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Coronavirus as a joker: opens up new opportunities for those who are ready to use them

“Our key skill is the ability to quickly adapt to conditions,” says Alexander Chulok

Coronavirus and the fall in oil prices have already markedly changed lives, and experts say in a voice that our "world will not be the same." But what if new realities become windows of new opportunities?

Coronavirus as a joker: opens up new opportunities for those who are ready to use them

Alexander Chulok

Director, Center for Scientific and Technological Forecasting, Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, HSE

At the beginning of 2020, we were on the crest of a new technological revolution, and many sectors of the world economy, and Russia are no exception, were in transformational states. These changes were aimed at robotization, unmanned production, the introduction of energy-efficient and climate-independent technologies in various sectors of the economy, including the agro-industrial complex. In the Far East, for example, highly effective technologies were introduced in soybean cultivation or in fisheries.

What did the coronavirus or the joker [an event with a low probability, but large-scale potential effects - approx. EastRussia]? On the one hand, he accelerated the processes that already took place in Russia, for example, digitalization. On the other hand, companies that did not manage to fit into these models, of course, were in a very vulnerable condition. They did not transform, and did not remain in the traditional paradigm.  

It is already clear that the influence of this joker associated with the coronavirus, and maybe even two jokers, including oil prices, will vary greatly in the time horizon. Already in the short term, we see a great demand for manual labor, although according to forecasts of the beginning of 2020, it was supposed to disappear due to robotization and digitalization. In fact, many countries are rolling back to what many economists call the natural economy, when all needs are met independently. In this sense, Russia with vast territories of Siberia and the Far East is not in the worst condition. We have always had a bet on national security. It is important. In many countries where they counted on the labor of migrants, whose flows are now blocked, the question arises: will the citizens of the country agree to pick their own grapes, paint, clean up garbage, and build roads? Not the fact that they agree. On the other hand, the depopulation of the countryside, which has been taking place in recent years, has also not passed without a trace. 

Next will be a strong departure in digital technology. And this makes us wonder: will the existing infrastructure, universities, scientific organizations cope here? And this, by the way, is sensitive for the Far Eastern district, which actively participated in national initiatives, including technological. FEFD sought to be a leader in a number of scientific areas, to recall the same project, "Island". And, of course, from the point of view of innovation and science, ongoing processes are a big challenge. Of course, in recent decades, science has been moving to the concept of openness and remote access to scientific knowledge, but not everything can be studied on-line. Moreover, conducting research in isolation is a big challenge. 

Of course, the priorities of the regional agenda, it seems to me, will have to change: towards national security, import substitution and greater mobility, readiness for transformations. Everyone knows that the Far Eastern Federal District was closely connected both economically and culturally with China, and now, perhaps, we will see a restructuring of this landscape towards Russian manufacturers and Russian science, which may not be bad. Although will our colleagues and citizens be ready to pick up this demand? One of the serious problems of Russia is the imbalance of supply and demand associated with innovation and development. There is demand from the business side, and the scientific environment is not ready to quickly fit into it. And vice versa, science is ready to offer revolutionary development, and companies don’t need it, there’s nowhere to “embed” it. 

Although this is not easy, but I would still suggest looking at the situation through positive. After all, interesting windows of opportunity are now opening. If before this the world aspired to be global, closely connected with each other, now all production chains were literally torn or paused overnight. This state of the world economy is unprecedented, we must use it! In addition to negative phenomena, I would note the opportunity to replace competitors, occupy their niches or create new ones based on other principles and formats (including, of course, digital ones). We have already found ourselves in this situation, and in addition to the anti-crisis actions that must be taken, I would suggest considering the windows of opportunity, exploring them and responding promptly. 

Our key skill, the ability to quickly adapt to rapidly changing conditions, will help us with this. And here the Far East has good groundwork. People here know how to use natural ingenuity and possess it. Now is the time to apply it. I would bet not only on technology, not only on economic processes that will change now, I would put at the forefront a person who not only changes after the jokers, but also changes them. A person who has a strong grip and psychological stability. Agree, these features are characteristic of the inhabitants of the Far East.

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