As you may know, I truly believe that every human being is made for goodness – yes, even bankers! So I am very glad to be returning to the World Economic Forum. Davos is known to be a gathering of Very Important People and, well, I have a Very Important Message to convey.
Humanity has made such great strides in the last few decades, there is no doubt about that. There are millions more children in school, overall health and life expectancy worldwide are improving, and the gap between rich and poor countries closing. But this isn’t the whole story, of course. At the same time we are also seeing sharp rises in inequality – especially income inequality. The rich are getting much richer, while everyone else seems to be going backwards.
We can no longer ignore this growing distance between rich and poor – we risk undoing all the progress we’ve made, and making the world even more uncertain and volatile. It is time to close the gap. It is time to talk about making real changes so that the world becomes a more equitable place.
Putting equity on the agenda
What does ‘equity’ mean? It means fairness. It doesn’t mean that everyone lives equally – after all, we all choose different paths and our rich diversity is to be treasured. But it does mean equal opportunity – equal access to healthcare, to education, decent work, and a fair wage.
I know I will meet many powerful men and women in Davos. They have worked hard, put their God-given talents to good use, and become some of the most successful entrepreneurs, politicians and change-makers in the world. But when we consider the world we have created for our children, we do not look to these illustrious figures. No, when we judge our success, we must look to the least of us.
The world as seen from Davos seems very far away from the suffering and degradation in the poorest countries and communities. It may be hard to see how the concerns of those people who struggle to survive directly affect the lives of the rich and powerful gathered here. But not one of us lives or acts in a vacuum. The concept of ubuntu teaches that my humanity is bound up in yours – that we are all connected. In this era of globalisation, this interdependence is more evident than ever before.
When there are millions of educated young people out of work; when the poorest among us are the worst-hit by the effects of climate change; when millions of children every day are denied their right to the basic necessities of life, food and water – what does this say about the world we have built? Can anyone really claim ‘success’, when the great rift between the haves and the have-nots is causing even greater stress, unhappiness and violence in our societies? A more equitable world means a more stable and prosperous world – for everyone.
This year at Davos, I want to talk about social and economic equity. I want to see the needs and aspirations of women, young people, our poorest and most marginalised brothers and sisters on the global agenda. It is the responsibility of each one of us to make their voices heard and to build a world that is worthy of them – a world worthy of all of us.
Desmond Tutu is Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, a Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’. He is Chair of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Official Twitter account: @TheElders