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Life After Covid-19 edition July 2020
Visions of a
Why The Way We Treat The
Elderly Has To Change
Inside a Virtual Doctor’s Office
Political Plurality and
Covid-19 Memorial MAP
Holding Up a Mirror to Journalism and Society
Telework on and after
the Covid pandemic
Fighting Cancer, Covid and Climate Change
Digitalised menus, online delivery, socially distanced
How AI Will Change Biotechnology
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Across and between the private and public sector — collaboration, innovation and bravery is needed from leadership to mitigate the unavoidable impact of Covid-19. Government spending and private funding applied in the correct way, can rebuild a sustainable rise from the ashes.
When the global economy shuts down for a couple of months, with the entire pace slowed for the foreseeable future, the consequences are unavoidable. Many in Europe have called for a Marshall Plan to recover from the economic fallout of the virus. This throwback to the past is by no means out of place. A post-war economy is not an entirely inappropriate comparison in the current context. That said, given the health risks which are still at large, a recovery plan must be prioritised asking, “how can people be protected while the economy is reopened” rather than vice-versa.
Old phrases about the relationship between crisis and opportunity, continue to be rolled out and are perhaps insensitive, and most definitely vulnerable to misinterpretation.
This idea of opportunity from crisis, is not a green light to ‘make a quick buck’ where gaps in the market may have opened. Rather, the hope is that this crisis will be used as an opportunity to learn from the many mistakes of the past. These mistakes include: the underinvestment in healthcare in countries the world over, which left medical workers on the frontlines under-equipped and incapable of coping with a crisis of such scale; underinvestment in science which has affected fields such as Covid-19 testing and most likely, the search for a vaccine as well; the rampant unregulated increase of carbon emissions; and even a global crisis of misinformation, as the anti-vaccine camps and conspiracy theorists ltd remain at large.
The way forward and the solutions to fix a broken capitalist system are out there and being signalled to us. It is our job to follow the path being lit up by economic and scientific experts, by private sector workers driven by more than just financial profit, and some of the governments who have best dealt with the crisis so far. There are many changes that are shaping pronounced differences in our daily lives. Some of these changes will disappear as vaccines and treatments come in and countries restabilize, physical distancing for example will be eased. Other changes may be here to stay — note countries such as Taiwan where mask wearing became common following the SARS outbreak. And finally, there are changes that we ought to make, and need to take action on.
Many in Europe have called for a Marshall Plan-type recovery to mitigate the economic damage that is being done and will continue to be done in the coming months and years. This comparison to the post-war era is not out of place, as a wartime economy is not dissimilar to the current situation we are facing, as leading Spanish economist Miguel Otero-Iglesias told VoL. Whilst the said Marshall Plan was deployed to lift Europe out of its post-war turmoil, in the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was the leading force behind the US rise from the Great Depression in the 1930s. One of the cornerstones of this legendary recovery plan was its investment in public works, huge projects which combated rising employment due to the necessary labour for these works. In the US now, unemployment claims have risen by 1.5 million in June, with the virus continuing to spread alarmingly as admitted by top US health official Dr Anthony Fauci.
Given that the public works and infrastructure society that fueled Roosevelt’s type of revival back in the 30s, is largely unnecessary in a country like the U.S., a green recovery now presents itself as both an effective option. It is not a magic bullet for unemployment, and would not kill two birds with one stone, but investment in green infrastructure would definitely make a dent in the targets of both unemployment and environmental progress. Labour created through green infrastructure projects is cited by Miguel Otero-Iglesias as a promising possibility. Speaking to VoL, Iglesias said that one example is “improving the isolation of buildings so that they don’t consume so much”.
The Time for a Green Economic Recovery
Life after Covid-19
He adds that there are also “mega projects like increasing the renewable energy capacity and the interconnections between Spain and France”.
There are promising signs in terms of attitudes within Europe. The EU Press Corner reports President Ursula Von Der Leyen’s perspectives on the EU’s attempts to marry the pandemic’s recovery plan with a Green New Deal: “The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not
opportunities and wealth, there are several indicators that show we really should be doing better in the 21st century. In January of this year, Oxfam published a report stating that “the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population”. If this is not an indicator that the world’s economic system is in dire need of structural change, what is? The current system is not serving the vast majority of the global population.
One of the many necessary measures needed to fix this, is through fairer tax systems. Some of the world’s richest people even concur with this point of view. Warren Buffet for example, famously claimed his secretary paid a higher tax percentage than he did.
Take businesses like Google and Amazon for example, who continue to pay a pittance in taxes. For this reason, leading economists such as Thomas Piketty and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz are calling for a 25% minimum tax on big corporations such as Google,
Our lives after Covid-19 are not just an era of recovery. They may very well be a crossroads, marking a before and after in human history, much like the Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, the fall of the Berlin Wall. On what side of this history we are on, depends on our actions now.
Leading economists such as Thomas Piketty and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz are calling for a 25% minimum tax on big corporations such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix.
only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalisation will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment. This is Europe’s moment. Our willingness to act must live up to the challenges we are all facing. With Next Generation EU we are providing an ambitious answer”. Investment in wind, solar and clean hydrogen energy stand out in an ambitious plan which will will hopefully set a trend for similar plans across the world.
The intention of the EU echoes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ earlier calls for economic recovery plans to be joined at the hip with a green reformulation. UN Press reported Guterres’ statement which included demands for taxpayers’ money and new job creation to become synonymous with green transition. He also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. This final point is particularly noteworthy, considering that, as CNBC/Natural Climate Change Journal report that carbon emissions are already rebounding now that lockdowns are gradually being lifted.
Our global economy is not just unsustainable in terms of its destruction of the environment. As the UN SDGs signal, global poverty is still at unacceptable levels. As for the gaps in
Amazon, Facebook and Netflix. La Tercera reports Stiglitz’ clear and concise explanation of why these measures need to be brought in and how an ineffective tax system has a knock-on effect for the rest of the economy. Stiglitz says that before the crisis, these businesses, which have now benefited from said crisis, were not paying their fair share in taxes and this “distorts the economy, damaging the creation of jobs and delaying the recovery”.
Whilst ensuring we protect the more vulnerable members of society, the need for far-reaching and dramatic spending plans mean that this is a chance to restructure an economy which even before the pandemic was not functioning in an environmentally sound nor socially just way. This is a chance to press the reset button, and if we look at the
Life after Covid-19
opportunities that there are within this reset — the reset button is flashing green.
The new oxymoron
Language has always been important, and now it is more so than ever in our lifetimes. Much of the language we have been using has been treading a thin line between encouraging responsible behaviour and inspiring fear. Terms like “social distancing” and “new normality” come with a weight that are not to be underestimated. Speaking to VoL, Erudit AI CEO Alejandro Martínez Agenjo said “I think we are getting mixed up with all this ‘new normal’ because if it is new it isn’t normal”.
