The flagship report of the Pathfinders Grand Challenge on Inequality and Exclusion is about the solutions that will deliver equality and inclusion. It is the culmination of several years of research and mobilization undertaken by a unique partnership of ten countries, the United Nations, the World Bank, the OECD, Oxfam, and CIVICUS, along with numerous partners and international experts. The report constructs a bridge between the rhetoric of “build back better” and action: a bridge between promise and progress.
On Friday, September 10, Secretary-General António Guterres presented Our Common Agenda, his response to the request made by UN member states for recommendations in the 75th anniversary declaration adopted in 2020. The secretary-general does not mince his words about the problems the world is facing, from the pandemic that is upending our world, conflicts that continue to rage and worsen, and the disastrous effects of a changing climate—famine, floods, fires, and extreme heat—that threaten our very existence.
Perhaps the most discordant note in President Biden's speech last Tuesday was the contrast between the deep empathy for US service members and their families, and the apparent lack of empathy for those left at immediate risk in Afghanistan, let alone the country’s larger population. It was jarring to see him tack back and forth between soft empathy and a harsh and palpable anger. Reading the transcript alone does not do it justice.
States and societies are in crisis around the world, as questions arise around the nature and quality of existing social contracts. COVID-19 has laid bare profound vulnerabilities within and across societies. The global pandemic is revealing deep failures in policy visions, institutional fragility, and incapacities of states to harness societal compliance where trust and a sense of national belonging is weak. At the same time, our interdependencies have never been so clear, as all countries, developed and underdeveloped alike, confront similar challenges. Crisis, however, offers opportunity to do things better, to build forward better – strengthening social contracts at all levels. How then, can social contracts, and compacting in times of crisis, offer pathways to address inequality and exclusion?