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TIME Staff Portrait: Rana Foroohar
Javier Sirvent for TIME

Looking for Answers to the World's Biggest Challenges In the Eternal City

Dec 01, 2016

It's no secret that global institutions of all kinds--large and small, public and private--are under pressure. While the elites of most countries still believe in unfettered globalization and market capitalism, they are increasingly isolated in that faith. Surveys show that while global elites trust each other more than ever before, trust in elites among the rest of the population is at an all-time low.

No wonder electorates around the world this year have voted their frustration, often choosing against the status quo rather than in favor of new ideas. The past eight years have been painful for most people: between 2005 and 2014, the real incomes of over 60% of the world's population were flat or falling. If current economic trends continue, two-thirds of the world's individuals will be on track to be poorer than their parents.

That would represent a historic shift. Since the end of World War II, the expectation in many countries--rich and poor--has been that things would get better, economically at least, for each new generation. Now that logic has been upended, something that can be seen not only in the economic figures, but also in the populist politics of the moment. As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz puts it, "Economic globalization has run ahead of political globalization." The result: isolationism, nationalism and a fragmenting of the old world order.

And yet the world's most pressing problems--climate change, rising inequality, technological disruption--will require coordinated, multilateral cooperation among institutions, from governments and corporations to NGOs. "No one institution can address any of these issues," points out James Manyika, head of the McKinsey Global Institute. "You need to coordinate them all, but they are operating in silos, often with opposing views on the way forward."

How to bust those silos? That's the topic of an unprecedented TIME/Fortune Global Forum at the Vatican. The December conference will bring together a group of the world's top CEOs with academics, labor and church leaders, and philanthropists to try and bridge the gap between ideology and action. Inspired by Pope Francis, who has reinvigorated one of the world's oldest institutions, the Catholic Church, and inspired millions with his concern about global poverty, environmental degradation and the wealth gap, the editors of TIME and Fortune will help this group of world leaders explore how institutions across public and private sectors can regain trust and help tackle the world's most intractable problems.

Doing that won't be easy. But there are already a number of illuminating models for how the public and private sectors can work together to achieve better outcomes. Consider the way in which the Gates Foundation, for example, has created a previously nonexistent market for the delivery of malaria and HIV drugs in developing countries. Or how the U.S. government worked with private-sector firms like General Electric and Dangote to bolster infrastructure in Africa, encouraging corporations to go into a risky market by offering tax credits and initial seed investments. The result has been much faster development than either sector could have achieved alone. In Germany, industry and labor have come together to protect profits and middle-class jobs. Policy ideas, too, are coming from unconventional places. Investors like Warren Buffett have floated proposals for federally funded child-care facilities that would employ undereducated women to care for the children of higher-paid women, which would bolster GDP growth.

The complex problems of the day require more of that unity, not less. Our individual--and collective--welfare will depend on whether unity can be forged out of disruption and turmoil. TIME and Fortune will be reporting on the results of the conference through the rest of this year and beyond. As a starting point, the editors have gathered here executives, investors and philanthropists to brainstorm possible solutions to issues ranging from climate change and education reform to poverty reduction.

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