It is an interesting oxymoron that Agenjo points out, moreover, the term implies a sense of permanence, even though many of the drastic lifestyle changes that we have had to adopt may well disappear once effective vaccines and treatments are available. This is the view Agenjo shares. He adds “I think that there are going to be small changes even though we are going to practically go back to what there was before. And I think there are going to be small permanent changes”. Perhaps, to paint a more accurate picture and to make people feel more comfortable, the standardised term we should be using for this unusual transition is “the temporary normality”. Nabil Daoud, President of Eli Lilly and Company Spain, Portugal and Greece shares a similar perspective, as he says “we shouldn’t create a feeling that everything we have known in the past is a thing of the
past and will never return”. Both Agenjo and Daoud agree that with a vaccine, the world would return largely to the “old normality”.
Similarly, “social distancing” is a term that is inextricably linked with a notion of solitude and separation which cannot be good for anyone’s mental health. In fact, the
Physical distancing is currently a necessity, and some of the stricter protocols around hygiene may well remain part of our lives. What needs to be avoided, is the creation of a sensation of permanent isolation, even after vaccines have been developed.
“Keep safe distance” sticker sign on a street pavement next to metro station | Photo by ViktoriyaFivko
WHO (World Health Organization) itself has advised that this term be changed to “physical distancing”. This physical element of our lives will of course, be affected more than any other whilst vaccines are still being developed. This will be noted in areas such as care of the elderly, which Hoffmann World CEO Catalina Hoffmann recognises. She says that “it is true that during a good while I am not going to be able to [be physically close to those in our residences], but at some point for sure”. Whilst acknowledging the current need for responsibility, physical contact is not something we can write off in the post-pandemic world. Hoffmann explains “physical contact is something that we need to recover in some way; they need it. Even more so in the case of those who don’t connect with the world when they have Alzheimer’s for example, they need this physical contact”. The sensation that we all have to lock ourselves away needs to be eliminated, and terms like “social distancing” are perhaps the most helpful in this respect. That said, the recommendations of health experts need to be respected. Physical distancing is currently a necessity, and some of the stricter protocols around hygiene may well remain part of our lives. What needs to be avoided is the creation of a sensation of permanent isolation, even after vaccines have been developed.
Life after Covid-19
At a time like this, the role journalism has is more central than ever before. With information decentralised, the danger of unreliable and volatile sources polluting the flow of information can have consequences which call into question both our health and democracy.
The race for a vaccine
The search for a vaccine is one that has been the subject of a lot of debate within pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. Regulatory boards are doing all they can to accelerate processes and in this unique moment of the century, and so many pharmaceutical/biotech companies have never been in pursuit of a common goal. The combination of these accelerative forces may well mean that a vaccine for Covid-19 is found more often than tends to be the case for viruses. It is also worth bearing in mind that there is effective treatment for previous coronaviruses and respiratory illnesses, which can be altered and developed to tackle the current pandemic.
On the other hand, history tells that there is also a need for patience and a managing of expectations. The first outbreaks of Ebola virus came in 1976, and the first vaccine was only approved last year. Despite the huge outbreak in the 80s, a vaccine for HIV has still not been discovered. Taking this into account, the 18-24 month timeline that many are hoping for may well be too ambitious. This is what Aperion Biologics CEO Peter Llewellyn-Davies believes. Aperion Biologics have made promising advances in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine taking into account that they have already developed effective treatments for other respiratory viruses including SARS, ALR, ARDS and PAH. Llewellyn-Davies cites the time taken to discover the Ebola virus vaccine and the continuing search for an HIV vaccine, but
also points out that there are ten vaccines for Covid-19 already in clinical development. Nonetheless, despite promising early signs, he concludes that “18 months is optimistic”.
Nurse making vaccine injection to elderly patient | Photo by goodluz
Dr. Peter Khoury, CEO of Ology Bioservices is more optimistic. Given the flexibility being offered by regulatory boards for example, Khoury believes that the biotech and pharma industries “can meet timelines shorter than [they] have ever been able to do in the past”. He identifies Moderna in the United States as a front runner for the first approved vaccine, with an MRNA vaccine. He puts forward that “one of these vaccines is going to make [the timeline of 18-24 months], if not two or three ”. That said, he adds that there
Life after Covid-19
is no manufacturer that can produce all the doses needed and that taking into account that one vaccine will not work for everyone, there will need to be a variety of vaccines to cater to everyone.
Weighing up the different perspectives on the vaccine race, it is clear that there is plenty of cause for optimism. Along with this optimism, a splash of reality and measured expectations would go a long way to preparing society for the tough times that still lie ahead. It is possible that we will have a Covid-19 vaccine soon when compared to past viruses. That said, with the availability of one vaccine, Covid-19 will not be wiped off the face of the planet with no complications. This is going to take time. But giant steps in the right direction are being taken.
How to believe the truth
People such as Dr Khoury and Llewellyn-Davies are the people we should be listening to given their scientific backgrounds and the insight they have into the current search for a vaccine. Unfortunately, the current health crisis has collided with a crisis of reliable information. Claudio Santos, CEO of Pulmobiotics, says that “it doesn’t help when the voices at the top seem to be very sceptical about science and actually promote ideas that are completely at odds with the view of top scientists in those countries”. Santos does not name any names, but the likes of President Bolsonaro continue not to wear face masks and dismiss the pandemic even as tens of thousands of Brazilians die. Meanwhile the US President, no matter how many US citizens have lost their lives, will not delay campaign rallies, whilst taking time to advise that people inject or drink cleaning products to fight the virus. The problem is of course, that there are too many people who listen to these leaders rather than scientists. Elsewhere the likes of the anti-vaxxers continue to make their voices heard.
Under investment in education and science manifest themselves in the rise of the likes of anti-vaxxers and those who blame the virus on 5G without the support of recognised scientific evidence. María Lluch, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Pulmobiotics talks about the importance of education in explaining “the problem of the lack of vaccines and the use of antibiotics. These are two
aspects that many people do not know about very well, for example, you cannot take an antibiotic if you have a virus infection. It’s very basic, but sometimes it’s missing at the school level. So it’s important to inform children very early about this”. Lluch is absolutely correct. If this education is integrated from an early age, not only will we have less conspiracy theorists blindly believed, but children will learn from an early age to criticise information, questioning it when it is not supported by appropriate experts.
Of course, there are lost causes in this sense. No matter how much education at whatever age, there are still those who believe and will continue to believe that the Earth is flat. Which is why education can’t do everything on its own, regardless of how much is invested in it. At a time like this, the role journalism has is more central than ever before. With information decentralised, the danger of unreliable and volatile sources polluting the flow of information can have consequences which call into question both our health and democracy. Ulrik Haagerup, founder and CEO of the Constructive Institute, and one of the main figures in the constructive journalism landscape talked to VoL about the importance of quality journalism in the post-pandemic world.
