Notes from the Recovery Summit: It’s Time to Raise Our Eyes

The Recovery Summit, led by Canada 2020 and Global Progress, is an initiative of The Recovery Project.


Helaina Gaspard and Andrew Heffernan

September 18, 2020

Look up, look out, not only immediately around you. That was Dr. Jane Philpott’s advice to Recovery Summit watchers, as the physician and former minister emphasized the major public health crisis engendering long-term ramifications that will require broad thinking to address and remedy.

There is no way to avoid managing the public health crisis that is the pandemic. But, as we maintain this steady mode of crisis management, there is an opportunity to reset and rethink.  To do that, we’ll have to raise our eyes.

The Recovery Summit, with a slate of global leaders, practitioners, and thinkers, emphasized future opportunities with constant, sobering reminders of difference. Differences are not bad, but when difference creates imbalance, societies may want to take pause and consider actions that will affect future generations.

Everyone has been impacted by this pandemic. People are struggling with health fears, uncertainty, and financial pressures.  Institutions have been stress-tested and leveraged by countries and their leaders in a range of fashions to varying ends.  Economies have been brought to their knees with grim global outlooks for the uncertain months ahead.

The road to recovery will be bumpy, but not untraversable.


Actions and policy proposals should be contemplated and designed in a people-centric manner. Some in government, academia, think tanks, etc. may see society as part of a vertical construct in which government and politics exist to create policies which then affect people. Of course, decisions by governments impact the lives of citizens, but to ‘build back better,’ there must be exchange, learning, and adaptability to ensure policies are delivering for people.

Women and minorities were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. One concrete way of addressing that reality is to invest in childcare. This has been a regular issue that re-emerges during times of crisis.  Childcare need not be kicked further down the road.  There may be no better time to support people, especially women, with childcare obligations to (re)enter the workforce. Create jobs and support poverty alleviation by investing in childcare.

Universal basic income (UBI) strategies are being debated with renewed vigour.  The utility and applicability of these approaches are celebrated by many for equipping the individual with some basic resources to improve their lives however they see fit.  Others, however, suggested the state play a larger coordinating role to improve social transfers through tools like tax credits.

Supporting people and equipping them to manage uncertainty will be essential to recovery. How that’s achieved will be shaped by the institutional and economic contexts of countries.


COVID-19 has been a catalyst that has demonstrated simultaneously the need for a sound multilateral system and its need for reform to reflect reality. Multilateralism will need to be regenerated and reimagined for a multipolar world characterized by transformed information and media landscapes.

As citizens consume their news via social media and online platforms, dialogue, debate and engaging with ‘the other side,’ are often sacrificed by algorithms based on previous preferences.  Changes, even if they appear incremental, pose risks to the increasing polarization of democratic debate.

Information and evidence are essential for tackling the pandemic and addressing issues of sustainability, inequality, and economy in informed manners. How countries deal with information, misinformation, and disinformation will impact results.


When Wall Street catches a cold, Harlem gets pneumonia. With that analogy, Heather Boushey underscored how the economic fallout of the pandemic could hurt the wealthiest very little, while devastating marginalized populations.  There will be no immediate off switch for recovery.  The programs in place to ease the immediate pain of the pandemic will have to be carefully considered, trading off their impact with public spending.

Governments everywhere are making historical investments to keep their stalled economies inching along, especially through direct transfers to people.  As debt levels rise and outlooks remain uncertain, governments will be faced with difficult choices of how to spend and demonstrate value, while being accountable for considering generations to come.

Navigating recovery will require broad perspective, the sharpening of economic, fiscal and policy tools, a valuing of evidence, and a willingness to make in-course adjustments to improve outcomes.  Raising our eyes to the scope and breadth of challenges, also means appreciating the opportunity and rising to meet the occasion.  That will take leadership, courage and decisive action.

Helaina Gaspard is Director, Governance and Institutions at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy. Andrew Heffernan is a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa and a research assistant at IFSD.