cold Chain Summit in the coming months with leading stakeholders from around the world.

Karen Feldscher