Taking into account everything being said about this opportunity we have to reset the economy, and forge a more sustainable future — as well as ideas of reflecting as a society on what sectors need greater prioritisation — it is worth considering Haagerup’s view that “journalism is a feedback mechanism that helps society self-correct”. Journalism can only do this when done well, and independently. On this front, journalism needs to look inwards, consider what it has done to lose the trust of much of the general public, and what it can do to provide, as Haagerup says, “the best obtainable version of the truth”. A journalism which does not just point out problems, but the solutions, asking now what? And how? Journalism cannot just fix its entire landscape internally, and will need a great deal of help to establish it as an institute of reliable information. In this respect, whilst regulating the media is a slippery slope, distributors and civil society have an ethical responsibility “to make sure people have access to trusted information, meaning independent journalism”, as Haagerup advises.
Live after Covid-19
Leadership and collaboration in a post-Covid world
During the pandemic, in both the private and public sector we have seen examples of well-thought out, effective and inspiring leadership, as well as complete failures from some of the most powerful political leaders and private sector executives. To find out how not to lead, look no further than UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his sidekick Dominic Cummings, who after Cummings’ clear breaking of the lockdown measures, did not penalise Cummings, thus showing the Great British public that two different sets of rules exist for the general public and the Prime Minister’s associates; or executives of Disney who continued to grant themselves enormous bonuses whilst furloughing thousands of staff whose salaries could have been paid with this bonus money.
Those we have spoken to, particularly within the healthcare/pharma/biotech sectors, have offered their thoughts on the type of leadership that is needed over the coming months and years as the world looks to bounce back from the pandemic. Hoffmann puts forward the idea that right now “to be a leader, is to be an example”, a sentiment echoed by many of those who spoke to VoL. Bearing this in mind, compare the likes of the previously mentioned Disney executives with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministers, who voluntarily took pay cuts, to show solidarity with so many who were struggling during the lockdown. Eruit AI’s Agenjo adds to this idea of leading by example, by talking of the necessity for “empathy” and “responsibility”. Empathy in understanding the “feelings and needs” of employees”, and responsibility in understanding that your team is looking to you for guidance.
Llewellyn-Davies focuses on teamwork, appreciating as a leader, the importance of the role that everyone within a team has to play. Bringing his comparison to the football field, he says — “there’s not much of a point if you have a good goalkeeper and no striker”. This idea of teamwork was also touched upon by many, in terms of collaboration between the private and public sectors. This has been done better is some countries than in others. Llewellyn-Davies was full of praise for the Austrian government and how willing they
were to enter into dialogues and roundtable discussions with the scientific community and with biotech companies, with funding immediately promised. The importance of collaboration is also underlined by Otero-Iglesias, as countries like Germany, South Korea and the Nordic countries, which have more private/public collaboration also “tend to have more inclusive societies, higher living standards and more resilient economies overall”.
countries like Germany, South Korea and the Nordic countries, which have more private/public collaboration also “tend to have more inclusive societies, higher living standards and more resilient economies overall”.
What does the ‘old normal’ mean to you?
Back in April, as Spain still found itself very much in the deep-end of the pandemic, Carlos Candel wrote a highly provocative piece in Spanish newspaper El Diario titled “I don’t want to return to normality”. In the piece Candel highlights the endless, gaping flaws in our world and society that were there before the pandemic. Of course, given the worsening of everyone’s situation at the hands of a devastating pandemic, a return to how things were, is comparatively preferable for most of us. But the social and environmental problems we had prior to the pandemic haven’t gone anywhere. Try talking about a return to the old normality to the African-Americans routinely discriminated against and shot down in the streets of the United States by a bigoted and broken police force. Try talking about the old normality to refugees, displaced by war, crammed into rubber-dinghies unfit for the ocean waves. Try talking about the old normality to parents the world over working two jobs because the economy is so inefficient that it cannot provide an acceptable basic living standard for them.
On top of that, the gravity of the pandemic’s consequences are of course, completely linked to a landscape we had defined ourselves. The very origins of Covid-19 may indeed stem from the effects of climate change on the animals
Live after Covid-19
which first transmitted the illness. And even if this is not the case, as Dr Khoury warns, as animals and insects are forced from where they live due to climate change, it would not be surprising to see illnesses previously only found in Africa, like dengue fever, crop up in other parts of the world.
The giant death tolls across the world come largely from medical systems being entirely unfit for a problem of such scale. Given the scale of the pandemic, this was unavoidable to a certain extent, but years of underinvestment in public health will of course, result in further tragedy when a crisis such as this comes about.
The spread of the illness comes from a cultural negligence the world over. The ignoring of scientific advice, while politicians and private sector leaders decide the gravity of a situation. And even now when scientists and medical experts must be valued more highly than ever, there remain those who would sooner hear what they want to hear, decide what they have already decided, and reinforce an opinion they already have, rather than consider making a change. Unfortunately, these people are not just your average Joe, but some of the leaders of the world’s biggest countries.
Once vaccines are developed over the next few years, and effective testing, isolation and medical capacity is in place, Covid-19 will gradually disappear from the planet. For those with short memories, it will be a rude awakening, when they realise there are more than enough problems waiting for us, when we return to this “normality” that we seem to miss so badly. Not to demean or be ungrateful for what many of us had before. Of course we miss physical contact, being able to hug our friends and family, being able to go to large gatherings, and the hustle and bustle of life. But going back to our “normalities” while forgetting about the harsher realities that await so many, would show a naive and dismissive attitude of the wake up call the world has received.
It is not as if the answers are not there. As we shall see in this issue, there are plenty of people with ideas and practical action to face down the many obstacles that humanity faces in the coming months and years. On an economic front, many of those who actually gained from this crisis — and have no inkling of the troubles of those less fortunate —
must begin to pay a fair share, rather than sheltering in loopholes, whilst policymakers must increasingly close these loopholes so the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google cannot simply run riot, monopolise markets and not even pay a reasonable amount of tax. On the other end of the scale, the pandemic will hopefully serve as a lesson for having starved key institutions such as health, science and education, and indeed a mix of the three. Science is education. And at times like this, it should be the views of conspiracy theorists without a shred of evidence and career politicians without a shred of scientific experience — whose views should be disregarded and dismissed rather than the views of scientists, whose years of experience should be shaping our understanding and action.
Finally, the environment stands as the giant, unmoving (not unmovable) obstacle. Now is the moment for a green revival. Investment in green infrastructure and renewable energy can be a source of job creation as well as helping the planet. That much is clear. It now falls to both the public and private sector to make it happen.
A time for rebuilding
There is a lot to rebuild both now and once Covid-19 has been fought off by effective treatments. This is a chance to make those giant leaps we haven’t dared make yet. A time for aggressive, and active action on fossil fuels, as they need to be eliminated as soon as possible. A time to restructure economies and implement efficient welfare states which do not abandon the vulnerable at times of crisis. A time to follow experts and foster reliable information sources, rather than allow chaotic free-for-alls and unchecked sensationalist media. All these things considered, although not in the sense of Covid-19 restriction/safety, a “new normal” would be a welcome one, if we are capable of shaping it so it may bring about a better world, in the wake of the darkest time in modern history. So we needn’t look at a “new normality” as standing three metres away from your loved ones for the rest of your life, wearing a mask over your face for the foreseeable future, or a new era of obsessive hygiene. Rather — the new normality is something we can create for ourselves — a better normality, one that we should not be afraid of, but rather, should be throwing ourselves into making.
