'Public-private partnerships critical to pandemic response, big challenges': US CEOs recall coming together to help India during its Covid crisis

Top American CEOs, who were at the forefront of galvanising the business community to help India during its COVID-19 crisis early this year, on Wednesday reflected upon the outpouring of support for their efforts to save lives

Oct 07, 2021

Top American CEOs, who were at the forefront of galvanising the business community to help India during its COVID-19 crisis early this year, on Wednesday reflected upon the outpouring of support for their efforts to save lives. "I will always remember the weekend in the spring when Julie Sweet (CEO of Accenture) and others gathered us together, we met by video and we talked about what was such a terrible tragedy and urgent crisis," Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said during the India Ideas Summit of US-India Business Council.

A number of top American CEOs gathered over a video call on a weekend that laid the grounds of one of the largest ever humanitarian relief efforts collectively carried out by the country's private sector, PTI news agency reported.

"As we were seeing the rising Covid rates in India, we saw that people's lives literally hung in the balance. We saw what it meant for our own employees, some of whom tragically died as a result of that terrible time," he said.

"And yet I think we should also find inspiration that out of that tragedy, we discovered a renewed and expanded capability among ourselves across the business community, in terms of what we can do when we come together," Smith told the virtual audience.

Smith along with Sweet and Arvind Krishna, CEO and chairman of IBM, received USIBC's Global Leadership Humanitarian Award from Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog.

"In that situation, we found that if we worked with each other, we could marshal not only our financial resources, but our expertise, our logistical supply chains, we could get PPE and critical oxygen related equipment, we could buy it, we could move it and we could provide it to the people who needed it so that we could help save lives," Smith said.

"We found that when we acted together, we could not only use our resources and our expertise, but we can use our voice. We could use our voice to reach out to governments, including in Washington, DC, and we could persuade them to do more as well," he said.

"And what we found is that when we combined forces across the public and private sectors, we had together a capability that I don't think either of us fully appreciated until it was put to the test. The other thing that we took away from that experience was a resolve that we would help, not only the people of India, but elsewhere in the world as well," Smith said.

On April 23, Sweet said she was with her team and they were looking at the data for that week. Covid cases had surged 160 per cent.

"In making a few calls the next day, it was clear to all of us, many, many companies had this in mind and that we could do more together than any one of us, government, not for profit companies could do alone," she said.

So, on April 24, Sweet sent out an email at about 9.30 pm on behalf of Krishna and herself and invited several CEOs and organisations to jump on a call at 11:00 am the next day.

"The next day 20 CEOs, representatives of the US Chambers of Commerce, the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, the Business Roundtable, we all jumped on a call. There was no staff, there were no pre-briefings and no slides," she said.

"We were just sharing, hearing from Raj at FedEx about what was happening in logistics; hearing from Alberto and, and Ken, what was happening on the pharma side. All sharing and all united by a single purpose. How can we help?" Sweet said.

"We often talk about the opportunities with the pandemic to build back better. And this task force is an actual example of us having built back better," the Accenture CEO said accepting the award.

Observing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest challenge of lifetimes, Krishna said stopping its spread is a global problem that demands a global response.

"I would also like to recognise that no country has had greater challenges on Covid than India. Protecting so many people and ensuring that accurate information is shared and widely available are daunting tasks. Public-private partnerships are critical to pandemic response, as well as solving other big challenges," he said.

"Together, we will continue to expedite medical supplies and other assistance. Defeating COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires collaboration, innovation, and endurance. But I am confident that by continuing to work together, we will find our way through this difficult time and prevail," Krishna, an Indian American, was quoted as saying.