The World Economic Forum (WEF18) in Davos annually sees world leaders, industry titans and global influencers take to the stage and discuss issues of global significance. From politics to technology and economics, time is given to dominant issues. Included in the agenda at WEF18 was the issue of equality, diversity and inclusion; as explored in the session Creating a Shared Future through Education and Empowerment.
Giving the topic its due gravitas were speakers Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and Malala Yousafzai, girls’ education activist and co-founder of Malala Fund, as well as Fabiola Gianotti, Director General of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).
Before outlining the discussion highlights, it’s important to distinguish the difference between the roles of education and empowerment, just as host Orit Gadiesh of Bain & Company did. While education can show us how to fulfil our potential and reach any goals we set ourselves, it is empowerment that gives people the permission to do so.
The key themes from the discussion were:
Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, background and ability, needs to not only believe in the need to make education and empowerment universal, but to also take an active role in it. Although there are a variety of barriers to education across the world, be it transport, poverty or resources, many are outcomes of cultural values. Malala spoke of girls not being allowed to have male teachers and therefore not being allowed to go to school, for example.
To break down such barriers needs acts of cultural defiance. Malala gave the example of her father adding her name to the male-only family tree and letting her go to school, letting her speak up. Going against the norm in this instance set the path for Malala to go on and achieve great things. So, while the majority aren’t in the position to make monumental decisions, living your values as an advocate of equality is effective against cultural barriers.
The significance of role models in society cannot be underestimated, even less so around the issues of education and empowerment. Asked what empowered her to pursue her career, Fabiola explained her main “push” came from the biography of Marie Curie, which she read at 17-years-old. She added that young people need to understand their impact on the world. But why restrict that to young people? By seeing and learning about visible role models everyone can better understand their own potential and make informed decisions about what they want to achieve, setting their personal goalposts accordingly.
A common excuse for a lack of representation in senior positions in the workplace, politics or otherwise, is that not enough people from minority groups put themselves forward. Though that could be true, we must not let that be the end. For society to have diverse role models, it needs people of diverse identities to step forward. If they aren’t doing that instinctively, perhaps because of a lack of empowerment, then they need to be given that empowerment. This could be done by actively reaching out to people with persistent encouragement, challenging their preconceived belief that they can’t or shouldn’t pursue ambitious goals. The investment of time and energy could seem great in the short-term, but the long-term benefit of more diversity across society will be worthwhile.
It will only be as a collective, as a society working together, that we’ll be able to make lasting meaningful change. As part of that everyone has a role to play, from government and businesses to local activists, NGOs and right down to you and I. Addressing the barriers to education and inclusion are an essential task for those with the power to do so, but even this isn’t and shouldn’t be a quick fix. As Fabiola commented, empowerment isn’t just fixing the problem, but rather giving people the tools to be able to further develop solutions themselves.
The importance of collective effort isn’t lost on Justin Trudeau. In speaking about his experience as “the man on the panel” in feminist discussions, he recounted how he used to be apologetic in his contributions. However, he now recognises his role, and that of all men in feminism, as an ally. Men have a key role to play in tackling the issues of feminism, just as everyone has a responsibility to facilitate equality with whatever power and influence they have, whether they identify as the afflicted or not.
These themes are not silos, but parts of a much wider discussion. What we can take from them is that no matter who you are, you can make society richer in equality and diversity by acting in accordance with your values and becoming the role model you wanted to follow. At Cofinitive we call this contributing to the “Pay It Forward community” and we’re proud to say it’s one of our core values.
If you want to see the full session at the WEF18 follow this link.