In response to a call-to-action made by Pope Francis for putting an end to social and economic exclusion in the world, the World Economic Forum convened 80 participants from across five continents, including 40 young leaders. Considering the extremely complex nature of the subject being discussed, it was refreshing to see that half the participants were millennials as opposed to CEOs of large organisations or Government leaders.
I felt privileged to be invited for the meeting and identified with various points of view that were expressed. However, three themes, in particular, stood out for me:
1. There is no "us" and "they"
During the course of my work in public health, I have seen several programs fail because they are based on a fundamental assumption that "we" know what is good for the poor. The reality, however, is that we are all human beings with varying needs, desires, aspirations and beliefs. Investing in a toilet might seem like a really good idea for most of us, however, for a family of ten living in a room within a crowded slum area securing their next meal might be a far greater priority.
Such a mindset only creates unnecessary divisions in society and deepens inequalities. People who are facing exclusion often have the best solutions to their own problems. Those of us who are more fortunate need to invest the time and effort to understand how best we can offer support without superciliously imposing what we think works on them.
2. Do good, do well
Doing good and doing well can go hand in hand. When we do something selflessly for society the pie only gets bigger and so does our share. We are part of the same society and therefore doing something for others is our duty, not charity. If we are indifferent to the problems of others, our own progress will also be hampered. It is estimated that 85 of the world's richest people have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest in the world. Such inequality is completely unsustainable with damaging consequences for all of us.
Also, if we don't do our own bit, we have no right to point fingers at our leaders. After all, societies get the leaders they deserve.
3. Large-scale change is important but start with yourself
Several successful people and respected leaders when asked about what they would change in the world have said that they would change themselves. The focus over the last few years has shifted to thinking about making an impact at a systemic level. "Scale" has become a buzzword in the development space. Of course it is important to develop initiatives that can reach out to millions of excluded people, however, that will not be feasible until each one of us makes our own contribution, even if it seems like a drop in the ocean.
When we hear about violence against women in the news it angers many of us. However, what is the use of that anger if we look the other way when a woman is ill-treated inside our own home. It is evident that many of us are doing this because the most unsafe place for a woman in many societies is ironically not a public place but her own home. How many leaders travel first class and then lecture on poverty? Of course, we have a right to live a good life but what about our excesses?
It is therefore essential that we start the change with ourselves, our families and the society around us. Small efforts by each one of us will eventually add up and bring about the large-scale change that we want to see.
Several other aspects of social and economic exclusion were discussed at the meeting which will help the World Economic Forum to take steps towards putting an end to exclusion through initiatives undertaken by its members and communities. At a personal level, it was a wonderful learning experience and I believe that the thoughts and experiences shared by the participants will help me to become a more responsible and compassionate individual and do my bit for ending exclusion.