President Biden has a herculean task in rebuilding an economy ravaged by a pandemic and healing a divided nation. Maybe more so than any President in modern history his administration has a powerful ally in American businesses who can assist with its efforts to make it to the other side of the pandemic, build back our economy, and restore faith in governance. Much has been written about what corporate America wants from President Biden, but not enough about ways they can work together. Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer found that business is a most trusted institution and a recent Gallup poll shows that 97% of Americans have a favorable view of small business.
I have seen the benefits of these collaborations firsthand, both inside and outside the government. When I served in the Obama Administration, I saw how public private partnerships could help drive market change, shape public policy, and help communicate important messages to American public. In fact, during my time in government, the private sector played a key role in supporting the efforts in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Much can be learned from this in our battle against Covid-19.
Here are three ideas for recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and restoring faith in our democracy.
1. Organize Public Private Partnerships Starting with Vaccines
The fact that our nation’s private sector produced a Covid-19 vaccine in less than a year is a testament to what we are capable of when the federal government works hand-in-hand with American businesses to resolve a crisis. The Administration can and should partner with the private sector to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine and manufacture additional personal protective equipment as quickly as possible — it’s encouraging to see some of this already underway. In addition to working with private sector entities to deploy the vaccine, employers will need to play an important role in providing public education to their employees and community about the vaccine’s safety and importance to rebuilding the economy. Just as important, the private sector can play a leadership role in making sure the vaccine gets distributed in an equitable way. Beyond vaccine deployment, collaborations — similar to one we implemented in the Obama Administration that facilitated faster payments from larger companies to their small business vendors — can incentivize private sector companies to help lift up the lives of workers through improvements. Models of this effort can be implemented to include employers committing to better wages, paid sick days, older work protection, and more flexible working arrangements.
2. Foster Economic Recovery: Advocacy and Implementation
The Biden Administration is tasked with rebuilding our economy, most notably a Main Street that has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the private sector must support this effort. Business leaders and small business owners have already publicly stated that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package is a needed lifeline to make it through the pandemic. And in a few weeks, he is expected to announce a jobs and economic recovery plan to put millions of Americans back to work. The private sector can also serve as a vehicle for implementation, offer guidance on what will and won’t work, and advocate for monumental legislation that will help small businesses and their employees. For example, we’ve seen some corporate leadership on helping small businesses access the Paycheck Protection Program, but more work could be done to help small business owners of color get the technical assistance and guidance they need to truly benefit from the federal programs that have been established to support them during this challenging time. Collaboration with the private sector will help ensure that recovery is implemented in a way that maximizes the benefit to the economy, avoids austerity measures, and incorporates the lessons learned from past recessions.
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3. Restore Faith in Governance
In a recent roundtable discussion on business’ role in democracy co-hosted by my organization with Leadership Now Project, renowned chef and philanthropist José Andrés said, “For the ones that doubt that the American Dream doesn’t exist anymore, I’m going to tell them it does exist, but we cannot take it for granted. It’s not something given. It’s something earned. We need to make sure that we give the possibility to everybody — Americans of many generations or new immigrants like me — to work hard and to make it, to provide for our families, to provide for our communities, and together, keep moving America forward.” Unfortunately, a Gallup poll found that 12% of Americans say national division and lack of unity is the main challenge facing this country and that number is the highest ever in seven decades of asking that question. The federal government and private sector must work together to restore that trust. We have known since the Great Depression that a functioning government is crucial to a healthy Main Street and the past year reminded all of us of that fact. Another area that needs immediate attention is our country’s electoral process, which varies state-by-state. If the White House and businesses can proactively examine the lessons learned from 2020 and make improvements for 2022, that could potentially go a long way to instilling confidence in our next congressional and presidential elections. It is harder to regain trust when going it alone, so it is important to work together to build trust in government, business, and global leadership.
Public private partnerships allow for the best of the federal government and private sector to come together to serve the people. Given the challenges of the past year, there is no time like the present to be unified in our activities and support investment in crucial collaborations that can net phenomenal and life changing results.