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Davos 2023: What you need to know about society and equity

Deep dive

In a fragmented world, how can we help enhance social equity? Here's what you need to know. Image: Unsplash/Jane Palash

Forum Agenda
Writer, World Economic Forum
  • The cost-of-living crisis is widening inequalities and threatens to reverse progress towards gender equality and social justice.
  • The theme of this year's World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos was “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”.
  • From gender parity, to racial justice, here's what you need to know about the sessions on social equity at Davos.

The cost-of-living crisis has been identified as the biggest risk facing the world over the next two years, in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report.

But the effects are uneven, with people of colour, people with disabilities and women often bearing the brunt of stalled growth. It’s also slowing progress on gender equality.


“The economic and social consequences of the pandemic and geopolitical conflict have paused progress and worsened outcomes for women and girls around the world – and risk creating permanent scarring in the labour market,” wrote Saadia Zahidi, the World Economic Forum’s Managing Director, in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 in July.

She said “collective, coordinated and comprehensive action” was needed.

Top 10 Risks Global Risks Report 2022.
The cost-of-living crisis is predicted to be the dominant global issue of the next two years. Image: World Economic Forum

Against this backdrop of a looming global recession and deepening cost-of-living crisis, world leaders from politics, business and civil society met at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023.


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Under the theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”, leaders at Davos discussed how to tackle interconnected crises and systemic inequalities to enable social mobility and social equity.

To coincide with Davos, Oxfam International published its latest inequality report, almost a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has driven the food and energy crises, contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.

Among some businesses, attention to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has grown, with an estimated $15.4 billion to be spent on DEI-related efforts by 2026, according to a report by the Forum's Global Parity Alliance - almost double the $7.5 billion spent in 2020.

But progress is slow, compounded by the pandemic. In the past five years, only one in three companies have made progress in executive-team diversity, while shrinking job opportunities disproportionately affect minorities and women.


Key sessions and takeaways on society and equity from Davos

Oxfam International's Executive Director Gabriela Bucher joined a panel to discuss the key pathways for gender parity to accelerate economic growth and recovery.

We need to look at the sources of funding, the budget that allows us to invest in what matters more to women... The care economy is fundamental, education, health and that will be the basis for more equal [economic] participation.

Gabriela Bucher Executive Director, Oxfam International

Inequities cost the global economy trillions of dollars each year, materially affecting government spending, business continuity and people's lives and livelihoods. This session asked, what are the most promising opportunities to advance health equity and increase social fairness by focusing on scaling community innovations that work?

A globally implemented living wage could generate $4.6 trillion in additional GDP each year through increased productivity and spending. Amid a worsening cost of living crisis, what would it take to radically reimagine a world with living wages for all?


It’s time to discuss this on a global level. We’re talking about supply chains, we have to find a fairer way of globalization. Fair supply chains, with fair wages are more stable.

Hubertus Heil Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Germany

Climate action holds the risk of stranding people and assets – as well as the promise of new jobs and economic opportunities.


Recent changes in law and the expansion of LGBTQI rights in a number of countries mark positive progress. What lessons from these success stories can be applied in other contexts?


Amid food and energy crises, geopolitical turmoil and trade disruption, global economic convergence appears to have stalled. What can leaders do differently to realize growth and prosperity both in advanced and emerging economies?


Driving growth, equity and transformative solutions to today’s challenges needs more gender-diverse leadership across the economy, politics and civil society. However, progress on parity is stalling globally. How can we create better pathways to advance more women into the highest levels of leadership?


Despite progress in mainstreaming diversity and inclusion in the corporate environment, racial and ethnic equity efforts remain fragmented. How can organizations foster growth and increase stakeholder trust through addressing racial and ethnic equity within their operations worldwide?


Diversity, equity and inclusion in numbers


Number of years it will take to reach gender parity


Number of people pushed into poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic


How much GDP could increase by if the global gender gap was closed


Estimated spend on DEI-related efforts by 2026.

Reports, initiatives and announcements on social equity at Davos 2023

With global efforts underway by business to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion, the role of employers in improving opportunity for all has never been clearer.

Against this backdrop, the Forum has released its Global Parity Alliance: Diversity Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023. It builds on the work of the Global Parity Alliance and the DEI Lighthouse Programme. This programme was launched to identify proven, effective DEI initiatives from across industries and regions.

To accelerate positive momentum from the private and public sector to create more equitable and inclusive organizations and economies, there is a need for greater clarity on the initiatives that work. The Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society and its partners will share insights on impact achieved by initiatives that are accelerating DEI outcomes within organizations and beyond.

