Usually this week in January, global leaders, policymakers and heads of business would be heading to the Swiss Alps to share ideas on how to solve the world’s great challenges.
Sadly, the dominant challenge facing the world — the COVID-19 pandemic — has also prevented delegates from assembling at the World Economic Forum in Davos as they usually would. However, WEF is instead forging ahead with a virtual summit, the Davos Agenda, to offer a platform for leaders in a range of fields to convene, debate, and learn from one another.
TIME’s editors are participating in a number of events, including a panel on stakeholder capitalism hosted by TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal. Joining him are World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Dr Klaus Schwab, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Beninese musician and activist Angelique Kidjo, economist Mariana Mazzucato, and PayPal’s chief executive Dan Schulman.
Ahead of the panel, we asked three of the delegates to share their proposed solutions for a major problem facing society:
Angelique Kidjo: Close the financial gender gap in Africa
It’s 2021, and economies all around the world are suffering following a global pandemic that has disrupted them to their core. And while citizens and governments are trying to find financial short-term band-aid solutions to stop the bleeding, we know we will feel the repercussions of this for a while.
But the truth is, there are some who have always been left out of the national – and global – economies: African women. On a continent that is a vibrant source of creative and innovative ideas, half of the population has little to no chance of actually being able to participate in building – or rebuilding economies.
African SMEs have restricted access to bank loans (financing gap is estimated to be of $155bn). And on top of that, African women continue to be excluded from financial services, because of cultural, social, and political norms. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 37 percent of women have a bank account, compared with 48 percent of men, a gap that has only widened over the past several years.
African financial institutions need to learn how to listen, trust, and support African women. The potential is there, and it is their right to be active participants in an economy that believes in them, respects them, and treats them fairly. Ghana has the third highest rate of women-owned businesses in the world, at 36.5%. We have success stories that can inspire us to lift others up too.
We need to close the gender gap in African markets and economies, and we need to do it now. Financial institutions, entrepreneurs, and governments need to step it up to ensure that tomorrow’s economies don’t reproduce today’s mistakes. African women need – and want in – economies in which they can participate, and thrive. Their economic empowerment is the cornerstone of the continent’s future success.
Kidjo is a musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
Mariana Mazzucato: Turn school meals into the backbone of a green economy
The world is increasingly afflicted by inequalities, which the Covid pandemic is only exacerbating. Gig economy workers have found themselves out of jobs with no protection. The digital divide means that underprivileged students in lockdown get even more behind. And queues are forming in underfinanced foodbanks, with images recalling those from the great depression.
In this difficult time, goals like those around the Green New Deal are treated like luxuries that need to take the back seat until more urgent matters are solved. But this is a false tradeoff. How we solve immediate problems—from foodbanks to the digital divide– can be embedded in long-term planning, with a green deal at its center.
In the U.K., a Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has been campaigning to get the government to make sure poor children have free school meals during lockdown and during holiday periods, and to increase the quality of these meals, which have been outsourced to companies seemingly less interested in nutrition than profits. This is critical, as many children are missing out on a healthy school meal, which have been proven central to eliminating health and educational inequalities for the whole family.
But imagine if, instead of simply funding school meals, they became the focus for a green deal strategy. The value chain for those meals— agriculture, production, distribution and consumption—should be part of a carbon neutral, healthy and sustainable strategy. Students and their families could get involved in designing the school meals policy, studying sustainable food systems in their science and social studies courses, and also playing an active role in monitoring whether the outcomes are tasty.
Bringing such goals to the center of how government procures key public services, from school meals to public transport, will be key to turning the notion of stakeholder value into a tool not only for corporate governance but for how public-private partnerships can become more purposeful at the center of a re-energised welfare state. This is not a daydream – it can, and does, happen in the real world. I am working with both Vinnova, the Swedish innovation agency, and the London Borough of Camden, on creating systems-change ‘missions’ with food as a focus.
Covid presents us with a desperate situation that needs immediate measures to protect health and incomes. But we cannot forget that more serious environmental crises loom around the corner. We must be bold. We must solve the immediate with ambition, designing into the solutions the foundations to make tomorrow a better world. Otherwise ‘building back better’ is only a slogan, and we risk remaining stuck in a world that perpetuates one crisis after another: economic, health and climate.
Mazzucato is Professor in Economics at University College London, and the author of Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism which appears this week
Dan Schulman: Create an economy that works for everyone
Closing the racial wealth gap and building racial equity remains one of the most pressing and persistent challenges of our time. We have not made meaningful progress in the decades since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The impact of the pandemic has continued to illuminate the inequities in our economy and further widened the gaps. In fact, approximately 41% of Black-owned businesses closed between February and April 2020, nearly double the national average of 22%. This is the result of many interlocking issues, including limited access to capital and equity financing, systemic discrimination, and educational and infrastructure disparities. And it is completely unacceptable.
Business leaders have a moral obligation to help address the inequitable economic underpinnings that for far too long have created barriers to opportunity and growth in Black communities. Doing so is not only essential to the post-pandemic recovery, but also to our progress in building a more just and inclusive world for future generations.
This urgent work will require intentional and sustained effort from many leaders, and the PayPal community is committed to doing our part with a range of partnerships and investments in Black-owned businesses. We all have the opportunity to contribute to meaningful change in our communities and in our country, and we have never had a more important moment to stand up for the values we share. Closing the racial wealth gap is critical to fixing capitalism and making it work for everyone. Imagine the progress we can make if we all come together and do our part to build a more inclusive and equitable society.
Schulman is the president and CEO of PayPal