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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Tackling the inequality of opportunity requires the implementation of meaningful participatory frameworks that reach across every level of society.

The Challenge

Inequality has increased substantially in many countries in recent decades. Spectacular gains in the incomes and wealth of the richest fraction of the population often contrast with severe poverty in ...

Inequality has increased substantially in many countries in recent decades. Spectacular gains in the incomes and wealth of the richest fraction of the population often contrast with severe poverty in the same country. Inequality of outcomes often goes hand in hand with inequality of opportunities, as poor people endure various forms of social exclusion, including unequal access to education and health care, high rates of youth unemployment or precarious work and an absence of social recognition.

Opportunity is too often restricted by individualistic attitudes towards pursuing continued economic success. Such attitudes, often held by the most privileged of society, provide no scope to include those overlooked by success generated at the top of social food chain. The notion of shared value in society must be undertaken by all, whilst acknowledging that there is no one, short-term solution to this issue. Highlighting the interdependence of our society and the worth of inclusive behavior in action is a crucial step towards achieving a stable, flourishing economy. The nineteenth century Utopian philanthropic notion of ‘Greater Good’ can be re-born in the 21st Century around citizen-led shared value and shared values.

 

1. A global consensus on how to tackle basic human inequality must be reached in order to advance global opportunities.

Countries must reach a global consensus in order to tackle the global North/South divide. Beyond the scope of education and employment, nations must acknowledge necessities such as food security, clean water and energy supplies should be universally available as basic rights. In acting upon this, the Global North’s ‘Affluenza Virus’ (replacement of our true needs with confected wants’ James,2007) will begin to be expunged, and core values within society will begin to re-emerge: there is no proof that increased consumption has led to greater personal or collective fulfillment.

The re-alignment of wants and needs within our society will inevitably require the removal of institutions that have failed to address basic rights in the past: a new system for implementing these rights should emerge. Nimble, citizen-driven networks, particularly in the Global North, should lead the drive against inequality and confront institutional attitudes which obstruct this. They should be free from reactive, politicized bureaucracy and operate on a system of shared-values – moving away from old world divides and commercial greed.

 

2. A lateral education system which takes steps to curtail inequality at its roots should be implemented amongst all young people across the globe.

The high probability of children born into disadvantaged households remaining disadvantaged throughout their lives must be confronted if opportunity is to be fairly distributed. Starting at elementary school level, state funded programmes should provide practical guidance in employment rights, citizenship and the importance of basic education in the workplace to children.

Educational reforms which bridge the gap between the type of education prosperous children receive versus those who are not, should enable young people to approach opportunity on an even keel. Achieving standards that are universally recognized for their meritocracy helps to prevent partiality in the selection process for employment, programmes, apprenticeships etc. Major (global) employers should work with national governments to help structure – and potentially fund – educational systems that address inequality and meet the challenges of tomorrow’s workforce.

 

3. Make global social mobility realistic by creating a measurable system that people can identify with.

Adopting a measurable system that converts the skills of those from less developed economies to equate with those from more developed economies would support balanced cross-cultural opportunity. This system would be used to assess applicants on the basis of their merits whilst acknowledging these in the context of their circumstance and background, thereby helping to eliminate discrimination based on affluence, race etc.

As well as accounting for education and experience, practical and vocational skills could be acknowledged – which could directly help to fill demand in the labour market. Above all, the system should provide a platform for people to disclose their personal targets and progression paths. Not only would this ensure real participation from citizens, but would also enable authorities to help make incremental steps in meeting, and even exceeding the personal milestones of their dependents.

Whilst recognising the implementation of such a system would take time, and invariably would involve amendments and revision; the long term benefit of having a common standard for the global community’s skills and interests would include: a massive expansion of opportunities for those previously unable to access them; reduction in levels of nepotism and empowerment of people through a renewed sense of belonging to a global workforce that they value and to which they feel committed.

 

4. A fund that supports initiatives which combat immobility could be created.

To accommodate the broadening of global opportunity, a global financial structure would need to be implemented. Meticulous legislation and a sanctioning system from a consolidated office would curb the threat of corruption and ensure regulated progress and management of this fund.  Global participation in the fund should be mandatory, with fiscal contribution from each country being proportionate to its economic stability. An ‘Empowerment Fund’ could be set up by sequestrating a percentage of nation’s membership fees to the United Nations; helping to tackle immobility whilst embracing a digital shift towards a liberal, unprejudiced society.

Methodical distribution of funds to bolster opportunity will enable specific support to be given where it is required most. Recipients should consistently report back to the fund on the outcomes of their experiences, so as to ensure funding has not been abused. Fundamentally, digital resources as well as other information and correspondence could be provided to those looking to pursue opportunities. Living provisions for those who would otherwise be unable to attend colleges or work placements could also be distributed.

