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Opinion | COVID-19 Best Practices: An Opportunity for Indonesia & ASEAN

A crisis is an opportunity for reinvention that should not be missed. With the entire world looking for guidance and hope, there is no better time to showcase leadership and go off the beaten path: what matters is a sound objective and helping your society not only survive but also thrive via economic recovery in the years to come. More than ever, governments, the business sector, and charitable organizations are in the position to be responsive and regain the trust of the citizens, provided that they understand what is required of them: vision and courage. Indonesia can set the tone is South-East Asia and I will provide two telling examples.

Positive examples of transformative engagement have proliferated in the past few weeks. In the political realm, South Korea has become the gold standard for flattening the curve, as its response has proven enormously effective in containing the COVID-19 outbreak. The measures implemented by the country are a combination of transparency, the latest technology, and a responsible approach by institutions and citizens. New Zealand and PM Jacinda Ardern have masterfully displayed the three key things leaders must address to motivate followers to give their best: “direction-giving”, “meaning-making”, and “empathy”. With its focus on cohesion, Denmark has acted swiftly against the outbreak, closing schools, limiting social gatherings, and—in mid-March—shutting its borders entirely. Even more importantly, it is guaranteeing 90% of workers’ salaries to prevent mass layoffs. In the tech world, Google and Apple have partnered on coronavirus contact tracing technology as a tool to help contain its spread. Amazon also is lending computing resources to the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, as well as data and insights to the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition. Jack Ma's Foundation is helping out actively in Africa and globally. 

The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies will work together to try to find treatments and a vaccine to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Executives from companies including Roche, Sanofi Pasteur, and Johnson & Johnson said they would share resources and clinical trial data with governments and each other to help increase testing capacity and develop treatments. In the world of philanthropy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has joined forces with Wellcome and Mastercard to beef up their response, backed by $125 million in both new funding and money already earmarked to tackle this pandemic. 

With the notable exception of Singapore until the second wave of infections, examples of leadership originating in South-East Asian countries have not benefited from the global spotlight and this should be corrected. Indonesia, who recently called for an ASEAN special summit on coronavirus, can easily fill this void and set an example for both the region and the Muslim world. It is the most populous country in both cases, it has a multitude of ambitious plans, from regional leadership to a top-notch new capital. It is managing the immediate health crisis while strategically looking at its ASEAN chairmanship in 2023, a year also likely affected by the prolonged economic crisis which began this year. Moreover, the Indonesian leadership has the potential to go beyond politics, as its successful families, tech entrepreneurs, and VCs can make history by helping the recovery, by leading the country and the region in terms of keeping jobs and helping community resilience. 

The COVID-19 will hit hard Indonesia, with almost 3 million people having lost their jobs and 70 million at risk of losing income. The challenge for the government is to intervene rapidly, help those in need, and preserve social stability. Leaders need to both project trust and act decisively and with vision. Here, Indonesia can become an example by tweaking the idea of a Universal Basic Income to the Asian specificities. We have seen examples in Europe (Finland and, more recently, Spain) and North America of pilot programs, but I am sure that Asia has its own take on the issue and can innovate policy-wise. The political leadership of Indonesia can catch two rabbits with one stone, tackling head-on a social and economic issue and becoming an example to be emulated in the region.

By keeping local and foreign entrepreneurial and academic talent close, socio-political leaders in Jakarta can lead the regional recovery and thereby become an ASEAN, Muslim, and why not, G20, model of inspiration.  

Although Indonesia can do a better job in increasing the share of exports in its GDP, the country benefits from integration in the global value chains and could benefit even more. As China’s prominence in the global economy is increasingly contested by the US and its allies, ASEAN countries could step in and take advantage of the reluctance of North Americans and West Europeans to rely on current supply chains for products and services. This once-in-a-generation economic transformation could mean more jobs, more export opportunities, and development, provided that Indonesia will put forward a coherent and compelling plan. India is also aiming for this, and so is Vietnam. So, for President Jokowi and his government, this is the time to act and make the country and the region the economic and social champions of this new normal. The new social contract that Indonesia and the region need comes to the stakeholder table sooner than expected: we all knew that leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution would include an important conversation on jobs and innovation, but now we need to have this "New Deal" talk sooner than expected, under COVID-19 health strain and economic stress. By keeping local and foreign entrepreneurial and academic talent close, socio-political leaders in Jakarta can lead the regional recovery and thereby become an ASEAN, Muslim, and why not, G20, model of inspiration.  


About the Author

Radu Magdin is a global analyst and think tanker, former prime ministerial advisor in Romania and Moldova. He writes on global leadership and strategic communications.


Views and opinions expressed in this article are those held by the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies.

Image: Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia



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