The world needs more adults in the room who are willing to speak up and behave with intellect, diplomacy and integrity through a crisis

Two years on from the first pandemic lockdowns the world has been blindsided by another major shock - Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Should we have been surprised? In the Q4 2021 edition of StrategicRISK, Control Risks’ Charles Hecker and Claudine Fry warned us the world would spin differently in 2022 - that geopolitics hates a vacuum. 

Yet in January, when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Risks Report 2022, geo-economic confrontation was in just ninth position as a long-term global risk for the next 5-10 years. Geopolitical risks did not even make it into the top ten short-term global risks.

Two months on, here we are. At the time of writing there were already thousands of casualties, including many children. It is a humanitarian disaster as millions of Ukrainians flee the constant and increasingly indiscriminate bombardment of their cities and towns, hospitals, theatres and schools.

It affects us all, whether or not we have offices and people in Ukraine, Russia and the wider region or not. As our journalist Sara Benwell explains on page 11, there are many implications of a volatile geopolitical landscape, from soaring energy prices, supply chain issues and cyber threats to instability in financial markets and ESG issues, as corporates navigate a growing raft of sanctions against Russia.

We cannot expect risk surveys like the WEF Report - however useful they are when we are carrying out future gazing and scenario analysis exercises - to act as our crystal ball. We learned this to our detriment in 2020 when pandemic risk did not even make it onto the list in January of that year.

What WEF did remind us, however, was that we are living in an increasingly unequal, divided and discontented world. And that, unaddressed, we should expect this to cause conflict and upheaval.

I am no political or military expert, but I have interviewed many who are, and the atrocities underway in Ukraine have not appeared from nowhere. This conflict has been at least a decade in the making.

It is the result of many complex, interwoven factors. But it has been enabled by a more polarised world, the spread of disinformation (and power of social media), unfettered capitalism, consumerism and our addiction to fossil fuels, political systems that allow megalomaniacs to rise to power - failing to hold them to account - and ultimately a world weakened by COVID-19.

For too long, the corporate world has been unwilling to get drawn into the messy business of politics. But we can no longer distance ourselves, even if it feels uncomfortable. 

We must call out politics that seeds division, which exploits fear. We learnt those lessons in 1945 - or should have done. As Fusion Risk Management’s Bogdana Sardak tells us on page 8, firms must take a people-first approach, be brave and stand up for what they believe is morally right. “It is not about politics,” she says. “It is about caring for human life and putting people first”.

There is too much at stake not to. The world needs more adults in the room who are willing to speak up and behave with intellect, diplomacy and integrity through a crisis. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is an obvious role model, but I have spoken to enough risk professionals to know why your organisations turn to you first in any crisis.

We know from speaking to the risk associations that many of you are again in crisis management and business continuity mode. That you are helping your senior managers make quick, decisive choices, armed with the right information, while keeping a cool head and building in resilience for whatever comes next.

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