Rethinking Fundamental Approaches to Bridging Income Disparities and Preventing Conflict
Updated: Mar 30
for Spanish translation, click here.
by: Nury Alvarado and Mary Wong
March 29, 2023 ~
I. Context and Data
We live on a beautiful and immense planet full of natural, material, and human wealth. However, people in extreme poverty (that is, living on $2.15USD per person per day), according to data from the World Bank, increased in 2020, reaching a global total of over 700 million. Effects from the COVID19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated poverty and inequality. Recent analysis by the World Bank indicates that:
“… the COVID19 pandemic triggered a historic setback, pushing 70 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 – the largest one-year increase in three decades. The war in Ukraine deepened the global economic slowdown, which is now in its steepest decline following a post-recession recovery since 1970. At this rate, nearly 7 percent of the world’s population – almost 600 million people – will still be struggling in extreme poverty in 2030.”
Additionally, the International Monetary Fund asserts that “global inequalities are in bad shape and mostly do not appear to be getting better. Disparities today are about the same as they were in the early 20th century, and the pandemic continues to make things worse.” To illustrate this, Oxfam International reports that “billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion a day even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages.”
As the chart below shows, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population owns 38 percent of global wealth, while the poorest half owns just 8.5 percent.
Prepared by Andrew Stanley, IMF's Finance & Development, based on the World Inequality Report 2022 from the World Inequality Lab.
II. Analysis and Reflection
Despite the broad agreement among countries, through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to make sustained efforts to “End poverty in all forms and dimensions by 2030,” it is evident that, 7 years prior to that deadline and according to global projections, this will likely be an unattainable goal. Certainly, the impact of the pandemic caused setbacks, but the trends prior to the pandemic suggests our inability to achieve that goal regardless. This same pandemic that, despite the devastating consequences, has left us important lessons to learn, has shown us that gains made can be reversed in an instant and that the ability of humanity as a collective to respond to global problems is still insufficient.
It may be difficult to think of an encouraging future of global shared prosperity when a small group of people commands most of the wealth in the world; while millions cannot even cover their basic needs, much less dream of having access to quality education, or are condemned to live without hope in environments of violence, conflict, or insecurity, left with practically the only option of migrating to contexts with better conditions as an alternative to survive, or to have some kind of hope for a better future. It is widely known that the drivers of irregular migration are often linked to hardships originating from extreme poverty and lack of opportunity. Increasingly, it has become clear that the challenge is not related to the scarcity or lack of resources in the world, but to the way in which these are allocated, based on our current frameworks of values and relationships.
Although for many it may seem hard to believe, the world has indeed already made overall great progress in poverty reduction; but in order to achieve even greater progress within a shorter period of time, and to ensure sustainability, it may be necessary to fundamentally rethink our approaches and attitudes towards development: not only the “what” we should do, but the “how” we should do it, as well as the “why.”
New Framework of Thought and Action: Our thoughts and actions must evolve and be consistent with the needs of the times in which we live. Perhaps it is time to pause for a moment and ponder "a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society", based on the concept of the oneness of humankind.
“To eradicate poverty is to build the world anew - economically, but also morally, culturally, and socially”. This requires a large-scale global effort for structural transformations and social relations, reviewing our frameworks of thought and action at the individual level and as an international community (in different levels of government and structures: local, national, and international). The participation, and example, of world leaders is essential for this work.
It may be helpful to rethink the true nature of the human being, as an integral being in its different facets: material, intellectual, moral and spiritual. Similarly, we also must consider the nature of our relationships as an interdependent collective. From this deep reflection, we may take the necessary actions to establish solid foundations from the grassroots for real and sustainable progress.
Collective Action that is Locally led: Since we live in a globalized and interconnected world, one which we have grown increasingly accustomed to polycrises, the COVID19 pandemic was a poignant call to us once again: how we respond to complex issues will require collaboration and collective action, beyond the individual and beyond a single country/state. But having this vision, we must undertake local actions that take into consideration the realities on the ground, led by people at the grassroots, and who can be accompanied in collaboration and cooperation with government entities, local or international civil society organizations, and the private sector, among others.
We must continue promoting outstanding efforts in the world focusing our efforts on defense of human rights, and the establishment of true justice at all levels. Data and compelling evidence suggests that locally-led efforts that are context-specific and empower the local communities are more sustainable.
The March 27, 2023 announcement of the 10-year plans to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, is an indicator that the United States recognizes this link, at least for a few select countries. The announcement further acknowledges, “these plans also represent a commitment to reform how the United States engages with partners; utilizes data and evidence to inform policy making; and integrates diplomatic, development and security sector engagement.” These plans suggest a commitment that is more collaborative and cooperative. This nascent initiative holds potential and promise for greater collective action that is locally-led or at a minimum locally-informed.
Consultation in an Atmosphere of Diversity: We need to improve global consultation mechanisms, with a conscious appreciation of diversity, detached from particular interests, with the goal of improving people's living conditions, especially those most vulnerable who live in poverty or extreme poverty.
Developing the necessary skills to properly consult, from our private spaces to the highest levels of public discourse, having frank, respectful, detached reflections, developed in environments of allyship and unity, to make the best decisions that benefit the majority requires new approaches. We are not suggesting this is an easy exercise, nor a short-term task, but the process of consultation itself is an endeavor to shift one’s frame of thinking from our own different arenas of thought and action, 'imbued with a sense of global solidarity', detaching ourselves from preconceptions and prejudices.
As women are often among the most vulnerable in societies, and as we celebrate Women’s History Month and beyond, it is worthwhile to highlight the importance of consulting on what can be done to increase gender equality and to ensure women are represented in discussions and decision-making. While it is important that rules and laws are written, it will be equally necessary to execute and enforce them throughout the stream of programs, processes and procedures that reflect diverse views, backgrounds and expertise. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (shown in photo) was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As First Lady, she had already championed poverty alleviation, access to education and civil rights. She saw the link between poverty alleviation and prevention of war over 75 years ago.
IV. Summary and Conclusion
There is an urgent need to rethink our approaches to development, inspired by new thinking in our relationships with one another and with the planet; guided by a new framework of thought and action, potentially leading towards a new global social pact, that organizes societies so that the world's resources are enjoyed more equitably.
We must all be part of an effort of this magnitude, but world leaders play a fundamental role, since by the nature of their service they are in a privileged position to promote a movement for global change, capable of convening diverse groups to join in an unprecedented effort to accomplish a task of this magnitude. Taking a new approach now to lay the foundation for a better future and legacy that looks to bridge the income equity gap will ensure a more enduring and transformative future.