Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

4 ways businesses, cities and communities around the world are reshaping the care economy

Man receives care.

Governments, businesses, local authorities, communities and individuals must work together to promote the importance of care to the economy. Image: Unsplash/CDC

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Gender Inequality

  • The need for care is growing, but most is performed unpaid by women.
  • The care economy requires more investment and new models to make it sustainable, while enabling unpaid carers to participate in the wider economy.
  • A new white paper from the World Economic Forum highlights models around the world being used to reshape the care economy.

All of us will either receive or provide care at different stages of our lives. This includes healthcare, childcare, elderly care or any other form of looking after others or being looked after.

Care underpins the entire global economy, according to a white paper released by the Global Futures Council of the World Economic Forum. And with our care needs growing, the care economy – with all of its paid and unpaid activities, labour and the relationships that support it – needs more investment to ensure future sustainability and resilience.

The Future of the Care Economy 2024 finds that, more often than not, the care economy relies on unpaid work and unfair care arrangements. Two billion people, the majority of whom are women, work as unpaid full-time carers, preventing them from seeking paid employment and directly affecting the economy. And even those who are paid for providing care often earn much lower wages than most other workers.

The challenge lies in transforming this precarious situation into a catalyst for economic growth. Here are four examples of businesses, cities and communities working to reshape the dynamics of the care economy, enabling it to become a growth engine.

Bogotá’s Care Blocks

In Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, the Secretary of Women’s Affairs launched a public sector initiative to address the city’s care deficiencies disproportionately affecting women – around a third of women in the city were providing full-time unpaid care.

For them and many other part-time carers, the city provides services at centralized Care Blocks, where those in need of care can be looked after by professionals and join in with recreational activities. This helps to relieve the load on their main carers who can, in turn, access skills training, wellness offers and income-generating activities. To reach rural parts of Bogota, Care Buses have been created, providing a mobile version of the Care Blocks.

The initiative works with a growing ecosystem of private-sector partners to help lower care workloads and create opportunities for caregivers to pick up work, study or socialize.

A layout showcasing the ideal CARE block.
This is the ideal Care Block layout as devised by Bogota’s city planners. Image: Brookings/City of Bogotá

The Netherlands' Buurtzog care model

In the Netherlands, Buurtzog (“neighbourhood care”) nurses deliver a range of home care services across the country. In this model, care provision can be self-managed and customized to meet specific needs. It is particularly suited to older adults or people with disabilities or chronic conditions and those with long-term care requirements, the organization says.

Nurses participating in the model work in self-managed teams within their neighbourhoods and are responsible for developing their caseloads within the community. This involves working together with other healthcare and personal care providers as well as strengthening community and family support networks around the client.

Buurtzorg’s model of care.
The Buurtzorg nursing organization offers self-managed care. Image: Buurtzog

SEWA’s childcare cooperative in India

On-site childcare for workers has many advantages, from lower absenteeism to greater employee engagement, the Forum reports. It is also a highly accessible model, available to businesses of any size, as well as unions or groups of employees.

One example is the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, which represents more than two million informal workers across 18 of India’s states.

The organization’s cooperative childcare service, Sangini, is owned and managed by SEWA shareholders. The goal is to enable its members to work and ensure girls can regularly attend basic education.

Parents are required to pay 10-15% of the service’s operating costs, with the bulk of the remaining funding coming from private sources such as charities and the government. Additional funding also comes from the Reserve Bank of India, whose employees pay higher fees for childcare services provided by SEWA to fund Sangini.


Digital care management in Paraguay

Along with initiatives led by individuals, local government and communities, businesses have an important role to play in the future of the care economy, the Forum says.

Online care systems are increasingly being used to provide care where people lack access to services. It is a growing area and one in which businesses can make a valuable contribution – by providing technology solutions.

Digital care management platforms extend the reach of care services to remote locations where regulatory frameworks may be lacking or where labour shortages affect care provision.

In healthcare, for example, using telehealth platforms can help with triaging patients and reducing the workload on medical facilities. Similarly, digital platforms can help with remote monitoring of care receivers when carers or family members are not on-site.

Another example is the digital Helpers platform that supports Paraguay’s domestic workers, who make up more than 15% of the population in urban areas. Helpers facilitate contracting, training and payment of social security charges.

The importance of a care mindset is key

A collaborative ecosystem will be essential to turning the care economy around and making it the economic force it has the potential to be, the Forum concludes. Governments, businesses, local authorities, communities and individuals must work together to promote the importance of care to the economy.


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