IFES President on Public Sector Leadership in Crisis

Boston Consulting Group logo

Anthony N. Banbury, President and CEO of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), joined the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) at an online Public Sector Leadership Roundtable on April 17, 2020. Their conversation focused on identifying critical factors in successful public sector responses to crises.

Banbury has extensive expertise in crisis response and management, including as Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. In his current role, he is fostering innovation at IFES in order to safeguard democratic gains around the world from being undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are a few of the main takeaways from his discussion with BCG:

  1. This pandemic is a multidimensional crisis.
    While public health around the globe is paramount, the deleterious effects of the coronavirus pandemic are wide-reaching—threatening food, economic and political security. “We have to have our eye on the long-term,” said Banbury, and not lose sight of the fundamental issues at stake because of this crisis. Democratic institutions and individual rights, for example, are at risk of subversion unless we continue to safeguard democracy and hold elections safely.

  2. "Crisis response is a skill set."
    Banbury was chosen to lead the UN mission not for his expertise in health care, but for his expertise in crisis management. Finding leaders who understand the mechanics of crises should be a priority for anyone building a COVID-19 response team. Then, Banbury said, crisis leaders must surround themselves with experts from relevant fields to ensure that they have the best and most timely advice at their fingertips.

  3. Delay is the enemy.
    Leaders in crisis must take decisive action, while also continuously planning for what comes next. Elections are an excellent example: What planning and measures can electoral bodies start implementing now to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so that elections can take place? If leaders wait, it will be too late to mitigate the risks to both health and democratic rights due to postponed or poorly run elections.

  4. Establish trust, combat the "infodemic."
    There is an infodemic occurring alongside the pandemic. Banbury talked about the dangers of misinformation and lack of information about the COVID-19 virus, as well as the deliberate spreading of rumors and disinformation.

    As Banbury noted, elections experts understand the pivotal role that trust plays in motivating people to act. Democratic institutions must have the public’s trust in order effectively manage the COVID-19 crisis and save lives. And to maintain that trust, it is critical to counter mis- and disinformation, preserve the integrity of elections, promote transparency and time limits for emergency measures, and to build democracies that deliver for all.

To view the full recording, visit this site and download the video file. Banbury begins at 16:21 minutes.

Return to the main page | COVID-19: A Survival Guide for Democracies