Leadership, education and global social impact

Esther Benjamin has been a global executive in the private, government, and social impact sectors for over 25 years. She has led business partnerships, as well as education, engagement, health, and economic development programs in over 100 countries. In this KAPTalks, she reflected on her own professional and personal journey; insights and lessons learned; and how education and leadership by young people remains key to driving engagement, inclusion, and social impact worldwide.

Vision for vision: translating ideas into practice

The Kapuscinski talk was given by eye surgeon and social entrepreneur, Dr. Andrew Bastawrous. He shared his journey from surgeon to public health practitioner, then founder of the social enterprise Peek Vision which has a mission to bring vision and eye health to everyone.

The event was moderated by Mario Calderini, Professor at Politecnico di Milano School of Management, Director of Tiresia, Research Centre for Impact Finance and Innovation, and current member of the Italian government’s Task Force on Social Impact Investment.

The event started with welcome messages by the moderator prof. Mario Calderini, by Emilio Paolucci (director of the ASP), Gabriella Fesus (EC, DG Development and International Cooperation) and Jan Szczycinski (UNDP). After welcomes, two pre-recorded videos by Andrew Bastawrous were played. In these videos, he explained that his motivations for first becoming an eye-doctor and then establishing Peek Vision, was a sense of injustice for the many people in poor countries who are blind or have poor vision due to diseases that we already know how to cure or prevent.

Children with poor sight may look lazy and appear as though they do not pay attention at school. They grow up believing all these things while the reality is that the world they see is out of clarity. Andrew revealed that he himself grew up with very short eyesight and received his first pair of glasses when he was about 12. This changed his world and from this experience he understood that clear vision corresponds to many opportunities, such as education and ability to socialize.

In 2012 he moved with his family to Kenya, where, similar to other developing countries, most of the resources for eye care were in the big towns and cities, while most patients who needed them lived in rural areas. An option would have been to take the eye care equipment to communities. However, such equipment were sensitive, heavy, costly and needed about 15 people to be moved to the communities. Communities also suffered scarcity of electricity, therefore, that option had poor feasibility.

Andrew’s entrepreneurial idea was to recreate the tests done in the clinic on a smartphone and to simplify the process so that a rather complex test could be delivered anywhere to anyone, with the results shared with specialists who then decide whether to treat the patient or not.

This novel approach was initially tested at schools, where teachers were trained to do vision testing on children to pre-identify those with low vision. For every child identified as having a vision problem, a text message was sent to parents and to head teachers with instructions on what to do next. This approach allowed capillary screening without increasing the load on already overburdened hospitals and nurses.

The system was initially tested on 21,000 children who were screened by only 25 teachers in 9 days. 900 of them were found to be visually impaired. The program was then scaled up to cover the whole county. 160,000 more children were screened and treated if they had a problem. Today, the program is being extended to other parts of Kenya and to countries such as Botswana and India.

As he concluded the lecture, Andrew stressed that an important part of the program implementation was understanding why some patients who needed treatment exited the program without being treated. Thankfully, this information could be got through data collection and smartphone technology and it helped program planners and implementers make appropriate decisions locally.

Global Goals: social rights as human rights

The seventh edition of the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development brought together around 1,000 participants to talk about Models, Partnerships, & Capacity Building for the SDGs. This two-day event was a forum for scientists and policy makers to come together to share practical research and solutions. The logos of the Kapuscinski Development Lectures, European Commission, and UNDP were used on conference materials throughout the two days; however, the main Kapuscinski Development Lectures program occurred on the morning of the 25th. The first day of the conference, September 24th, featured around 350 presentations across 30 parallel sessions and a poster exhibition. Researchers and students shared their work on climate change, energy, agriculture, demography, and other SDG-related topics. In discussion sessions as well as question and answer periods, researchers and student presenters benefitted from feedback on their research. Conference proceedings for these sessions will be released in early November.

On the second day, high-level participants from the private sector and government shared their challenges and how researchers can help address them. Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians opened this event, delivering a lecture that was co-organized by both the Kapuscinski Development Lectures and the Columbia University World Leaders Forum. Her speech emphasized the need to implement the SDGs in an integrated manner, for example looking at agriculture and health collectively rather than individually. She asked the students and faculty in the room to think about how they can be communicators to help citizens understand and act on complex issues such as climate change. She also called on all participants to use respectful dialogue and mutual understanding to foster SDG achievement, especially in the context of different actors sharing tools, knowledge, and best practices with each other to accelerate progress.

