Economics

How to Solve the World’s Most Pressing Problem

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The world's elites face a daunting task—luckily models of how to do things differently abound

Let’s start with a fact: Between 2005 and 2014, real incomes of over 60% of the world’s population were flat or falling. If the current economic trends continue, two-thirds of the world’s population will be poorer than their parents. Since the end of the second World War, the expectation in many countries—rich and poor alike—has been that things would get better, economically at least, for each generation. Now, that expectation is on the verge of being upended. The populist politics of the moment are only a preview of the kind impact such a shift would have on the world.

In this new environment, global institutions and the people who run them are under ever-greater pressure. Surveys show that trust in elites amongst the general population of most countries is at an all time low. The election of Donald Trump, the result of the Brexit vote in the U.K., the advance of populism in Europe and nationalism in many emerging nations shows that establishment leaders are being replaced, as electorate vote not so much for a new set of ideas, but against the ones that came before.

And yet, the world’s most pressing problems—from climate change to rising inequality to a more inclusive growth model that doesn’t leave the vast majority of the world’s population behind—will require coordinated, multilateral cooperation between institutions, from governments to corporations to NGOs and civil society. “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 upcoming TIME/Fortune Global Forum at the Vatican in December. This event will bring together a group of the world’s top CEOs with academics, labor and church leaders, and other members of civil society to try and bridge the gap between ideology and action around the world’s most pressing problems.

The labor ahead is daunting but there is good news: Namely, there are already some models for how to do things better. Just take the way in which the Gates Foundation, for example, has created a previously non-existent market for the delivery of malaria and HIV drugs in developing countries. Or how the US government has worked with private sector firms like GE or Dangote to bolster infrastructure in Africa, encouraging corporations to go into a risky market by offering tax credits and making initial seed investments. The result has been much faster development than either sector could have achieved alone.

It’s interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that some of the most creative silo busting between the public and private sector are happening in the neediest parts of the world. “We have to start asking what the market mechanisms are to help those who’ve lost their jobs—or are struggling with poverty—or have been displaced,” says Manyika. That’s the question the editors of TIME and Fortune will be asking in early December at the Vatican.

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