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There is only so much that can be done when the world has been shut down for an extended period. Regardless, there are ways of limiting this damage and building any recovery plan on a more sustainable, circular model, one which will reach those who most need help, rather than continue to further serve a select few.
Both in terms of social justice and environmental damage, the global economic system has long been broken. If we were to compare the global economy to a house, the pandemic has most definitely blown the roof off. Nonetheless, it is not only the roof that has to be fixed, rather, now that it is time for some emergency maintenance, it is also a good moment to revisit the foundations.
Container cargo ship in import export business
commercial trade | Photo by Avigator Fortuner
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Photo by Syda Productions
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consequences for the failure of an economic recovery plan. Spain has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and following months of lockdown, needs to find innovative solutions to combat rising unemployment and revive industries that have been starved of revenue over the last few months.
Miguel Otero-Iglesias describes himself as an optimist. Rather than offer a series of harsh realities, Otero sets out a number of possibilities that may help countries like his native Spain recover from the economic downturn that has come with the lockdowns we have seen all around the world. Both in Spain and Europe, there would be huge
In Europe meanwhile, many have cited the fact that it is paramount that Europe learns lessons from the handling of the 2008 crisis. Especially taking into account the recent departure of Britain and continued anti-European sentiments which permeate throughout many of the EU’s members, the next two years could be either the beginning of the end for the Union, if countries such as Spain and Italy feel abandoned by their northern colleagues — or the beginning of a new era of solidarity, if there are satisfactory efforts to mitigate the unavoidable economic damage done by a pandemic. Currently there is division, principally coming from the frugal countries, whilst France and Germany appear to have learnt from the mistakes of the past, as Macron and Merkel push for a 750bn euro recovery deal which will be split between grants and loans. Despite the current divisions, the likes of former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb believe the frugal nations “will come around” to the deal being pushed for by Merkel and Macron, as Euro News reports.
If this deal is approved, it will of course, not be a miracle elixir for all economies. The likes of Spain will have to carefully think through their spending plans, making sure that European funding is applied to the right areas to stimulate the economy, fight unemployment, and protect the vulnerable members of society who are most likely to be gravely affected by recession.
It is therefore people such as Miguel Otero-Iglesias who may have a vital role to play. He is one of Spain’s leading economists and played a key advisory role in devising Spain’s so-called “ desescalada”, a four phase, step by step plan designed to relieve pressure on the economy, whilst simultaneously protecting against a second wave. Otero-Iglesias spoke to VoL about his opinions on the EU recovery plans, how this money could be applied, the possibility of a green recovery, and the economic reshaping he would like to see both in Spain and the global level.
Voices of Leaders: Do you believe the EU has presented a satisfactory recovery plan to keep the EU together?
Miguel Otero-Iglesias: I certainly think it’s unprecedented, the crisis is unprecedented and the response has been unprecedented for
Euro bills stamp mashine | Photo by vipman
its speed and volume. We are talking about big figures. We are essentially doubling the EU budget. Then of course, it will all depend on what the recovery will look like. If we have Nike symbol type of recovery (a V but with a slower recovery than the slump) I think it will be helpful. Especially because it’s not only about the money that might come from the EU, it’s actually the fiscal space that a country like Spain will have. With the support of the European Central Bank (ECB), which has said it will continue to buy bonds in the market and with this overall framework of more solidarity — the interest rates that Spain needs to pay for its debt, its long-term debt, Spain issued fifty year bonds. Their interest rates are very low, so this gives much more room to manoeuvre to tackle the crisis.
VoL: In a recent article in El Confidencial you have stressed the importance of a well thought out spending plan and highlighted areas also mentioned by the European Commission including public health, education and scientific research. It is of course important to invest in these areas so they function to the best of their ability. From an economic perspective — why is it important for a Spanish recovery to invest in these areas of education, healthcare and science?
MOI: At the end of the day, we are going to get into debt. Our public debt levels will increase substantially to 115/120% of GDP. You need to have a mid/long-term strategy on how you will improve your economy so you are more resilient and you can grow. The only way to repay debt is to grow. Here there are two levels — one is what kind of projects do you have ready to start tomorrow if necessary? And what projects are more mid-long term, in order to improve the productivity of your country? And that’s where things like education, new vocation training systems, research and development and innovation come into play. It’s not one or the other, you need to do both, but overall you need to invest and be clear where you need to invest and that’s the thinking that needs to happen right now in Spain.
VoL: Speaking of the current thinking Spain, in a recent article for The Guardian Podemos party spokesman Pablo Echenique outlined plans for an effective wealth tax plan, to generate over 10 billion euros (10% of
Spanish GDP) a year. Do you agree that this kind of progressive tax policy is necessary to accompany the kind of investment you mentioned earlier?
MOI: Certainly more progressive tax is necessary, I don’t know if the wealth tax is the best way to do that. I think there are other ways in terms of— not even in terms of increasing the nominal tax levels that you have —but closing the loopholes, the reductions you can have for many reasons to pay less taxes. The informal economy in Spain is still huge, we have certain companies, big companies, who contribute very little in a place like Spain — the Amazons, the Googles. But overall I think yes, this is very similar to what a wartime economy looks like. And usually after wars, the tax system has been a lot more progressive because the upper layers of society weren’t in the trenches, or at the forefront of the fight, in a way they have a duty to pay for the doctors, the nurses, the supermarket workers, the transport workers who were at the forefront. The ethical and moral pressure for those that have more to contribute more will be huge in the coming months and years to come.
VoL: Speaking more globally, of course progressive taxes have not just become a hot topic as a result of this pandemic. It was already for example, a big point of the Democratic debates in the US, and being pushed by candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Warren Buffet famously mentioned that he, as a percentage pays less tax than his secretary, and in that sense, even he himself would be more open to a more progressive tax reform. Do you think that not just in Spain, but all over the world, progressive taxation is going to be a recurring theme in terms of recovery plans?
MOI: I think the Covid crisis has accelerated some of the trends that we were seeing before, as you mentioned. Equality was a big concern, and big institutions and multilateral organisations like the IMF and World Bank were already talking about that, studying it. Even institutions like the ECB or the Bank of Spain, more orthodox organisations that would look at the macro elements but not really at inequality, education, social inclusion or things like that. That is a trend that will be reinforced, looking at the figures — for example in Madrid, those who were able to
work throughout the crisis from home were the brackets who earn more in society, and those that who have gotten more cuts in their salary are the lower-brackets. Inequality will be even greater as a result of this crisis and therefore the need to address this and balance this will be even bigger.
VoL: If there is a second wave of coronavirus, as the WHO has warned there might be, should similar lockdown measures be put into place?
