I have been frustrated with a client recently. They have been hard to reach, and if they do respond, it is usually difficult to get them to commit to any time to discuss. It’s especially frustrating because we have a long-term, ongoing project that requires their input to move forward. When I finally spoke with my client, I remembered an important detail that made me feel like a jerk: this client is originally from South Africa. Even though they live and work in Europe, their family, friends, and loved ones are experiencing the worst of a third COVID wave. To make matters worse, just 2.3% of their population is fully vaccinated, as many of the most available vaccines are ineffective against South Africa’s predominant variant. I am thankful that I did not express my frustration to the client, but I still learned an important lesson in humility and empathy.
Even though life is not yet back to normal, we have it good here in Europe, and things are going quite well in the States. Several other countries have the virus largely under control, such as Israel, but when we zoom out to the rest of the world, we are very, very privileged when it comes to COVID. Most countries in Europe are sitting at a full vaccination rate of 50%; just 1% of people in developing countries have received even one COVID-19 vaccine dose. The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: the world’s wealthiest countries were the countries that could research and produce vaccines the quickest, so they cornered the vaccine market to ensure that their populations would receive jabs before everybody else. As much as leaders love to talk about globalisation at UN conferences, COVID has shown that countries put themselves first when push comes to shove. Now, there is an intense international debate about whether rich countries should give their population booster shots or donate those extra doses to developing countries in dire need.
While borders within Europe have essentially reopened and vaccinated people can move freely about the continent, especially towards the beaches in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, the rest of the world does not have this luxury. Many countries have the virus under temporary control, but they lack the vaccine inoculation rates needed to reopen society safely. Thus, their situation is precarious, and the next serious wave is lying in wait on the horizon. The virus is spreading rapidly in other countries, but their vaccination rates are abysmal, so they essentially have to lock down and wait for each COVID wave to pass. That explanation is a tad glib: waiting out COVID entails intense suffering for so many families.
When it comes to COVID, we cannot continue to think in a Eurocentric way, especially when conducting international business. Even though I am loath to talk about COVID during meetings, I still prepare for a meeting with a client or potential client by researching COVID rates in their countries/home countries. It can give you deep insight into how much emotional bandwidth that person has available, which can make or break a deal.