Failing at anything isn’t particularly fun, but the learning from failure can be tremendous if you take the time to reflect on the experience. If you take a few minutes to examine someone else’s failure, you benefit from the experience without the heartburn of having had to live through the event yourself. 

Which is why, this week, we’re talking negotiation fails! Rather than just hammering away at why the actions or approach caused a failure, I’m going to walk you through a post-mortem of sorts, explaining what could have been done differently and what we can take away from the failure of COVAX to vaccinate developing nations. 

In essence, this is an example of a multi-party negotiation gone sideways. A multi-party negotiation is (perhaps obviously) any deal or project involving more than two parties. It could be a research consortium, an open source group, or, in this case, a group trying to save lives in a pandemic by getting vaccines distributed. COVAX, an organization formed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Unicef, and Gavi – The Vaccine Alliance is intended to be a global operation, providing the COVID-19 vaccine to developing nations at ‘warp speed.’ 

This program coalesced around the Dr. Seth Franklin Berkley, an American epidemiologist and CEO of GAVI, and Dr. Cynthia Berkley, his wife, who works with the WHO to set up a mechanism for getting these vaccines to people. The project was called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or simply COVAX. While the mission is altruistic, it has suffered from five common multiparty negotiation failures.

Before we address the failures, however, it helps to understand what makes a multi-party negotiation work. Fundamentally, a successful multi-party negotiation maintains a shared goal or vision among all parties. There’s diversity of members, suppliers, and financing, along with a clear, realistic understanding of how humans actually act. Additionally, there needs to be an understanding that initial momentum does not carry through the entire endeavor, and should not be mistaken as the ‘steady state’ of the operation. Finally, there must be clear and effective communication along with robust procurement processes to ensure execution of the initial goal or vision. 

That said, let’s walk through where COVAX has fallen short. 

1. Lack of diversification. 

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