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Equitable Economic Recovery | Strategic Dialogue

Cordell Carter, Executive Director, Socrates Program, Aspen Institute; Concordia Advisor
Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization
Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, Executive Director, Social Venture Circle
Rhett Buttle, Founder, Public Private Strategies
Mamadou Biteye, Vice President, Inclusive Growth, Social Impact, Visa
Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO, National Women’s Law Center
H.E. Ahmad Bellhou Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, United Arab Emirates
Richard Buery, Chief Executive Officer, Robin Hood Foundation
Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA
Rep. French Hill, U.S. Congressman, R-Arkansas

In addition to the acute economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two generations have seen rising wealth inequality and disparate opportunities for workers. Opening the discussion, Cordell Carter asked the panelists to describe the biggest challenges to sustain an economic recovery. Valerie Red-Horse Mohl answered that recovery will require a reset and reimagining of the ways in which we conduct business. We need a reallocation of capital for equitable distribution: 70% of the global population are people of color, and 51% are women, yet 97% of financial assets are managed by white male-led entities.  

Mamadou Biteye responded that the pandemic has accelerated three years of digitization into one. Companies that were digitally competent were able to thrive. Visa committed to digitize 50 million micro businesses worldwide over the next five years and has already helped 16 million of these.

Drawing from his experience as former Deputy Mayor of New York City, Richard Buery answered that each crisis must build back beyond the earlier status quo. Wealth disparities were not created by the pandemic; these disparities are central to the American economy and the American way of life. A transformative, people-central post-pandemic recovery must be designed to build a new future, and that will require a political transformation and commitment to equity. 

Carter prompted the panel to consider the role of large corporations and subject matter experts. Guy Ryder noted the uneven pace of recovery around the world. Wealthy countries with access to funding and vaccines are bouncing back, while the opposite is true for developing nations. Despite global commitments to not leave anyone behind, the recovery demonstrates that we are doing just that. Neither government regulations or voluntary business commitments have yet been sufficient, so we need a new impetus for the realignment of public and private objectives. Rhett Buttle explained that people no longer trust our institutions of governments and media. Business is one of the few trusted institutions. Business must be part of the solution to build back more equitably. Small- and medium-sized enterprises are crucial to move capital and build wealth.  

Turning to the idea of cross-sector partnerships as a means to strengthen public policies, Fatima Goss Graves described how the pandemic disrupted women’s lives through school closures and additional caregiving responsibilities, driving women from the workforce at unprecedented levels, taking women backward. For the first time, solving the care crisis was a top-of-mind issue for families and communities, businesses, government agencies, and chambers of commerce. Coming together to solve the problem has resulted in increased investment and a serious consideration of how to position us going forward.  

Minister Ahmad Belhou Al Falasi expressed that, given the size and scale of the economic crisis, recovery can only occur through private and public sector cooperation. Internationally-exposed markets must work regionally, and this requires the work of governments and the public sector. Using the example of venture capital, Belhou Al Falasi explained that the United Arab Emirates was increasing its investments into small- and medium-sized enterprises with care not to encroach on the private sector’s traditional role in funding.

From the humanitarian and development side, Michelle Nunn noted that recovery must deal with COVID, climate, and conflict. We must tackle these big challenges with concerted leadership from the global community and a multi-sector response. The recognition of these challenges requires boldness and audacity. U.S. Representative French Hill highlighted how vaccine equity and distribution requires a marshalling of resources from the private sector, the NGO sector including faith-based organizations, and the governmental sector to get vaccines in the places where they are most essential. Helping the poor takes better targeting at a macro-economic level, while the private sector should focus on getting people back to work safely and invest in technologies. The pandemic uncovered unusual dependencies in the supply chain geographically and domestically. The private sector can lead by building more robustness and redundancy into the supply chain. 

