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Don Cheadle, Kristalina Georgieva and 6 More Global Leaders Share the Most Powerful Collaborations in Their Lives

16 minute read


Kristalina Georgieva

Managing Director, IMF

In August 2021, the 190 member countries of the International Monetary Fund—working together to tackle the pandemic, a crisis like no other—delivered an achievement like no other: a historic $650 billion injection of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to help the global economy, and especially nations that are suffocating amid COVID-19 lockdowns.

SDRs are an economic asset created by the IMF to strengthen countries’ foreign-exchange reserves. A new allocation of them is rare; the last one, in 2009, was aimed at recovery from the global financial crisis. Most people don’t know what SDRs are, but millions benefit from their existence. Put simply, the IMF distributes additional reserves to its members because it relies on their collective strength. Reflecting the unprecedented crisis, 2021’s was the largest allocation of SDRs ever. Countries are using the funds to help meet vital needs in this pandemic, from Senegal increasing vaccine production capacity to Haiti financing critical imports.

So how did we make it happen? First, we worked with all our members. With so many countries, agreement requires intensive dialogue and diplomacy. It is a tribute to the spirit of cooperation that we all concluded this was the right thing to do at the right time to help the entire world.

Second, we worked with other international institutions. This includes development banks like the African Development Bank with the regional expertise and capacity to help ensure the SDRs “hit the ground most effectively,” as its president, Akinwumi Adesina, has said.

Third, we worked with wealthier members to amplify the benefits of the SDRs, which are allocated by countries’ shares in the IMF. While about $275 billion went to emerging and developing nations—with new SDRs amounting to as much as 6% of GDP for some—the most vulnerable need more. That’s why we urge members with strong reserves to voluntarily channel SDRs to poorer countries. IMF members also established a trust through which SDRs can help vulnerable countries not only recover but also build forward better, addressing crucial challenges like climate change.

This SDR allocation is a historic example of global collaboration at its best: countries coming together to help each other-—and to help people—in a time of need.

Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Director-General, World Health Organization

At its heart, the pandemic is a crisis of solidarity and sharing of data and information, biological samples, and resources and tools. COVID-19 has shown the importance of rapid and broad sharing of information about pathogens for effective surveillance and the timely development of medical-response products such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

A great deal of pathogen sharing is done on an ad hoc basis and bilaterally, which risks leaving out some countries and may mean that dangerous emerging pathogens are missed. That’s why we set up two new hubs: one to allow our 194 member states to voluntarily share novel biological materials, and another to detect new events with pandemic potential and monitor disease-control measures in real time. Both hubs will be key to preparing for and responding to future epidemics and pandemics.

Once a signal is detected, as well as responding to curtail spread, it’s important to develop critical health tools and share them effectively.

In April 2020, WHO, the European Commission, France, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation formed the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to speed up the development and production of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, and ensure equitable access to them. Raising billions of dollars, it has helped improve access to new health tools globally.

But narrow nationalism and hoarding by some countries have undermined equity and created the ideal conditions for the Omicron variant to emerge.

In 2022, it’s critical that nations work together even more closely to vaccinate the world and equitably share all health tools. One way to increase production of lifesaving tools is to pool technology.

WHO’s mRNA technology-transfer hub in South Africa will enable the development of a more affordable mRNA vaccine. Recently, the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and the Medicines Patent Pool finalized their first licensing deal with the Spanish National Research Council, a transparent, global and nonexclusive license for a serological antibody test. I hope it’s the first of many.

With talks about to begin for a binding accord among nations on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, it’s important that world leaders seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people.

Business Wire/AP

Christiana Figueres

Founding Partner, Global Optimism, and Former Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

Way back in 2015, the 196 national governments that adopted the historic Paris Agreement on climate change did so in part because they realized that their enlightened self-interest coincided in a decarbonized global economy that staved off the worst climate impacts. But the agreement was also made possible because of the vast network of stakeholders that coalesced around those governments to encourage them in the right direction.

Known to only a few insiders, the covert effort, code-named Groundswell, was organized by the secretariat of the U.N. climate-change convention. Its goal was to create a “surround sound” effect around national governments so that no matter where they looked, they would find enthusiastic support for an ambitious, legally binding agreement that would guide the evolution of the global economy toward carbon neutrality.

Climate scientists were of course central to the effort. But Groundswell also included sub-national governments, corporate leaders, captains of finance, women’s groups, youth, Indigenous authorities, farmers, spiritual leaders, academics and NGOs of all stripes and sizes. The stakeholder groups had their own particular expectations, but rather than being asked to relinquish those interests, they were invited to bring their viewpoints into a shared initiative to prod national governments toward and support them in achieving the overarching legal framework.