Following the speech by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians was a panel discussion on Culture, Cities, and Communities, with Radhika Iyengar (Columbia University), Aromar Revi (Indian Institute for Human Settlement), and Andreas A. Hutahaean (Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia). Aromar Revi noted that most of our challenges, including climate change, waste management, and service provision in slums, have rapid population growth at the root. He argued that the systems we have in place to deal with these challenges were designed for a world with far fewer people, and that we need to transform governance, management, and accountability frameworks to work in our new world.

A keynote address from SDG Advocate Edward Ndopu focused on the challenge of ensuring no one is left behind in the SDG Agenda. In a conversation with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Ndopu highlighted his activism to ensure equal access to education for persons with disabilities, particularly young people, noting that worldwide 32 million children with disabilities have no access to education. He also elaborated the way different people, including his mother and his teachers, help him realize his dreams, but also the many ways he found to raise his own voice and advocate for both himself and the community of persons with disabilities. Ndopu also challenged policymakers and people with access to leaders to not just talk about the importance of inclusion and leaving no one behind, but to ensure they are making space for these voices to be present in the discussion, at the table, bringing those that are farthest behind to the front. He also elaborated that this needs to be meaningful participation because these are the voices of leaders with talent and solutions, as opposed to superficial participation for show.

Two discussions on the role of the private sector shared the common theme about the need for innovation to drive the transition to sustainability. Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, highlighted the need to transform our agriculture and food system, and the way scientists at impossible foods were able to develop a meatless burger patty offering all the taste of beef without the environmental footprint. Gayle Schueller, Vice President for Sustainability and Product Stewardship and Chief Sustainability Officer of 3M, presented a history of the company and how innovation has been fundamental to their business since their founding over 100 years ago. Schueller shared 3M’s recent breakthroughs in green chemistry, and a commitment that every new product will have a sustainability value commitment.

The afternoon featured a speech by the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who shared Indonesia’s commitment to sustainable tourism and SDG implementation. It was followed by a broad conversation between David Lipton, Acting Managing Director of the IMF, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, which touched upon how we finance the SDGs and Paris Agreement, what we have learned from past financial crises, and the need for greater multilateralism.

#KAPTalks interviews: democractic empowerment of majorities

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then?  What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

There have been significant changes in the leading approaches to development: in the agents and agencies taking charge of it, in the theories and values guiding them, in the goals they prioritize, and in the academic analysis and journalistic commentary accompanying development work. Still, the real challenges are akin to what they were half a century ago. Billions of human beings still are at risk of undernourishment, malnutrition, communicable diseases or death from neonatal or maternal conditions. Billions still lack clean water, sanitation, shelter, electricity, basic health care or elementary education. Back in Kapuscinski’s day, the world was rich and productive enough to avoid these massive deprivations but instead chose to spend its riches on an incredibly expensive arms race, an incredibly destructive war in South East Asia and an extravagant but exciting space program. Today, with global average income some 130% higher in real terms and after spectacular advances in science and technology, humanity is even much more capable of avoiding such deprivations. But this will not happen so long as a small global elite runs this planet, capturing 46% of global wealth for its 36 million millionaires while confining humanity’s poorer half to less than 1%.

While inequality remains the key foe of development, there has been a significant shift from inequality’s international to its intra-national component. While the logarithmic distance between the poorest and richest countries has remained about the same, international Gini inequality has declined as some very large developing countries have been rapidly catching up to the global average.