MOI: In Spain we have designed a plan that is based on different elements that can deal with a second wave. This plan is based on improving capacity and data collection, so improving, testing, tracing and isolating cases, improving intensive care ratios — that’s the first pillar. The second pillar is geographic asymmetry in the exit of the lockdown. We have divided the country by provinces, we thought it best not to do at a municipal level because it’s too small, but not on a regional level because it’s too big. We are moving by phases and provinces, that will stay like that and if there is a second wave, we won’t have to lock down the whole country as we did in the past, but rather specific areas which are worse off. The third pillar is that this is a two way street. Now everyone is looking at opening as soon as possible, there is a desire to go back to a certain normality, but there may be moments where we have to stop in our exit or even have to go back. We have already seen with outbreaks in Ceuta, there were already talks that Ceuta may have to go back to phase zero. So, that is something that will stay. Finally, the fourth pillar is that this needs to be based on subsidiarity and co-responsibility. That means not only the central government but also regional governments, municipal governments, and the population at large needs to behave, maintain social distancing and wear masks, I am impressed that in Spain so many people wear masks because in many Northern countries like Switzerland, masks are not as widespread. Generally that means if there is a second wave, the impact would hopefully — and I think it will — be less dramatic.
VoL: The idea of a green recovery has been advocated by many, including the European commission. We have seen how difficult it is to regulate the carbon market, for example, following COP25 last year, and there are many who are primarily concerned
with getting the economy back on its feet as quickly as possible. Taking this into account do you think this green recovery is possible?
MOI: When this [Spanish] government came to power, it put the green transition as one of its main objectives. For the first time it has proposed a national climate and energy plan. This is a plan of 240 billion euros of investment, that when it was presented, the idea was 80% of this will be private investment, this might change now with the crisis. But as we were saying, European money will come and the European money is linked to the green economy. Spain is well-positioned to make use of that and certain studies have shown, specifically in renewable energies — this could be a field that generates more jobs, more investment and more multipliers — the multiplier effect of this investment will be higher.
You have things which are shuffle-ready like improving the isolation of buildings so that they don’t consume so much. That would be a start, you need a lot of construction work that is labour intensive, but also mega projects like increasing the renewable energy capacity and the interconnections between Spain and France. Spain has over-production of renewable energy but they cannot export it because there are no interconnections between Spain and France because of the Pyrenees, because France has always been reluctant to create these interconnections because it has its own nuclear energy and it wants to sell this energy to Germany and the rest of Europe and holds back on Spanish, green, cleaner energy. Hopefully again, European money can be used there to increase these interconnections.
I am anthropologically an optimist. Pessimists suffer all the time, optimists only suffer at the end.
Bank of Spain (the Spanish central bank) | Photo by Daniel Myjones
VoL: It’s interesting that you have mentioned the combination of a green new deal and the recovery plan as a way of combating unemployment because of the need for green infrastructure. Can this be applied all over the world? Can green recoveries be used as a way to fight unemployment due to the need for green infrastructure?
MOI: It is not the only solution, but it could certainly help. It’s more a political decision, deciding whether this is the way to go. You need to have this political momentum. But it would certainly create jobs because at the end of the day it’s infrastructure that you have to build, and to build this infrastructure you need labour. Instead of building hundreds of thousands of houses that traditionally has been a way to keep people at work, you could do that by building renewable infrastructure of all sorts. Starting with renewables, but also all the power stations you have to build, you should be able to build around the motorways, in order to have more electric cars etc.
VoL: Both in Spain and globally, what do you think needs to be done to foster greater private/public collaboration?
MOI: The first thing, which is not easy to do, is to overcome the ideological trenches that we have. Usually you have right wing politicians and people who are very critical of the public services, bureaucracy and
intervention of the state in the economy. And on the other side you have left leaning people very sceptical about the intentions and ethical behaviour of certain companies and their positive impact on the world, starting with universities. A lot of people believe that if you have private financing of research then that research is co-opted and in a way corrupted as well. I think that is one of the big problems that [Spain] has and a lot of others. The countries that have more collaborations between the private/public systems — the Germanys, South Koreas, the Nordic countries — they tend to have more inclusive societies, higher living standards and more resilient economies overall. I think that needs to be one of the big efforts in our country — overcome those trenches and see that we can help each other. The private has many elements that are necessary and does better, and vice-versa. It is more of an ideological, mental cliff.
VoL: Here in Spain, as you’ve mentioned, there continue to big large divisions. Do you believe that a more collaborative environment can be achieved or are you not as optimistic in that sense?
MOI: I am anthropologically an optimist. Pessimists suffer all the time, optimists only suffer at the end. I think this country has come a long way in the last 30-40 years. If I compare this country with 40 years ago, the improvement has been outstanding. Despite the tension, the confrontational political culture we have and all for that, at the end of the day there are a lot of cases of good collaboration and behaviour.
For example, the behaviour of the Spanish population during the lockdown was exemplary. A lot of the time, Spaniards think they are much more unruly and chaotic than they really are. I remember when people said that the ban on smoking will never happen, people will never accept it because smoking is ingrained in our culture. When the law was introduced, even the most remote bar in Galicia, the region of my parents, was applying the law. If Spain can improve the next twenty years just half of the last twenty years — the future is bright. Spanish society because of its history, which is long and intense, it has ups and downs, it’s much more resilient than others. We have seen this in the last crisis and I am sure we will see it in this one. I have talked to a lot of entrepreneurs,
The United States and China are at loggerheads and their rivalry will shape our times, the next decades. Europe needs to be smart enough to deal with this confrontation without being dragged into it and being self-confident in its own model, based on political plurality.
Economist, Elcano Royal Institute
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business people and thinkers etc, and I am quite impressed with how they are already thinking of the future and how to adapt to the future. One of the qualities of the Spaniard is its capacity to adapt to new realities, and that has to be an asset. I am moderately/cautiously optimistic.
VoL: I am glad that we can finish on an optimistic note. On that theme of adapting and “new realities”, in an interview with El Tiempo, French economist Thomas Piketty has said that “along with the 2008 crisis, the pandemic could accelerate the transition to another economic model, a more equal and sustainable model for our international system”. What is the new economic model you would like to see in the wake of this pandemic both in Spain and globally?
MOI: I suppose more innovative but also more inclusive. We are in a time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, a revolution that is transforming our world and lives. Like every other industrial revolution that comes with winners and users, with inequality and social conflict. We saw this in the First and Second Revolutions, even in the third if you consider in many ways, the 1969 movement as a way of protesting what was coming already, or even in the 1980s in Spain with reconversion, then the industrial sector had to be reconverted and the post-industrial period started.
Hopefully this time it will be more inclusive in the sense that people realise that there are those tensions. Equally, in the midst of the
First and Second Industrial Revolution, that’s when for example Bismarck in Germany, started with the idea of the welfare state, the idea of having pension schemes, all of these things that people realised were necessary at the end of the 19th century or the social tensions would be huge. I think we need some sort of transformation of the welfare state. I am a big believer of the European model, in this world of giants.
