From SAPPHIRE NOW: How the Pandemic Is Reshaping the Future

As most of us stay hunkered down doing our best to survive the global pandemic, business leaders are trying to make sense of what we can expect from institutions, alliances, and global leadership in the aftermath. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, does not believe we are headed into a new global order.

“Rather, it’s that we’re recognizing suddenly that a lot of things that have been happening slowly and under the surface for years now have changed the global order, and now we have to pay attention to it,” Bremmer said. “Not only is this the largest crisis of our lifetimes, but it’s the largest crisis against the backdrop of no global leadership.”

Bremmer’s remarks came during a provocative conversation about the interconnection of health, business, society, and technology with Adaire Fox-Martin, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE and head of Customer Success.

Their talk was among the many perceptive broadcasts from SAPPHIRE NOW Unplugged, part of the SAPPHIRE NOW Reimagined digital program.

Geopolitics Unaligned with Institutions and Alliances

When Fox-Martin asked what lessons could be learned, Bremmer pointed to the mismatch between dramatically changed geopolitics in the last 10 to 20 years versus institutions and alliances that have stayed relatively the same.

“It really implies that those institutions or alliances are no longer as fit for purpose,” he said. “And even if we’re committed to them, we’ll be less committed to them, and even if we’re strongly committed to them, they won’t be as useful as they used to be. I think it will be about a three-year period before we come to the new normal for the global economy, and that’s a long time.”

Diversify Supply Chains for Resilience

Noting that almost every CEO is attempting to figure out how to make their business more efficient, Bremmer expects companies to diversify supply chains for resiliency and flexibility. This is a huge pivot away from traditional supply chain management.

“The hope is that you can do that and create more resilience in supply chains by moving it closer to consumers without necessarily having to make it so expensively over-redundant,” Bremmer said. “You do need a just-in-case as opposed to just-in-time supply chain. Some of that is going to be redundant, but a lot of it can be just by shrinking the supply chain and getting it close to where the consumption actually is.”

Digital Is a Must

Admitting the crisis was not good for anyone, Bremmer saw a desperate need for the digital economy to help in getting through this. He urged companies to move quickly toward the 21st century because “if they weren’t digital and they weren’t post-industrial before, they’re going to have to be, or they’re going to be looking at bankruptcy or they’re going to be looking at getting acquired.” He also called for the development of a world data organization to manage the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI).

As Bremmer enumerated a dizzying array of geopolitical challenges by country with razor-sharp realism, he was also optimistic about the potential of a world data organization. To show what was possible, he pointed to recent unprecedented partnerships between competitive tech vendors that were exploring contact tracing for COVID-19 cases.

“What we really want is to have an institution that allows for opening a whole bunch of chapters around different ways that data and technology affect our lives and allows us to integrate and coordinate those things and invite everyone in the world to do so within a set of rules,” Bremmer explained. “It’s a really good time to create an institution around this.”

Globalization as a Force for Good

Regarding what needs to change most, Bremmer harked back to the 2008 recession, where nothing really changed afterward. He saw the pandemic as a much larger crisis and speculated that it might just be big enough to address the ongoing problems of globalization that has historically benefitted the few at the top, while fractured institutions and alliances no longer address geopolitical realities.

“This a much bigger crisis, so maybe it’s big enough for us to start addressing some of these problems, but we don’t want it to be too big,” Bremmer said. “If it’s too big, the institutions will start to break, so we really need this crisis to be in that narrow window – that not-too-hot, not-too-cold, just right to force us to adapt our institutions, our alliances, our values, our supply chains to a very new global order, a very new global reality.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, Ian Bremmer did not predicate country success in emerging from the coronavirus on wealth. He said the biggest winners would be well governed countries that were less exposed to globalization and had young populations and leaders more focused on science.


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