For the world’s poor, this decline in international inequality has been nullified by significant increases in intra-national inequality – not merely in India and China, but pretty much everywhere in the world (least so in Latin America, where intra-national inequality was at nosebleed levels even in the 1960s). So the poorer half of the world’s population is still left behind economically, still socially and politically marginalized if not excluded. But the countries in which most of them live now command much more influence on the international stage. While the high-income countries peaked at 85% of the world economy in 1992 and have since declined to 64%, China’s share bottomed at 1.7% in 1981 and has since increased to 16%. Where developing countries had little or no influence on the design of the global economy 50 years ago, they have substantial influence today, especially where they engage in South-South collaboration (as in BRICS or IBSA). Today’s problem is that, all too often, this influence is exerted in behalf of small Southern elites rather than for the benefit of the majority – and also that the world’s poor find themselves increasingly disempowered, excluded and ignored by the politicians of their own countries.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others see it as absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

The expression “sustainable development” brings together two different projects: to avert climate change and to eradicate poverty. These two projects are superficially at odds as is often pointed out by saying: “just imagine what the world would be like if those who are now poor attained the affluent lifestyles common in Germany, Japan or Maryland! Our planet would be ruined even faster.” This appearance is often exploited and entrenched by those who, for whatever reasons, oppose either project. They are quick to exclaim either that we should not vigorously fight climate change because doing so would impose intolerable burdens on the poor or that we should not vigorously fight poverty because doing so would accelerate environmental disaster.

I have two main arguments against such claims of tension.

First, severe poverty can be eradicated through economic growth or through a reduction in economic inequality (or through some combination of the two). Adopting the former method, we might seek a quadrupling of the gross world product, hoping that doing so would “lift all boats,” thus quadrupling the income of the world’s poor as well. Such an anti-poverty strategy would court ecological disaster. But then the horrendous magnitude of accumulated inequality makes it possible for us to adopt the latter method instead: to make enormous progress against poverty even without any further global economic growth. We could, for example, quadruple the income of humanity’s poorer half (from 4.5% to 18% of gross world product) by shrinking the income share of the richest quarter by merely one sixth (from 85% to 71%). To be sure, the fourfold income increase in humanity’s poorer half would have adverse ecological effects. But these would be largely or wholly offset by the ecological benefits of reduced income in the richest quarter (fewer private planes and yachts, reduced air travel, smaller cars, less waste of consumption goods, etc.).

Second, as longitudinal and cross-country studies spectacularly confirm, poverty eradication has a massive negative effect on total fertility rates (average children per woman), especially when it comes with improved educational and employment opportunities for women and girls. Some poor populations in Africa – Niger, Angola, Mali – still have TFRs over 6, while the EU’s TFR is 1.58 and TFRs in more than 100 mostly affluent countries have fallen below 2.00 (implying that their populations will decline). Humanity’s future population size is one crucially important factor in humanity’s future ecological footprint. The UN Population Division currently forecasts that humankind will number between 9.6 and 13.2 billion in the year 2100 (90% probability), with pretty much all of the increase occurring in the less developed regions (mostly in Africa). With a serious anti-poverty offensive, TFRs among the currently poorest populations would fall much faster than predicted and humanity could peak at 9 billion in 2050 and return to the current 7.5 billion by century’s end. By reducing the size of the year-2100 population by one third (relative to the current median projection of 11.2 billion) and the size of later populations by even more, a serious effort against poverty could bring dramatic relief in the struggle to avert climate change, resource depletion and other ecological hazards.

The arguments I have sketched will convince those who are interested in working for the collective good of all. The rest are, I fear, hard to convince, especially if they are affluent. Rich people are above all mobile and can use golden passport programs to relocate away from areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change or poverty (into the US Northwest, perhaps, or into safe parts of Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Russia or South Africa). And they will rationally prefer doing so over giving up even just one sixth of their income for the sake of eradicating poverty and preserving our beautiful planet. Once they will have pulled out their investments – or even have gone short – they will care nothing about the fate of Venice, Mumbai, Rio, Cape Town, Christchurch, Miami or Bangladesh.

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others? 

The fundamental problem of sustainable development is the problem of political empowerment or, to put it negatively, the problem of regulatory capture. Political power in this world has been seized by a small international elite of super-rich financiers, tycoons and politicians who, abetted by armies of well-trained accountants, lawyers and lobbyists, capture an ever-increasing share of the social product. Their fortunes and machinations are shrouded in secrecy as over a hundred secrecy jurisdictions compete to keep their assets hidden under layers of anonymous accounts, shell companies and fake trusts. Such people dominate politics in most developing countries and thereby control the basic resources on which we all depend: food, fossil fuels, metals and other minerals. They dominate politics in the United States, where the practice of bribing elected politicians through future employment or contributions to their campaigns and political action committees (PACs) is protected by the Supreme Court. And through their exorbitant influence on national governments, they also dominate international rulemaking through treaties and conventions as well as through the associated international organizations and agencies (WTO, IMF, OECD, etc.) in charge of interpreting, refining and applying international rules.

