Values, sailing and the Covid-19 response

Secretary General Annette Magnusson in SCC Forecast #6/20: The Covid-19 journey is not over yet. Adopting a sailor’s mindset could add that extra layer of resilience we all need.

When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, for most of us, there were no checklists. We did not have any policy to pull out titled “What to do in the event of a pandemic”. No pre-designed emergency plan. No previous experience to fall back on. But this did not mean that there was no guidance to be found or that the response became passive. On the contrary. In the past six months we have seen an inspiring and impressive demonstration of resilience, responsibility, and innovation from colleagues all over the world. Everyone has found their own unique way to chart new maps when the old ones no longer worked.

For us at the SCC, the road through the crisis so far has had two major sources of inspiration. Values. And the art of sailing.

Our journey of significance.  As an arbitral institution we are fueled by a desire to build value for society at large. We see efficient, impartial, and neutral access to justice as an immensely valuable building block for strong and healthy societies, using the common principles we know as international arbitration. A vision we share with all leading arbitral institutions.

Why was this relevant for our covid-19 response?

Because it told us what to do, despite absence of checklist and policies. Our values led us to outreach and collaboration. It was the DNA of international arbitration which led institutions to take leadership and provide guidance and tools to parties, counsel and arbitrators - to be able to move cases forward, but with respect for the challenges caused by the crisis both at a personal a professional level. It was the DNA of the arbitration community that led arbitrators and counsel to engage in discussions, share personal experiences and find practical solutions. It was the DNA of our own organization which had directed us towards digital solutions before the crisis, and which now propelled also new initiatives

Our values thus had a tremendous importance for us in navigating the crisis. But even if we know what we stand for as an organization, and even if there is a strong sense of purpose, there were times when the whole situation was quite daunting, both from a professional and personal standpoint. How will this end? Will stores run of supplies? Is my family safe? What will society look like two weeks from now?

This is when I started to think about sailing.

On the importance of sailing. At the height of the Covid-19 crisis my husband and I independently of each other both made the same reflection; the whole situation made us think of sailing. As a family we have spent a lot of time together sailing in every imaginable weather, and now we found ourselves adopting a mindset like that which you would on a boat. Stay calm, act wisely and responsibly. There is no use to worry about the weather two weeks ahead. Just solve the issues you have right in front of you. Today and tomorrow.

Everyone who has been sailing knows there is only so much you can prepare, or control. In the end, force of nature will govern the terms of your journey and you must respond accordingly, regardless if this means changing your course with a last-minute tack or getting up at 3 AM to adjust your moorings. Whatever happens, Mother Nature is in charge. Which is part of the charm. A dramatic shift of weather could be a challenge, but also a source of excitement for a crew working in concert to adjust sails, re-analyze the course, or take any other necessary action to master the new conditions. Hard work for sure, but also pure joy when you can steer your boat steadily through a wild sea with rain hitting hard on the waves. Or when that shift of moorings at 3 AM did its job.

The Covid-19 journey is not over yet. We do not know yet when we will be able to lower our sails and take a rest from the pandemic. If a second wave of the storm is coming. For some of us, it appears alarmingly close.  But we have a solid foundation from where we can continue drawing our charts. We know our mission, and what we seek to accomplish. Adopting a sailor’s mindset could add that extra layer of resilience we all need. And stay safe.

Annette Magnusson

Secretary General


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