I have a new book contract, the book is titled “Europe In The Era of Giants”. The United States and China are at loggerheads and their rivalry will shape our times, the next decades. Europe needs to be smart enough to deal with this confrontation without being dragged into it and being self-confident in its own model, based on political plurality. Europe is a continent where you have people like Syriza, former communists that get into government, to right wing (some extreme right wing) parties are in government too. That should be maintained. Secondly, it should be a market economy, a social market economy, but a market economy. The market allocates resources, widely speaking. The third pillar is the European welfare system. That needs to be improved, for the twenty-first century. That needs to be beefed up. As you said, collaboration between the private and the public, the social market elements. Leaving aside this very one-sided radical ideological views — the market knows best or the state knows best — and trying to have a synthesis that provides this middle ground that can be more balanced than what we have had over the last thirty years.
Photo by sirtravelalot
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Restaurants on Recovery
Digitalised menus, online delivery, socially distanced customers — how Spanish restaurants and food businesses are adapting to the post-Covid reality, and how consumers can accelerate the sector’s recovery.
As one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Spain took an economic battering. Even as the Iberian nation has emerged from lockdown, recovery is an uphill climb that could take years — the Spanish economy is projected by the Bank of Spain to shrink by as much as 15.1% overall in 2020, and is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until 2022.
One particular sector that has borne the brunt of the economic damage is the services industry, which contributes a significant 67% to the Spanish GDP. It was little help that Spain’s state of emergency coincided with peak holiday periods that are usually lucrative times for the hospitality sector, such as Semana Santa (Easter week) and Seville’s famous Feria de Abril (April Fair). The four months of lockdown have been brutal to many restaurants, especially small businesses, who are now struggling to keep afloat.
“Things are not looking great, the virus really hit us hard”, said N, a co-proprietor of a Madrid restaurant chain, who asked to speak
anonymously. “The economic damage to our company was massive, we’ve had to close several branches and we’re looking at how we can survive”.
Nia S., whose family-run Indonesian restaurant was usually packed with customers pre-lockdown, shared, “like a lot of other businesses, money is an issue. Since we were unable to open physically, we’re at a huge disadvantage when it comes to income”.
Echoing a recent report by The Guardian, the grim fate of several restaurants across Europe is a heavy blow to the continent’s rich gastronomic culture, a cornerstone of the European way of life.
Upsurge in delivery demand
As restaurants remained closed and people found themselves locked down in their homes, online delivery platforms worldwide naturally saw an upsurge in demand. Many food businesses followed suit by transforming to a delivery model.
As restaurants remained closed and people found themselves locked down in their homes, online delivery platforms worldwide naturally saw an upsurge in demand. Many food businesses followed suit by transforming to a delivery model.
Waiter wearing protective face mask while disinfecting tables at outdoor cafe | Photo by Drazen Zigicsirtravelalot
As Sifted reported, “scores of food businesses are finding ways to jump on the grocery delivery bandwagon”, citing as examples Choco, a Berlin-based platform for restaurants and suppliers, which launched a direct-to-consumer business to give people access to wholesale goods, and Wolt, a Finnish food delivery platform, which recently launched an online grocery store.
Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud revealed in a recent interview with EU-Startups that “for countries hit hardest by Covid-19, there has been a huge uptake in demand for our services. We’ve seen an increase in categories such as pharmacy and groceries, and during this difficult period it’s vital that every single person has access to food and medicine”. He added that this was the reason behind removing the delivery fee for pharmaceutical orders in Spain.
Juami Godinez, co-founder of Filipinan Market, a Madrid-based online gourmet store specialized in select Spanish and
A waiter in a medical protective mask serves
the table in the restaurant | Photo by David Tadevosian
Filipino products, shared with VoL that their business had to implement several measures to meet the new challenges that came with lockdown. “We broadcasted that deliveries could take longer than the promised 24-48 hours and also offered a ‘StayHome’ discount code to our clients. We also requested our employees to stay home while we applied for government-approved car passes to be able to move them around the city and ensure the proper preparation and delivery of the orders”. Additionally, a one-person policy was applied to their warehouse in preparing online orders.
“On the positive side, online sales did increase”, adds Godinez. “We actually took a gamble and doubled our online marketing efforts which worked, however the challenge was in preparing all the orders in time with the limited movement due to the lockdown, especially during its peak”.
The digital shift
Ivan V., a co-founder of a small but thriving food delivery service that hires refugee cooks, Refusión, recounted that even if food delivery businesses were allowed to stay open in Madrid, they needed to close down at
Restaurant order online | Photo by Tero Vesalainen
the onset of lockdown because two of their workers fell ill, very likely with Covid-19.
“Even though we were able to control our expenses during the lockdown, we’re very worried that sales will be greatly reduced by the crisis. We also do a lot of events and it’s not likely there will be any in 2020”. He shared that they were fortunate enough to have been offered a government loan with very low interest rates offered to SMEs, self-employed workers and public authorities. “We have also been offered to delay the payment of taxes, and we applied for an ERTE ( Expediente de Regulación Temporal de Empleo)” — a mechanism in place that allows companies to temporarily furlough its employees during a force majeure period, in this case the coronavirus crisis.
The logical solution for many restaurants was to shift to an online business model. One such restaurant is Trikki Cuisine, whose co-owners Yuli M. and Rod R. shared that confronting the unknown prompted them to be more prepared and to make quick decisions to adapt to the situation, saying, “We had to implement take away, delivery and reduce our capacity in our dining room and outside in our terrace”. As with all restaurants in Madrid, they’ve had to comply with the government’s safety measures, including mandatory mask-wearing, providing disinfectant hand sanitizers, spacing out tables, and dispensing with physical menus and replacing them with online versions accessible via QR codes affixed on every table.
Another restaurant owner of a small but successful burger chain, G. — who also requested to hide his identity — shared, “In the past 2 -3 months, many restaurants have had to transform into an online business, whereas before, online was more of the icing on the cake in terms of turnover. Now it’s flipped around. Home delivery has become 100% of the business. But it’s not just about that, we also have to be very creative, offering new dining menu options such as kids’ meals, since children are now staying home. It’s about appealing to your customer base”.
Eat, Pay Love — what can customers do to help revive the services industry?
Restaurants may have their work cut out for them towards recovery, but there are concrete actions customers can take to help local businesses navigate the difficult times. Said Ivan M., “I know this isn’t easy to say because a lot of people will be really affected by the crisis, but I would just encourage people to spend as much as they are able to on those industries that will be most affected, such as ours. Try to buy from small businesses as much as possible. In our case, try to order food to be delivered as much as possible”.
Rod R. added, “As we reopen and implemented the different stages set by the government, we ask for collaboration from our customers, since we are limited with the tables and space. Make reservations with time in advance as it’s one of the priorities, as well as spend limited time at every lunch or dinner to help increase table turnover rates”.
So in these difficult times for the industry, is there light at the end of the tunnel? G. replied, “Of course there is, we just have to fight a little bit harder and have the patience to ride out the storm. Life is a pendulum, as far as it swings one way, it will swing the other way. Obviously there will be a time when we’ll have a successful business again, but until that moment comes, we have to struggle
and fight, think differently and
adapt, adapt, and adapt”.
