Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Public-private cooperation can address systemic inequality and build a just, inclusive society. Here's how.

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The private sector can play a role in addressing systemic inequality and improving social justice.

The private sector can play a role in addressing systemic inequality and improving social justice. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

George Pyrgos
Lead, Young Global Leader Alumni Community, World Economic Forum
Celia Becherel
Coordinator, Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum

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  • A just society ensures that all people have access to equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.
  • In this time of polycrisis, the burdens and impacts of global challenges are not distributed equally.
  • The Forum’s Young Global Leaders believe that building a just society requires public-private sector cooperation to craft inclusive solutions to collective challenges.

The world today is at an inflection point. Risks are growing everywhere, as evidenced by the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report.

While world leaders and society at large agree that universal concepts of a just, equitable and inclusive society for all form an essential component of the global social contract, in this time of polycrisis, the burdens and impacts of global challenges are not being distributed equally.

Inequality in the polycrisis era

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable sections of society, with higher mortality rates, negative financial impacts and adverse physical and mental health outcomes more prevalent amongst low-income groups, minorities, disabled people and other marginalised groups. Similarly, the climate crisis is expected to impact vulnerable populations first and hardest. Between 2010 and 2020, extreme weather, flooding and droughts killed 15 times as many people living in vulnerable nations as in wealthier regions.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine shows how local and regional events can send system shocks that reverberate across the world, fuelling the world’s first truly global energy crisis and the greatest cost of living crisis in a generation. Increasingly, people across the world find themselves subject to the effects of global events completely beyond their control or influence, negatively impacting lives and limiting opportunities to pursue prosperity for themselves and those around them.

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A just society ensures that all people have access to equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Robust public services and infrastructure play a key role in fostering equity by levelling the playing field and ensuring greater opportunity for people with fewer societal advantages, but global infrastructure investment has been declining steadily since 2010. Building a just and inclusive society requires collaborative and inclusive solutions to collective challenges. It is a responsibility for all societal stakeholders — not just those with a specific civil or public remit.

For World Day of Social Justice 2023, the Forum asked four Young Global Leaders: how can public-private cooperation address systemic inequality and ensure a more just and inclusive society for us all?

Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer, Reform Alliance

Image: Jessica Jackson

Systemic inequality is a tough, complex problem that requires more than just government intervention or private innovation to solve. By employing an “all hands-on deck” approach to problem-solving, we can address challenges that any one sector will struggle to negotiate from their respective silos. In my work in the criminal justice space, I have been able to find common ground between the political left and right to support policies that strengthen public safety and increase economic opportunity in marginalised communities. I've done this by building strong relationships, embracing diverse perspectives and co-creating solutions that reflect the needs and perspectives of all parties involved.

By leveraging the unique resources and expertise of both sectors, we can embrace meaningful collaboration and tackle our most intransigent social disparities head-on, moving us closer to a world where all individuals have a fair chance at reaching their full potential.

Alaa Murabit, Director Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Image: Alaa Murabit

As the middle child of 11 siblings, I learned the value of cooperation early.

Throughout my career — spanning from ensuring health equity to advancing women's involvement in peace processes — I've seen how partnerships with civic leaders, industry and governments have made impressive strides in areas we all deeply care about, especially health, education and opportunity for women and children.

Consider family planning, where public-private partnerships reduce maternal and infant mortality by driving advancements in science and increasing access to safer, more effective birth control options. More women and children will live because women have the freedom and choice to pursue their education, careers and other goals, and can space out their pregnancies to recover between births.

Then there’s Gavi, which has transformed how the public and private sectors work together to provide lifesaving vaccines. Since 2000, Gavi and its partners have vaccinated nearly 1 billion children against diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough. They also helped reduce maternal and neonatal tetanus, a significant contributor to maternal mortality.

While innovation doesn't always bring equity, public-private partnerships demonstrate how cooperation can lead to a fairer, healthier and more just world, especially for those most often left behind.

When harnessed, the power of intentional cooperation is immense.

Alan Knott-Craig, Chairman, Isizwe

Image: Alan Knott-Craig

In my opinion, the single biggest cause of inequality in South Africa is education. Children in low-income communities — townships — do not have access to textbooks and teachers. Wealthy children do. This creates a gap in opportunity from a young age which is exacerbated as people get older.

There are two possible solutions: hire more teachers and build more schools, or provide fast affordable internet in townships. The latter is the only pragmatic option.

For-profit internet service providers (ISPs) can provide affordable internet for townships, but only if the infrastructure is built at scale and across all homes. This requires significant capital.

The public sector can assist by making available low-cost financing either via development financial institutions or by underwriting private-sector debt facilities, thereby allowing township ISPs to finance the deployment of fibre networks to all homes and therefore unlock access to online learning applications, teachers and opportunities for children living in townships.

Luana Genot, Executive Director, Brazilian Identities Institute

Image: Luana Genot

I believe that to enhance cooperation between the public and private sectors to address systemic inequalities, it is necessary to create a common agenda. This should be between government, the private sector and civil society to understand the stage each is at when it comes to the issue of inclusion and the fight against inequality.

Just like there is a COP on climate, we need a common agenda to bolster inclusion and to understand, based on data, the situation in every country. We must ask: what is the situation of companies? Do they have quotas and affirmative action? Have they advanced or regressed? How many women in leadership positions do we have in companies and governments in each of the countries?

We lack a common agenda to measure progress and setbacks, difficulties, challenges and even good practices among these sectors of society. What we have today are a series of isolated actions.

The agenda still doesn't solve that problem entirely, but it helps to create a thermometer to understand whether or not we are advancing on this issue in a systematic way compared to previous years while, at the same time, respecting local contexts.

Inequality in the polycrisis eraJessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer, Reform AllianceAlaa Murabit, Director Health, Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationAlan Knott-Craig, Chairman, IsizweLuana Genot, Executive Director, Brazilian Identities Institute

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