Carter asked the panel to consider how the private sector, NGOs, civil society organizations, and government leaders help shape an equitable economic recovery together. Mohl expressed that we all can have a hand in shifting capital and improving education and transparency about asset allocation and management. Buery spoke about finding space for alignment between sectors, using childcare as an example where alignment between labor, the social sector, private sector, and business should be possible. Graves noted how women’s employment is tied to the care crisis and new visibility into the crisis may help provide new solutions. Ryder noted the reduction of hours worked in the world over the last year—four times greater than during the previous financial crisis. Women were particularly impacted due to their overrepresentation in the service and hospital sectors, insecure employment, and their caregiving responsibilities. 

Biteye spoke about how digitalization has led to the emergence of new types of small business. Financing and infrastructure is important, but skills are critical. Nunn noted the fundamental and foundational realization that we cannot have an equitable recovery without equal access to resources and power. We currently have a gender unequal global economy; fixing it is both a moral and an economic imperative. Rep. Hill spoke about how the U.S. government tried to keep people connected to their jobs, including those in the self-employed and gig economy. Buttle reminded the audience of the importance of alignment and thinking big. We need to take the innovation and learning from the pandemic and keep applying it across sectors. Minister Belhou Al Falasi noted that the UAE government is more progressive on gender equality than the population. Women’s participation in the workforce has improved thanks to the government’s efforts. 

Wrapping up the discussion, Carter asked the panelists to explain the one thing they would do to achieve an equitable economic recovery if they had unlimited resources. He further asked if a local, state, or global approach makes the most sense. Mohl noted the value of starting with infrastructure models at a smaller, local level. Rep. Hill agreed with starting at a local level. He continued that he would invest in equal education for all and a mentorship model in the teen and young adult years. Biteye would continue to support women-owned and led micro and small businesses, which are at the backbone of the global economy. Nunn expressed the need to urgently address climate change and gender equality both at a local and global level.

Digital equity and inclusion are key factors in ensuring that individuals and businesses are able to access opportunities.

Mamadou Biteye 

The question is always how do we recover? We recover in a way that allows all communities—the poor, people of color, immigrants, and other vulnerable communities—to participate fully in that recovery and benefit from economic growth and opportunities that come with recovery.”

Richard Buery

The key is to align business objectives and business practices with the global policy goals we are setting ourselves.”

Guy Ryder

Governments must look at the private sector as a partner in terms of shaping policies, but also in terms of economic recovery and healthcare.”

H.E. Ahmad Belhou Al Falasi

If we think recovery is simply going back to the way it was, and we repeat some of the same patterns, that’s not a recovery. We need a complete reset in big ways.

Val Red-Horse Mohl

Until we have equitable vaccine supply, delivery, and distribution, until we have a sustainable economy that is truly tackling climate change, and until we also find ways of creating peace in areas of conflict, we can’t truly build an equitable economic recovery.

Michelle Nunn

The opportunity in an infrastructure plan that has a lot of clean jobs, a lot of STEM, and a lot of ways to think differently around infrastructure, is to begin with an equity focus to recruit more women and especially women of color.

Fatima Goss Graves

I’m a big believer in the subsidiarity model of starting closest to the people…We do things most successfully when we start local and build up.

Rep. French Hill

The major narrative that we have defeated in the last 18 months is that the United States Congress cannot do anything on a bipartisan basis.

Cordell Carter

What we hear a lot from the private sector and the non-profit community is that we do need more from our governments.

Rhett Buttle

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • The three major barriers to an equitable world are COVID-19, climate change, and conflict. Without addressing root causes, an equitable recovery is impossible and the gap between the rich and poor will continue to widen.
  • There’s a role for the government to play in ensuring secure and resilient supply chains. Businesses cannot accomplish this on their own.
  • Equality of opportunity is important for the lives of women and their communities. Apart from gender parity as the right thing to do, investing specifically in women has a net positive effect on their families, communities, and countries.
  • Embracing all forms of post-secondary success matters. In this new world, career and technical education may be as important as a university degree. Lifelong learning opportunities, including upskilling, remain crucial. 
  • An equitable recovery requires increased access to financial products for those who may be unbanked or who struggle to access financing.