Delivery man employee in red cap t-shirt uniform mask gloves give food order pizza boxes | Photo by Andrew Angelov
“Covid-19 has essentially done our work for us” is a recurring phrase I have been hearing as of late between my digital transformation consultant colleagues. Hardly appropriate to some and wholly depressing for others, one can’t help but reflect on the veracity of such a phrase.
Truth be told, in a purely work-related fashion, SARS-CoV-2 has indeed put a plethora of companies that were reluctant to accept teleworking on the ropes. And what other businesses have been working hard on implementing, testing and optimising for years, others have had to solve in weeks. In this aspect, some companies have succeeded in launching, updating or adapting their services to better fulfil the demands of remote working. Indeed, we have seen the rise of videoconference softwares and applications such as Zoom. Others, such as the Microsoft Office 365 suite and its unified collaboration platform, Microsoft Teams, have seen dramatic updates and upgrades in order to improve their coverage and services.
Working from home, here to stay
Large corporations with the sufficient financial muscle have invested heavily on portable devices, specifically laptops, for employees to take home and continue their work on company devices. SMEs have had it rougher, depending on employee goodwill and availability of devices in order to work from their homes. Those were the lucky ones. Many companies across the globe have been caught completely unprepared and have had no other choice but to opt for temporary (or in some cases, permanent) employee regulations such as decreased hours or lay-offs.
Being prepared for telework from an enterprise point of view is not just a matter of logistics either. Strategically, some of the largest corporations that have committed to not let a single employee go — despite the Covid-19 crisis
and the safety measures it has provoked — have quite literally rewritten their annual business plans and goals in order to better adapt to the situation. Indeed, Banco Santander has actively pursued smaller than usual service contracts in order to ensure both the cash and workflow necessary to maintain the totality of its staff.
CFOs interviewed internationally have shown themselves to be consistent in facilitating their approach regarding timetables, schedules and equipment to support employees who are teleworking. They have almost unanimously predicted that working from home is “here to stay”, and have already begun estimating both permanent teleworking for a fraction of their staff (up to 20%) and optional telework for the remainder. Companies like the technological giant Everis are developing a people-centric focus in order to develop digital solutions that improve productivity, cooperation and communication between teleworkers and their central offices, while also heavily working on cybersecurity systems for these work methods.
On a positive note, it seems like the lesson has stuck better than bubble gum to the sole of a shoe. While some enterprises have, like Telefónica Spain “passed with flying colours the test that this crisis has put upon technology”, others such as Microsoft Spain, believe and embrace the fact that this Covid-19 crisis, is going to definitely change and evolve the concept itself of a workspace.
The final fact is that, companies should constantly dive deeper into their own digitalisation processes — IBM Spain comes to mind. Proof lies in that those businesses that had already probed this endeavour or actively pursued it have had a much better adaptation to the whole circumstance, with a lesser impact on their activity and cash-flow. Priorities are now changing. Corporations are likely to make strategic decisions to reinforce the key aspects of their digital solidity, such as the seamless, continuous advance of their processes, time of reaction and of course, digital resiliency. HP Spain & Portugal declare that this crisis has just proven how much more must be invested in science and the digital model, predicting that professionals hereon can and must be more productive no matter where they may be. Companies need to accept and embrace the fact that innovation is the true engine of modern society, as well as our greatest ally to tackle the unknown and the unexpected.
President of IBM Spain, Portugal and Greece
All of this means things like a more intense use of the cloud for critical tasks, more analysis and artificial intelligence in taking advantage of data, more continuity and transformation services, and more security.
CEO of Pulmobiotics
One positive thing is that a lot of people will be working from home. The benefit of that could be people commuting less, and we’ll also have less travel for a while, which will be good for the environment, although this will unfortunately have negative consequences for the tourism industry.
President of HP of Spain and Portugal
Technology is playing an essential role in combating this pandemic: big data, AI, 3D printing are huge tools for prevention, research and creation of teams and supplies for our health network.
Executive Dorector of Minsait
“El Covid-19 lo ha revolucionado todo. En tres semanas, empresas y administraciones han tenido que instrumentalizar modelos de trabajo remoto, han flexibilizado y adaptado procedimientos internos, han formado a empleados en herramientas digitales y, lo más importante, han implementado métodos de trabajo colaborativos. Y todos estos cambios, imprescindibles para el futuro, han venido para quedarse.
CEO of Viveo Health
I see many industries that will be disrupted. Remote working for example, is going to be much bigger than it’s ever been. I see from Viveo Health now that using the latest tools such as Slack, Monday or Zoom make communications actually better than sitting in the same office space because all the information is in different channels. We see that people can be so much more efficient working remotely.
President at Microsoft Spain
We are being witnesses to how flexibility, scalability, and security of the cloud is making it possible for millions of people to work from home their homes in a collboartime way, making available accessible resources in a safe way and maintaining the continuity of their businesses in a simple, effective manner.
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Many are hoping for an effective Covid-19 treatment to come about within 18-24 months, whilst others are less optimistic that processes and discoveries can be optimised by such large margins. Whilst the race to find a vaccine as quickly as possible continues, it has become apparent that direct treatment is not the only way that healthcare companies can do their part in the fight against coronavirus. A general change in culture, and increased importance in hygiene will undoubtedly remain throughout the healthcare sector, while other branches such as mental health are receiving a new level of attention.
Some of those involved in the search for a Covid-19 vaccine and in other areas of growing importance, spoke to VoL.
Black white photo of Young woman practice yoga virabhadrasana | Photo by Amina 'ently
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Voices of Leaders: Viveo Health is in a favourable position right now with many people shifting to remote work. How has the Covid-19 pandemic fast tracked the company’s growth?
Raul Källo: Covid was a big accelerator for us. There are doctors using our services in 42 countries now. We are growing a lot, but we did develop the whole end-to-end platform for private health insurance, at the same time we developed a patient management system and telemedicine platform with our own doctors which is GDPR and HIPAA-compliant, and a
The global health crisis has accelerated the need for remote services, driving demand for enhanced telehealth platforms. In Estonia, a northern European hub for digital innovation, Viveo Health has been hailed as one of the most exciting startups to watch out for, thanks to its telemedicine platform now being used by doctors in 42 countries worldwide. Viveo Health CEO Raul Källo talks about the future of digital, borderless healthcare and the opportunities for innovators to disrupt industries in the next “new normal” chapter for the world.
Photo by Viveo Health
full patient management journey platform to save doctors from spending too much time on 5 to 8 different programs. We used the same technology that we already had, and simplified it.
VoL: Could you tell us more about your platform’s “virtual doctor’s office” with end-to-end services?
RK: The way we see the future of doctors’ work is that their time is very valuable. There are still so many people in the world who don’t have access to medical care. So we see ourselves helping doctors to provide more care for patients. What we noticed was that they don’t have the proper digital tools for that. So we developed our own ones so that the doctor can upload the list of clients and start using our platform to help them make medical records and do the whole patient management journey — there are decision support tools.
