As part of their Trends in Asset Management Series, the Brandeis International Business School invited three alumni who work for multinational organizations to speak about their professional experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrea Dore M.A. ’98 is the Head of Funding at the World Bank, Elida Rico M.A. ’99 is the Governance and Public Administration Officer at the United Nations, and Olaf Unteroberdoerster M.S. ’98, Ph.D. ’98 is Division Chief at the International Monetary Fund. 

Prof. Linda Buoy, Senior Associate Dean of IBS, moderated the event and began by asking the speakers when their respective institutions recognized the scale of the COVID-19 crisis. All three speakers recognized the severity of the crisis on a personal level in March 2020, and each of their institutions sent employees to work from home in March as well. “I have never seen this speed and magnitude of response at the World Bank before COVID-19,” said Dore. The World Bank announced its first initial response of $12 billion as “immediate support to assist countries coping with the health and economic impacts of the global outbreak” in early March, and this number drastically increased to $160 billion by the end of the month. Rico stated “in over 75 years, the UN has never gone online. My office was the last place on earth to shut down.” 

Buoy then asked Dore to give concrete examples of how the World Bank helped the countries most severely affected by the pandemic. “The unfortunate thing is the heaviest burden of the pandemic has fallen on vulnerable countries,” Dore explained. At the start of the crisis, the Bank had to find creative ways to mobilize and get funding for assistance programs. These programs included helping developing countries negotiate with suppliers and manufacturers to receive supplies, continuing health care services, maintaining e-commerce and repurposing energy operations. Dore gave examples of multiple countries, including Pakistan, to which the Bank provided $25 million in emergency cash transfers to help roughly four million people, and Malawi, where the Bank provided financial support to maintain home schooling. Dore also noted that St. Lucia, where she was born, is a developing country reliant on tourism and was one of the beneficiaries of the Bank's programs. Since March 2020, the World Bank has rolled out financial assistance programs in more than 100 developing countries, Dore reported. 

The next question was directed towards Unteroberdoerster, asking “what needs did the IMF identify and what were the institution’s responses?” Unteroberdoerster explained that the IMF improved multiple tools that it had not used much in the past. The IMF used a rapid financing instrument tool to assess urgent needs with little conditionality, whereas usually they require countries to change certain economic policies in order to receive funds. The board got many requests from countries for emergency financing and the fund provided 85 countries with a total of $110 billion. Before the crisis, the IMF provided funds for an average of three to four countries a year, but in 2020 they were able to supply funds to 51 low-income countries. Unteroberdoerster highlighted that the massive interventions by leading central banks and the federal reserve allowed global financial conditions to ease relatively quickly, meaning many of the tools that the IMF had developed did not need to be used. Most recently, the IMF board has discussed the use of Special Drawing Rights, international reserve assets, to provide relief to poor and liquidity-constrained countries still dealing with the effects of the pandemic. 

When asked about the UN’s response, Rico said “If I had to sum it up, the UN response was a health, social, economic, peace and humanitarian response. We took into consideration the future of health, work and food.” From the start of the pandemic, the UN has deployed 100 emergency teams in over 90 countries and ensured that 20 million people have access to water and hygiene products. Rico explained that there is a widening economic inequality being exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic and an urgent need to expand liquidity and maintain financial stability in the global economy.

Dore, Rico and Unteroberdoerster also reflected on how their organizations have prepared for future effects of the pandemic and their predictions for future crises. The UN is collaborating with other entities to help developing and middle-income countries renegotiate terms of debt. In regard to long-term changes, “it's a great opportunity to do things in a sustainable and inclusive way by aligning policies with sustainable development goals,'' Rico said. Dore and Unteroberdoerster also emphasized the importance of incorporating environmental sustainability into future crisis management.

The last question of the event asked each speaker to give the international institutions a grade for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dore said that while the initial response deserves a very high grade, there cannot be a final grade yet. The short-term effects have been dealt with but there are so many long-term crises to focus on. Unteroberdoerster’s reponse praised international institutions, but he was slightly critical of the public’s focus on country-first strategies fueled by nationalism, which made the IMF’s ability to respond more difficult. 

The IMF, World Bank and UN have all proven essential in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Optimistic that each institution will continue with their work, Unteroberdoerster concluded, “One lesson we should learn from the pandemic is that global challenges should be tackled jointly by multinational organizations who have shared values and a common purpose.”