Six years later, the community has grown immensely and no longer needs to operate covertly, as national governments have realized they cannot address climate change on their own. At the recent COP26 climate-change meeting in Glasgow, the Race to Zero campaign brought together hundreds of cities, regions, businesses and investors, all of whom are committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Collectively, these actors cover nearly 25% of global CO² emissions and over 50% of GDP, and they manage financial portfolios worth $130 trillion. The objective of the Race to Zero campaign was to build further momentum around the shift to a decarbonized economy so that national governments could strengthen their formal contributions to the Paris Agreement goals, creating a more inclusive and resilient global economy.

The collaborative architecture that has been built around climate-change efforts will continue to grow, and the “walls” that used to separate it from the work of national governments will continue to soften. Ultimately, the effective and timely reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions depends precisely on an all-in approach, in which public and private sectors in every country align efforts in order to maximize their capacities and increase their response speed. Climate change is the definitive test of collaboration.

Abdulhamid Hosbas—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Margrethe Vestager

Executive Vice President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and Competition, European Commission

Europe and the U.S. have come together before to protect democracy. Today, our liberal institutions are imperiled not by the blazing sound of bombs, but by the harmful silence of technology.

Everywhere, we see democracy fragmented into bubbles, driven by profit-making algorithms. To different extents, the rioters of the U.S. Capitol and the terrorists of the Paris and Brussels attacks were indoctrinated on social media before they took their plans offline. And if these events were wake-up calls, the revelations of Frances Haugen are a call to action.

That’s how the E.U.-U.S. Trade and Technology Council was born a few months ago. Don’t get me wrong: the road remains long before we come up with tangible solutions. But we have already agreed on a common approach to limit the risks of artificial intelligence, combat unlawful surveillance and ensure tech markets remain fair.

It has been said that “the U.S. innovates and Europe regulates.” This conversation is changing: now we are joining forces. And when two such determined partners shift the rudder together, it’s likely the ship will eventually turn.

Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

Rose Marcario

Venture Partner, Regen Ventures, and Former CEO, Patagonia

These days, some of my richest collaborations are with fungal networks—and with human organizations with the curiosity and vision to leverage fungi’s power. Suffice to say we have plenty to learn from fungi: the interconnectedness of their systems; the resilience, the diversity, the distributed power, the infinitely adaptable networks. Under our feet is a vast fungal network 450 quadrillion km long, and it sequesters 5 billion tons of CO² per year, while also providing nutrient pathways to soils and plants. These networks are for the most part invisible, and are just beginning to be explored with the help of a new NGO called the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks, which is taking up the task of mapping these crucial networks across the globe to help fight the climate and nature crisis.

Mycelium, an important part of fungus, has plenty of other interesting applications too. Properly fermented, it can create a nutrient-dense protein, capable of feeding the world; a brilliant young founder in Colorado named Tyler Huggins started Meati Foods to do just that. Because it can be used to make packaging material, mycelium might just solve our plastic problem. Psilocybin botanicals also show much promise as treatments for mental-health and neurological disorders; AJNA BioSciences, a new pharmaceutical company, is working toward using earth-regenerating agriculture techniques to produce psilocybin-based medications. The possibilities are as endless as fungi’s weblike networks.

Whether we want to accept it or not, our world has been irrevocably changed by our human ignorance and inaction; we’ve fouled our own nest so inexorably that we face a troubled and uncertain future. We have hastened the destruction of our own life-support systems. To get out of this mess will require all of us to do our part, and these days I put my trust and optimism in collaborations with natural systems, and their ability to restore and regenerate our planet. But to do so, they’ll need stewardship from brilliant entrepreneurs, scientists who put their research into action, citizens and activists, and anyone who gives a damn about our future.

Though I spent much of the past decade as a retail CEO, I don’t believe in just selling stuff anymore. We have enough stuff in the world. Buy used. Unless the stuff makes the world better and eradicates some old, bad polluting system, what’s the point? The next-generation customer is too world-weary and smart to be won over by fake, overprocessed food that is laden with pesticides and has no nutritional value; or by mea culpa commercials or rebrands à la Facebook, or Monsanto after its merger with Bayer.

The good news is there is a whole new cohort of brilliant entrepreneurs who understand the need for new economies that respect, consider and revitalize our planet. Those are the entrepreneurs I’m betting on.

The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP

Masatsugu Asakawa

President, Asian Development Bank

At COP26 in Glasgow, I had a brief exchange with a young university student. She described how climate change is affecting her country and our planet, and shared her ideas about fighting it. Just a few hours later, I spoke at an event alongside Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati. What struck me was the similarity of their views: a feeling of real concern but also of optimism that we can solve this crisis.