There is a secure video channel for patients, a chat channel, it’s all in one place. For doctors it’s a full management journey as well, so they don’t need to move from Skype to email, faxes and phone calls. We can even create the same kind of digital backgrounds for them, so if they’re in their house, it still looks like they are in their own office, or something similar. For the patients, it makes life very easy because they don’t need to go to a physical office. About 80% of cases can be solved remotely.
VoL: Viveo’s platform is also removing the traditional concept of a physical waiting
room. How does this help more patients and doctors?
RK: We help save on traveling time, not only for the doctors but also for patients. The average time to go to the doctor’s office is 3 hours. You go there and hang around in a waiting room, and then you meet the doctor. The average time spent with a doctor is 8 minutes. Out of these 8 minutes, doctors spend their time going from one computer program to another just to get information. Then there’s a big waiting room with people waiting to get appointments. This traditional way of hanging around and waiting for the physical appointment is obsolete. If you’re weak, there’s even a chance you might contract other diseases as well. And if we’re spending time in that hospital waiting room, doctors are actually paying for this waiting room so patients can hang there.
If you take these doctors who are working for a private clinic, 70% of the income that they make is paid to this private clinic to pay rental costs and administrative fees. Now we can digitalise that, so doctors don’t need to pay all that, and they can also help more patients.
Photo by Viveo Health
The remote doctor is in | Photo by Elnur
VoL: What has the uptake among doctors been like?
RK: In two days’ time, doctors from 42 countries started to use our platform servicing their own client base. So it was very exciting for us, and then we went back to each and every doctor who signed up, and asked them how they would simplify it to make it even better. Technology-wise, our platform was like a Formula 1 supercar — full of features that help doctors do the work more efficiently and what we noticed was that we needed to simplify that to make it more user-friendly for doctors around the world.
VoL: Have you been attracting more investors at this stage?
RK: The whole world has begun changing their policies and has stressed that the number one thing to give people safety is telemedicine. The need grew significantly in just a few weeks’ time. After two weeks of restrictions, about 44% of people globally wanted to change
Doctors worldwide on board with Viveo´s telehealth platform.
their doctor’s visits to a virtual one. We got a lot of attention as well from investors, we’ve been approached by many investors, about 50 to 60 different venture capitalists.
VoL: Viveo Health is another example showcasing Estonia as a hotbed of digital innovation. What are the factors behind this?
RK: Estonia has the biggest number of unicorns per capita. There are about 1,000 startups in Estonia. There is an interesting statistic that the number of startups that survive and become successful is more than 3 times in Estonia than the global average. We definitely have some success stories, such as Playtech and Skype, and Bolt is another Estonian unicorn. Most of the startups in the community know each other and are very supportive. It’s a very small market, and if you start in Estonia you really need to go beyond very quickly. Otherwise you have a market of 1.3 million people, so even if you’re going to be a market leader, it’s so small but you need to go out.
We are definitely in the right place. Recently, the Estonian investment agency had an event where they featured 10 most promising companies to close to 200 global investors and we were one of them. After the event, the investors picked us as the most interesting company, and the one with the most potential.
I’m one of the people sitting on the McKinsey round table of global healthtech leaders, and according to them, telemedicine is one of the most efficient ways to turn the tide on Covid-19. So we have this technology, and in Estonia, this is very innovative in terms of digital solutions. It helps us to save so many people in the world. We made it available free of charge for the doctors globally.
VoL: Given these unprecedented times, with an uncertain future what societal changes do you think need to be made to chart our way forward?
RK: There will be a lot of changes in terms of innovation. Many industries will be disrupted. Remote working for example, is going to be much bigger than it’s ever been. Digital health is definitely going to grow a lot. Healthcare should be more borderless as well. There’s going to be a huge change in terms of how healthcare has been working because now we see that it all must be personalized and more data-driven, rather than overly dependent on one doctor. E-health profile is really good for both doctors and patients
globally. You could take all this information that we have, the medical records and all this behavioral data, and we make it very simple for the doctor to make faster and much better decisions.
VoL: Where would you like to see Viveo Health over the next 5 years?
RK: We definitely want to be a big player in the telemedicine business. I think we have a very good base for that. This is going to be a $500 billion market in the next 5 years. At the same time, we have the knowledge about insurance as well. The private health insurance sector globally is $2.5 trillion. What we want to do is to make it more personalised and client-centric. Many of these players in the insurance market will be disrupted because people need better healthcare and it cannot be insurance-centric, it must be client-centric, more personalized and data-driven.
VoL: Despite the immense challenges we are all facing, what positives could you take away from the pandemic?
RK: On a positive note, the situation was new for all of us, but it gives innovators a very good base to go forward and see what people really need, and what is not necessary. I’m waiting for something innovative on educational tech as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen over the next years.
Healthcare should be more borderless as well. There’s going to be a huge change in terms of how healthcare has been working because now we see that it all must be personalized and more data-driven, rather than overly dependent on one doctor.
CEO of Viveo Health
Alejandro Martínez in a presentation | Photo by erudit
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Mental health and wellbeing have long been an interest of Erudit AI CEO and founder Alejandro Martínez Agenjo, with his academic background in the area. The combination of AI and his passion for mental health came about through a conversation with his co-founder Ricardo Michel Reyes. As Agenjo says, “you have to use the best way possible to contribute your solution or you are going to be out of the market before you arrive at the market”.
Identifying the potential of AI in automising the processes of psychologists, Erudit AI provides a tool which helps businesses manage the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. The company achieved $500,000 worth of funding within just three months of its establishment and has gone from strength to strength since its foundation in August 2018. Now more than ever businesses are aware of the huge importance and necessity of being able to monitor the mental wellbeing of their employees, especially
at a time when remote working is set to become more common and in many cases remains compulsory for the time being.
Agenjo puts forward that businesses in modern times are all too aware of the necessity to ensure the mental health of their employees. The problem that faces human resource directors however, is the inability to link mental health KPIs to more financially based indicators. This is what Erudit AI brings to the table. Speaking to
To begin with, with artificial intelligence we should get rid of the word ‘artificial’. A machine can’t think for itself. By definition, any process of machine learning or artificial intelligence, has the human at the centre.
Alejandro Martínez Agenjo
CEO and founder of Erudit AI
VoL, Agenjo spoke to VoL about how Erudit AI apply artificial intelligence to the management of a team’s mental health.
Voices of Leaders: Earlier this year we talked to Manuel Hurtado, CEO of the Social Good Chain. He spoke of the importance of putting the human at the centre of technology. How do Erudit AI put people at the centre of your technology and how is artificial intelligence applied in your platform?
Alejandro Martinez Agenjo: To begin with, with artificial intelligence we should get rid of the word “artificial”. A machine can’t think for itself. By definition, any process of machine learning or artificial intelligence, has the human at the centre. The first learning is human. It’s true that with techniques like reinforced learning, it can improve itself, but the first hypothesis is given by a person. Our project has two paths. On one side, what is it directed at? It is directed at the improvement of mental health, wellbeing and productivity of the employees.
And on the other side, we are at the centre because we need to be able to automise
from inside the product. Imagine a conversation on Zoom, we can con