'Normal wasn't working' - John Kerry, Phillip Atiba Goff and others on the new social contract post-COVID

Kerry and Goff join Hilary Cottam and Geraldine Matchett in a cast of experts discussing a fairer world after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anna Bruce-Lockhart
Editorial Lead, World Economic Forum
Ross Chainey
Content Lead, UpLink, World Economic Forum
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COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of an estimated 1.3 billion workers who represent nearly half of the world’s workforce, amplifying economic and social inequalities. In this session titled Redesigning Social Contracts in Crisis, the latest in the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset series, speakers from a range of locations and sectors respond to calls for stronger, more sustainable and more inclusive social contract.

Read on for highlights from the call. Or watch it here, or listen to the podcast version:


John Kerry

“Normal was a crisis; normal wasn’t working,” said former US secretary of state John Kerry in his opening remarks. “We must not think of it in terms of pushing a button and going back to the way things were. We’re a long way off from being able to go back to any kind of normal.”

The responsibility will lie with governments, the “great convener”, Kerry said. “Forces and pressures that were pushing us into crisis over the social contract are now exacerbated,” he said. “The world is coming apart, dangerously, in terms of global institutions and leadership.”

“What we never did was adequately address the social contract, the franchisement of human beings around the world, to be able to participate in things they can see with their smartphones everywhere but can’t participate in.”

Explaining that the United States of America is currently "gridlocked", Kerry said: “This is a big moment. The World Economic Forum - the CEO capacity of the Forum - is really going to have to play a front and centre role in refining the Great Reset to deal with climate change and inequity - all of which is being laid bare as a consequence of COVID-19."

Phillip Atiba Goff

Speaking about the worldwide protests that followed the killing of unarmed African American man George Floyd, Phillip Goff, Co-Founder and President, Center for Policing Equity, suggested that these scenes of dissent weren’t based on a single death - or even a thousand police homicides. “It’s a past-due notice,” he said. “It’s an unpaid debt to black Americans.

"We need to do a ‘full accounting’ of what is owed," said Goff, who is also an awardee of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. "If we don’t we’re going to keep paying off that debt year after year.”

Asked if he felt more optimistic about the future of the social contract now, Goff was less certain. “We now live in a country where racial segregation in schools is greater than it was in 1954. We need to pass the mic to the people who can speak for their own experience, so we’re aware of their needs and we have adult careful planning to get us there.”

Geraldine Matchett

As countries around the world emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and face up to extremely tough economic conditions, how do we ensure that women aren’t left behind?

“I’m an optimist when it comes to gender at this particular point of time,” said Geraldine Matchett, Co-Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Royal DSM.

“The lockdown was a great equalizer … we actually started to see that people were acknowledged for what they had in terms of constraints, not only at work but also at home.”

The other big equalizer is flexibility, she added. “The biggest barrier to women in the workplace, and has been for a long time, is the imperative to be onsite, and the 9-5 or 9-10 depending on the kind of job. And here suddenly we’re having to reinvent the workplace … how are we going to change our workplace because of what we’ve just lived through?”

Those most excited about that change are actually women, she said. “They have lived with more flexibility than they ever had before.”

Robert E. Moritz

Focusing on skills and jobs in a revamped social contract, PwC Chairman Bob Moritz highlighted the importance of the role of business. “Organisations exist for three reasons,” he said: “To manage business to do well; to be more thoughtful and responsive to a broader group of stakeholders, including the disadvantaged; and to contribute to society in a positive way.”

Businesses have to stand for their purpose, reconfigure and restart. They also have to demonstrate that they’re listening, learning, adjusting and demonstrating different results. “Businesses have to repair damage that’s been done in the past,” he said.

Hilary Cottam

Three elements have come together, said Hilary Cottam, Author and Social Entrepreneur, Centre for the Fifth Social Revolution.

“Before the crisis, I was working with so-called ‘left-behind communities’ with workers, manufacturers, grave-diggers, carers. The most important thing is that most workers already feel their lives are precarious and that safety-nets don’t work,” she said.

Secondly, we are facing huge unemployment. “We know that unemployment is a relational issue - it doesn’t affect everyone the same. It’s going to fall according to race, according to age, according to class, and we have to think differently about that.”

Thirdly, transition. “We are facing an ecological catastrophe,” she said. “So it isn’t just about going back to work, it’s about where are you working and how can we transition out of often well-paid jobs in so-called ‘dirty industries’ into smart, green work.”

We need to see investments in new systems that are much more horizontal and much more collaborative, rather than the vertical and hierarchical systems we have inherited Cottam said.

Mohammad Jaafar

“People are vital to the economy,” said Mohammad Jaafar, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Company. “How can we further protect them?”

One way is to address the transactional nature of how migrants who live and work in the Gulf countries are treated. In some urban areas, foreign workers make up 80% of the population; many live in densely populated areas at severe risk of COVID-19. Jaafar called for greater focus on social safety nets - such as pensions - for the large migrant and expat population in many Middle Eastern cities.

Jan Vapaavuori

Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki in Finland, a country which has had a relatively low number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, said his city’s mission has been to become one of “the most functional cities in the world.”

Successful management of a city is about being “predictable and reliable … and fair for everyone”, the mayor said. “It’s about a city that works in all circumstances.”

COVID-19 had clearly undermined this, he said, “as it is a health crisis, a social crisis and an economic crisis at the same time, so it’s quite evident that you need a holistic and comprehensive response to rebuilding.”

Central to the success of a ‘functional city’ is trust, Vapaavuori, added, and it’s quite clear that this is something that is particularly valuable in a time of crisis.

Saadia Zahidi

“Businesses have an opportunity to affect change in not just their own workforces, the communities that they represent, but through their advertising, through their products, they have the power to change society” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, Head of the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum.

We will remain in the realm of anger and paralysis if we don’t take a “disciplined or structured approach to the Great Reset that brings all of the right collaborators together.”

There are four key areas the World Economic Forum is focusing on, Zahidi said. The first is delivering education 4.0 - a completely different approach to the content and delivery of education.

Second, we need to take much more seriously reskilling and upskilling of workers around the world, she said, especially as the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the Fourth Industrial Revolution and left us with an unemployment crisis.

The third element is around social safety nets, Zahidi said. “We have seen during the pandemic that the countries that perform the best or that have the biggest opportunity to have the most rapid recovery are those that have invested in social safety nets,” she said.

Finally - wages and job creation. “We all saw who were the essential workers on the front lines of this crisis, and those happen to be consistently the people that are the most underpaid,” she said.


John F. Kerry, Distinguished Fellow for Global Affairs, Yale University, USA

Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki, Finland

Hilary Cottam, Author and Social Entrepreneur, Centre for the Fifth Social Revolution, United Kingdom

Mohammad Jaafar, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Company KCSC, Kuwait

Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC, USA

Geraldine Matchett, Co-Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Royal DSM, Netherlands

Phillip Atiba Goff, Co-Founder and President, Center for Policing Equity, USA (Schwab Social Entrepreneur)

Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, Head of the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum

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