Furthermore, finances could be released to elevate handicapped persons’ prospects and opportunities. For example, accessible transport and adaptable equipment should be provided across as many workplaces as possible for disabled job and placement seekers; whilst arrangements to provide financial and pastoral support for caregivers of the less-abled should be implemented, so that their opportunities within society are not compromised.

 

5. Feasible fiscal incentives should be provided for employers and institutions who actively support tackling inequality.

It is the responsibility of the state to ensure employers and institutions understand their value in tackling the inequality of opportunity. Clear incentives should be offered to employers who provide schemes that enable the public to build up their skills. A cross-nation consensus should determine what the incentives should be, so as to ensure fair motivation for all participants. These could include tax breaks; financial support packages; public acknowledgement and so forth.  Above all, it needs to be made clear that schemes are mutually beneficial to their recipients, the providers and the economy as whole.

Organisations should agree to have a realistic quota of spaces open to the disadvantaged for schemes, apprenticeships etc. Those that fail to fill a feasible number without reasonable justification could, in inverse, incur higher tax rates or become exempt from government employment policies that may have benefitted them in the past. Too often, tax systems are driven by vested political/financial interests – in the long run, the infrastructure that looks towards creating a citizen-centric tax policy is a cornerstone to building opportunities across society.

The value of schemes, and what they ultimately add to the individuals that make up our society as a whole, can and should be recognized through action. Values-based combat against inequality lightens the moral and financial burdens of a stagnated society and both ends of the social spectrum. Once those who are able have provided platforms to help mitigate the inequality of opportunity and the first tentative social and financial outcomes of these measures have been achieved, they should be noted and used as the foundations for further progress in tackling this challenge.

 

6. Business behaviours need to be adjusted to accommodate the holistic shift towards widespread opportunity.

Citizen-led networks and value based businesses should re-assess unsustainable aspects of the global financial system. Transactions that prioritize financial return over social equality should be penalized and redistributed within the global community to promote opportunity. Additionally, the trading of natural resources should appropriately reflect how finite they are; peak oil rates have already, or will imminently be reached. If this change is not appropriately priced into the markets, the risk of market collapse could inhibit progress towards challenging inopportunity and stabilizing the long-term economy as a whole.

The  Edelman Trust Barometer 2012 study indicates clear preferences towards companies that acknowledge that operational factors that build current trust won’t necessarily build trust in the in the future. 31% of those surveyed wish to see protection for stakeholders from irresponsible business practices. Businesses should re-align themselves to adopt principles-based leadership that positively impacts the community; placing stakeholders before profit; practicing radical transparency and treating employees well. Every one of these measures can be seen as affirmative steps towards building commercial trust, as well as opportunity within the community.

 

7. Communications provide the vital conduit for realizing a socially inclusive framework, and should be widely implemented.

In June 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Information advised that preventing universal access to the internet stood in direct contravention of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19, paragraph 2 states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of his choice.

It is fundamental that society makes provisions to roll out the age of information and digital empowerment. Better access to information will help to redress the imbalances in society and active, value-based citizen coalitions will be nurtured by information previously reserved for institutions and the elite.

The continued rise of social/digital will further democratize society and will help to eliminate geographical boundaries, which is a key physical factor in unequal opportunity. Used in effective ways, digital empowerment can be used to foster greater social cohesion amongst depressed communities. Citizens coming together through ‘Facebook rooms’ in the slums of Manila show how powerful a force digital access in action can be, whilst also noting that the 2011 London riots was primarily coordinated through mobile social technology, which although cohesive in a number of ways, fragmented communities and devastated local businesses.

Consequently, positive messages that galvanize the disadvantaged to pursue employment, to feel inspired to participate in change and to engage with their contemporaries is a crucial part of strengthening the infrastructure behind social equality; members of society need to feel like they can own opportunity.  Pursuing it needs to be recognized as an appealing, achievable objective where effort is rewarded.

Over 5.9 billion people across the world have access to subscribed mobile telephones which could easily provide an inexpensive, effective platform by which to match citizens with opportunity and to talk about social successes. Moreover, people’s response to this type of messaging generates a measurable output against success targets that should be set prior to opportunity initiatives being rolled out. Just one example of the power of communications in action is how mobile technology has already transformed the market dynamic and more importantly, the livelihoods of small-holders in Africa. This substantiates the proposition that continued efforts to implement social/digital technology will help tackle inequality head-on.

(The scope of communications is broad: on one hand, millions of people use digital/social networking on a daily basis, which is a vital tool for reaching mass-scale audiences. On the other, older/less abled members of society and those from less developed economies have limited access to the internet and its instantaneous influence. A balanced, long term campaign will account for such circumstances and ensure access to information and support is achieved for everyone. )

Above all, effective communications campaigns that sustain the public momentum towards tackling the inequality of opportunity should be provided for. With proper funding (such as sequestered funds from countries’ annual UN budget contributions) and planning, communications can motivate behavioral shifts which move away from discrimination and lack of mobility towards shared values and interests.  We should embrace the age of digital empowerment.

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