ESG | November 19, 2020

Boldface names on vaccines, racial justice and climate action

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, Nov. 19 – The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon, rapper-activist Killer Mike and other super-influencers in a two-day virtual conference that demonstrated the newfound recognition of the materiality of social and environmental issues to business.

“I’m not going to change the divisiveness in this country right now, but I’m going to try as best as I can to get people to realize that we are all in this together,” said Fauci. “We‘ve got to get out of it together.”

Other highlights:  

Biotech breakthroughs. Pfizer has been swept up in politics ever since it announced results of its vaccine trials six days after the U.S. presidential election. “The election was always for us an artificial deadline,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

The company’s decision to develop the vaccine, in partnership with BioNTech, without taking government funding, was an effort to insulate the effort from politics, he said. The Trump administration, through its Operation Warp Speed, guaranteed Pfizer it would purchase $1.95 billion in COVID vaccines. “The first consideration in my mind was to follow all the processes scientifically and ethically. So once we have the results it will be indisputable. And this is what we did.”

The Gates Foundation invested $55 million in BioNTech’s “messenger RNA” technology and has helped catalyze vaccine development and production more broadly.

Of the conspiracy theories, Gates said: “I hope it fades away, because we’re just trying to play a constructive role. You don’t just want to use market-based pricing, you want all of humanity collaborating together. And we’re helping to facilitate that.”

When Black communities suffer, America suffers. Food and education deserts persist for more than half of African Americans, said Killer Mike. ”If we do not do something to change that narrative, our country is going to be the biggest, strongest, mightiest giant with a torn Achilles heel. I want to see a targeted investment in communities.” Modernize banking to reach Black communities, urged Vista Equity Partners’ Robert Smith.

Smith addressed his $139 million settlement with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution for tax avoidance. “In order for me to focus on the problems of the present, I need to resolve the issues of the past, and the settlement offered me that ability to do so.” he said. “I’ve made right with the government, and now I’m absolutely committed to continuing my important work.”

Climate turnabout. JPMorgan Chase, the world’s largest fossil fuel funder, is getting on board with climate action. “We need a carbon tax, we need good government policy,” said the bank’s Jamie Dimon. “You cannot solve the problem in the United States alone. We have a common interest with China, India to fix this problem, and the things we can do with technology that can help them.” 

Dimon also sounded off on racial inequality. “It is outrageous, the racial inequality is terrible,” he said. “To recognize it is right, and to do something about it is absolutely right thing to do.”