Climate change is the critical issue of our lifetimes. Many millions of people in Asia and the Pacific are living with its impacts right now. It is threatening the viability of agriculture in Tajikistan. It is upending critical ecosystems in the Philippines and Vietnam. In the low-lying atoll countries of Kiribati and Tuvalu, it is a threat to their very existence.

COP26 may go down as the moment a diverse group of actors—from farmer to fund manager to finance minister—all converged on the realization that this challenge requires a global response, a consensus that opens up space for groundbreaking collaborations. Recognizing this, we are leveraging the reservoir of trust that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) enjoys to create high-impact collaborative platforms for climate action.

For example, we have joined with Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg Philanthropies with the goal of using grant capital to unlock low-carbon investment for South and Southeast Asia. We are partnering with HSBC, Temasek and Clifford Capital Holdings to invest in sustainable infrastructure in Southeast Asia. And we are spearheading a new Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM), an innovative funding vehicle that leverages public, private and philanthropic financing to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power stations and their replacement with clean, renewable energy.

ETM has the potential to be one of the world’s biggest carbon-reduction programs, but it would not be possible without the political will of countries, the capital of the private sector, the concern of philanthropies and the knowledge of organizations such as ADB.

My hope is that one day, if we build on these concrete collaborations, students like the young woman I met in Glasgow will be able to focus on their studies rather than worrying about the future of our planet.

Daniel Garzon Herazo—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Claudia López Hernández

Mayor of Bogotá

Colombia is a vibrant and diverse country and our capital city, Bogotá, has become home to thousands of Colombians who have moved to the city from regions across the nation. They bring with them diversity of ethnicity, culture, social and political beliefs as well as labor skills.

With 15% of the national population, Bogotá is responsible for 26% of the country’s gross domestic product. But it is sometimes said to be everyone’s city, and also nobody’s.

Most of Bogotá’s residents are perceived to have a greater affinity for their home regions than to the metropolis that has become their new home. But this perception can be seen as both a myth and reality. It’s a myth because, when asked, most residents love the city that changed their lives. Anyone who lives in Bogotá is considered to be Bogotano. It’s also a reality because living in a big city like ours has its challenges. Reaching citywide agreements on strategic and long-term issues can be difficult.

But that reality is changing. And the people of Bogotá play an important role.

It is only with the support of citizens that current and former mayors have been able to set aside differences to plan the construction of a multimodal transport network, based on a metro network and regional trains.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided another opportunity for collaboration. It has brought a sense of urgency to our efforts to focus on what unites us. Bogotá tripled its capacity for hospital care during the pandemic, and our vaccination efforts have brought protection to 80% of the population, in a joint effort between the national government and my office. Together, we have achieved this despite being at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, and even partisan competitors.

The lessons learned in 2020 and 2021 have encouraged us. When an emergency strikes, rivalry becomes insignificant.

These lessons are also applicable at the national level. Colombia will elect a new President and a new Congress this year. Elections often exacerbate differences.

Governing in the midst of humanity’s greatest multisystem crisis forces citizens, leaders and governments to weigh the temptation of polarization against the need to promote collective action to survive. To lead in this century is to have the wisdom and courage not to succumb to the former in order to guarantee the latter.

Neglecting this duty would be not only a failure of government, but also a disaster for our species.

Stephen Lovekin—Shutterstock

Don Cheadle

Actor and U.N. Environment Programme goodwill Ambassador

I believe in using fame for good. From serving as a global goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Environment Programme to campaigning against genocide in Darfur, I support people organizing for freedom and justice. But over the years, I’ve learned that systemic change takes more than one person acting alone.

One of my most powerful collaborations started on the sets of the Avengers movies—but it didn’t take place onscreen. After speaking with fellow cast member Mark Ruffalo about activism, I joined him on the Solutions Project’s board to spotlight communities at the front lines of the climate crisis.

Working with Mark and others at the Solutions Project, I’ve seen firsthand how communities of color —often hit first and worst by the climate crisis—are joining forces with neighbors of all races to innovate solutions. I’ve seen Black and Latinx communities fight oil drilling, Indigenous people and white farmers defend their land and water from pipelines, and Asian and Pacific Islanders power affordable housing with solar. These multiracial coalitions coming together around such diverse leadership give me hope—and clarity about what it takes to win.

Take the Solutions Project’s CEO, Gloria Walton. Gloria was a community organizer in South Central Los Angeles, and she brought the values of solidarity—of showing up for others in common purpose—to bear on the Solutions Project’s mission to fund and amplify climate-justice solutions. She leads with relationships and collaboration, and now we’ve got 139 grassroots grantees in communities across the country who can count on dozens of artists, industry leaders and philanthropists to show up for climate justice.

Climate change is the world’s most pressing issue, and it’s happening right now. We need all hands on deck—creatives, entrepreneurs and activists alike—to use our collective power to protect all people and the planet.

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