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Consultant și analist de risc politic, CEO Smartlink, fost Policy Manager la Google Bruxelles

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Private sector driven country image 

According to the calculations of the International Monetary Fund, the performance of the global economy this year will account to a total of 12.5 trillion dollars (11 trillion euros) lower than 2019. This is – and we have the figures to prove it – the "worst recession" in about 90 years.   
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From the second quarter of this year, we might feel the effects of the pandemic-triggered economic crisis in a much harsher way in Romania. We will need a government that has a coherent program, is not derailed by daily scandals and blunders, that reaches a consensus on how to ease the economic consequences and keep the trust of the population and of the (domestic and international) markets. It could be argued that the government programme is well-crafted, with actual solutions presented to the main challenges of this period. However, implementation is the hardest part. Clear deadlines are needed, fair funding and accountability (not to mention the authority to sometimes take painful decisions).

The devastating fallouts from the pandemic will be felt for years unless smart investments in economic, societal and climate resilience ensure a robust and sustainable recovery of the local economy. Through a smart approach, there are all the prerequisites for Romania to overcome the global recession with a higher economic growth rate and with minimal costs. It can even take advantage of the recession in developed countries – the substitution / income effect in developed countries is known, an effect that manifests itself favourably to Romanian exports. The question is whether we have what it takes to choose this path.

The Recovery and Resilience Plan is promoted as the main relaunch point of the economy, preventing a bigger economic crisis in Romania. However, we are at a time where efforts from all parts of the economy would assist economic growth. And while the overhauled plan has the potential to bring forward great investment ideas, the private sector has limited short-term benefits, so it must organise itself and brainstorm collaboration opportunities in improving the Romanian economy, and how can Romania’s image be improved as well. If we manage to get a public-private effort concentrated into our national branding and country image strategy, we will see a bigger impact. And a good country image has benefits for all. Therefore, we need an effort to improve our image in the world and start taking advantage of our revamped international profile. We will start from the business sector, and how it could get more involved.

In the national branding sector, we have seen sparks of Romanian excellence in the past two years, from the victories of Simona Halep in tennis to the victory of having a Romanian start-up, UiPath, become a unicorn – decacorn even. We also have one of the fastest growing cryptocurrencies, Elrond, reaching in the past month the status of unicorn (although the volatility in the cryptocurrency world often leaves these comparisons without object).

Businesses spend more money on communication than do many governments and play a role as non-state actors in public diplomacy that helps define the reputation and image of their home country.  The image spillover should be acknowledged and embraced in a most pragmatic way.

Just as companies have mixed motives for their involvement in corporate social responsibility, there are mixed motives for corporate involvement in nation branding, in attracting new investments for their country. Engaging in activities that support a cause valued by the audience, which includes corporate social responsibility activities as well as corporate diplomacy efforts, can boost business returns as well as enhance reputations for both the company and the country with which it is associated. Such activities can carry the effect of public diplomacy and nation branding, whether or not that was the primary intent of the activity.

For example, being charitable during the pandemic paid off. We have seen Romanian companies donating to hospitals and even to other countries’ hospitals, further adding to the country’s positive image-building efforts. We have seen massive collaborations in this regards that were able to generate huge benefits for society, but also for their own corporate image.

While our country’s government is still struggling to present improvements on preventing corruption, real examples of businesses talking about how their activity benefited from the reduction in corruption would generate real news in the international press. With time, news like this would make our country look more as a place worth investing in.

Romanian companies can take the opportunity of improving Romania’s image as a chance to expand their businesses abroad, bring investor interest in key economic sectors, grow exports and improve their supply chains. Moldova is a point to start, but so are other countries in the region and it would make sense for us to be more present in Western Balkans, for example.

In order to succeed economically, but also to transform our own national image, the public and private sector should join efforts and strive towards the same goal together. Crises are typically not only transformative moments, but also times of shared and collective experience under the banner of common purpose and unity. Romanian businesses should take the initiative and make through their actions and successes a more compelling case for their home country. It will help others a lot, and it will help you back. The private sector is key to an investment-friendly country that will grow as a result of the good examples we present to our partners and to the world.

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