Watch the New Frontiers for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion press conference here.


Much like a lack of accessibility, representation, equal access to opportunity, and other ways disability exclusion limits socioeconomic participation, the omission of disability data exerts a significant toll. To address the exclusion of disability data in the ESG ecosystem, The Valuable 500 launched a report called ESG & Disability Data: A Call for Inclusive Reporting, a call to action to the business community to align around 5 publicly reported disability inclusion KPIs.

Watch The Valuable 500 Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap press conference here.


The EDISON Alliance for digital inclusion shared its first impact report.

Since its launch in January 2021, the EDISON Alliance, convened by the World Economic Forum, has had a positive impact on the lives of 454 million people in 90 countries by activating over 250 initiatives in health, finance and education.

Through its 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the alliance is accelerating digital inclusion solutions by harnessing commitments from government, the private sector, civil society, academia and international organizations globally, improving affordability, usability and access to digital services and connectivity for 1 billion people by 2025.

Watch the EDISON Alliance press conference From Promise to Progress here.

A snapshot of inequality amid the cost-of-living crisis

In 2021, women accounted for 49.7% of the global population – and yet it will still take 132 years for them to reach parity with men, according to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

The report noted that the decade of austerity which followed the 2008 Global Financial Crisis “constrained sectors that provide the core of social infrastructure, affecting outcomes for families and primary caregivers – often women – during the pandemic”. Geopolitical conflict and climate change also both impact women disproportionately, it said.

Closing the global gender gap is not just one way to achieve social equity – it could also increase GDP by up to $28 trillion, according to McKinsey Global Institute, which found women’s maternal and reproductive health is a key driver of achieving equality.

Around 16% of the global population – 1.3 billion – live with a disability, according to the World Health Organization, making them the world’s largest minority.

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Around 80% of those with a disability live in developing countries, where poverty and disability are deeply interconnected.

Malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare and safe water and sanitation may increase the risk of disability, according to the World Bank, while disability can increase the risk of poverty through lack of access to education and employment and lower pay.

In the developed world, people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. In the UK, people with disabilities account for almost a quarter of the working-age population. A study published in January found two-fifths were not able to heat their homes over the winter months and nearly a third had to cut back on their food bills.

The cost-of-living crisis in the UK has also affected Black and Asian adults more than White adults, according to the Office for National Statistics, with 69% of Black or Black British adults and 59% of Asian or Asian British adults reporting struggling to pay energy bills, compared with 44% of White adults.

Charts showing how Black and Asian people in Britain pay more for energy and rent or mortgage.
Black and Asian people in Britain are disproportionately affected by the rising living costs. Image: ONS

Must-reads about social equity and the Forum’s impact

  • The Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society is accelerating progress towards gender equality through initiatives including the Gender Parity Accelerators, which implement public-private action plans to advance women’s economic empowerment in the labour force.
  • The Global Parity Alliance is a global, cross-industry group of organizations taking action to drive better and faster diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes through CEO leadership, and knowledge sharing on initiatives that have achieved significant, quantifiable and sustained impact for underrepresented groups.
  • The EDISON Alliance – a global movement of public and private sector leaders committed to prioritizing digital inclusion – launched the 1 Billion Lives Challenge to improve 1 billion lives globally through affordable access to digital solutions across healthcare, finance, and education by 2025.
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 4.0 is a toolkit for leaders to accelerate social equity in the future of work, with practical tips on how to improve talent sourcing and selection, organizational analysis and monitoring, and employee experience, reward and development.
  • More than 60 organizations have committed to building more equitable and just workplaces as part of the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative – a global coalition led by the Forum.
  • Supported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in collaboration with the Forum, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality is a coalition of organizations committed to accelerating LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion in the workplace and in communities.
  • Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap is a Forum initiative to accelerate the Valuable 500, which aims to engage 500 national and multinational private-sector corporations to put disability inclusion on the agenda.
  • In 2022, the Forum launched its Women’s Health initiative, which includes a focus on showcasing the socio-economic benefits of investing in women’s reproductive and maternal health.

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Key sessions and takeaways on society and equity from DavosDiversity, equity and inclusion in numbersReports, initiatives and announcements on social equity at Davos 2023A snapshot of inequality amid the cost-of-living crisisMust-reads about social equity and the Forum’s impactMore on society and equity on AgendaSociety and equity videos to watchTake our social equity poll

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