Actis surveyed the senior leadership of its portfolio companies and its own professionals in early April 2020 to understand what was top-of-mind regarding COVID-19. A year on, we have re-run the survey to see how perspectives have changed.
In our survey last April, we had 113 respondents. This year’s survey had 178 respondents. Any direct comparisons against data from last year are made with the caveat that the survey population is different.
One year ago, our survey indicated that while concern levels were growing, more than half (51%) of respondents were either neutral or not concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. Since then of course, COVID-19 has caused nearly three million deaths and infected many hundred million people globally. Official case numbers are passing through 140 million as we write, but public health experts put the real toll at several times that level.
One year ago, many were describing the threat as “confined to China”; and yet while North America and Europe have accounted for more than half the global death toll, China has reported just 4,841 deaths at the time of writing. Latin America alone has recorded over 850,000 deaths.
Governments and leaders have taken different approaches to managing the virus, some imposing strict regional and national lockdowns, others dismissing it outright.
President Trump famously described the virus as “a hoax” and prompted widespread condemnation for suggesting that injecting detergent into the body could kill the virus; meanwhile, the late President Magufuli of Tanzania denied the virus posed any threat and insisted that inhaling steam and eating potatoes could cure COVID-19. By contrast, Australasian leaders adopted stringent lockdown measures early on and have seen very limited case numbers.
Ignoring or dismissing COVID-19 has to date not proved to be a roaring success.
Vaccines have arrived in record time, but at the same time new variants have arrived and spread, causing second and third waves around the world. Countries and politicians are racing against the virus – and each other – to vaccinate their populations in an effort to bring an end to the pandemic.
But how long will it take? When will it end? And how will life be different post-pandemic? Our survey sheds some light.
As the enormous task of vaccinating the world gathers pace there are, as ever, political and human barriers to overcome. As this survey highlights, there are stark differences in behaviour, approach and opinion around our markets.
Understanding these issues is hugely beneficial to Actis and our portfolio company management teams as we navigate the pandemic, sharing and learning as we go. Wellbeing is a major challenge and while financial statements may be signalling resilience, a wellbeing deficit may take longer to address.
The authors are both members of the Actis Value Creation Group (VCG), which brings professional expertise and works alongside management teams and Actis’ investment professionals to maximize the value of our portfolio companies. It identifies areas of improvement for each business and is involved from the pre-investment and due diligence stages right through portfolio management and exit.