These rich and powerful people are, for the most part, not evil, nor even ill-disposed toward the poor. But they do have a special affection for their own fortunes and therefore use their disproportional political power toward defending and increasing their own outsized shares of the social product. They do so by evading their tax obligations (even in civilized and public-spirited Scandinavia, the richest 0.01% of the population – with wealth above USD 40 million – evade about 30% of their taxes on average). They do so by deploying their financial and political power to reduce or eliminate taxes on the rich and social safety and social mobility programs for the rest of the population. And they do so by organizing and supporting elaborate propaganda efforts designed to show that things are getting better and better for ordinary people (the Gates-Pinker-Roser team) and that those in power care deeply about preserving our planet and “leaving no one behind” (the Millennium/Sustainable Development Goals exercises and the Paris Agreement).

This is not to say that the global elite acts in close coordination, as part of some grand conspiracy created and sustained at Davos or Bilderberg meetings. Political, finance and business leaders often compete, clash, even destroy one another as they seek to enhance their own power at one another’s expense. Still, the net effect of their exertions favors their shared interests over those of the vast majority of the human population who are feeling increasingly confused, helpless and demoralized, often blaming unloved minorities or themselves for their economic, social and political marginalization. Though disunited, the elites together maintain a public culture and institutional arrangements that systematically impede human development and keep billions in at a level of severe poverty that has long ago become wholly avoidable.

The democratic empowerment of these majorities is the fundamental problem of development. And a formidable problem it is! Over the last forty years, the elites have greatly increased their economic advantage over the rest, keeping billions in conditions of severe poverty where they must focus their energies on the survival of their families rather than on fighting for political reform. This increasing gap is magnified by huge advantages in education and especially in technology – such as surveillance, big data, disinformation, artificial intelligence, all of which are overwhelmingly used by and for the elites. Democratic movements exist (witness the Bernie Sanders campaign) and still have a genuine chance to win here and there. But without some important democratic victories in the near future, we will slide farther into a world of extreme inequality in which the lives of the vast majority will be blighted by poverty, marginalization and increasingly severe environmental burdens. We don’t have much time.

Beyond crowdfunding: power of crowd in development

Role of civil society in global governance

The experience we’ve had fighting corruption with the help of the CSO Transparency International has shown me the impact organised civil society can have on better global governance, a complex challenge which none of the traditional actors of governance can solve alone.

To put it very briefly, Transparency International has built its success on:

  1. mobilising civil society in more the 100 countries for the diagnosis of their corruption problems design of reforms and their implementation  in their own societies,
  2. using a holistic approach, and
  3. in cooperation with other actors of governance – often an antagonistic coalition of very different actors in the public, private and civil society sector.

A close cooperation with the media for building a global consensus about the catastrophic impact of corruption – including our regular Corruption Perception Index – and with research and academia, led to a situation where today practically every significant voice castigates corruption. 

Growing support of coalition of the three actors of governance, the State as prime actor, the Commercial Sector and Civil Society Organizations have to complement each other in order to establish together better governance.

A free and vigilant civil society is essential if we are to tackle poverty and the injustice of globalization, and to dispel the climate of despair and alienation that serves as a breeding ground for conflict, war and terrorism.

Only an effective coalition of state, business and civil society can bring transparency and accountability to global governance, not only to fight corruption, but other ills of globalization (injustice and inequity, poverty, violence, conflict, environmental destruction and climate change). There is hope for a better, more just world for everybody.

Human relations at heart of development

There remains a unshakeable assumption in the international policy community that development in one country can be switched on and off from central controls elsewhere in the global system. You see this logic with everything from Education for All to the MDGs. Whether it is cross-national tests of achievement or even the global rankings of universities, the kind of forces that drive change in schools and universities are largely enabled or inhibited by humans who inhabit these institutions.

The kinds of issues, moreover, that wreak havoc on societies and their systems of education are largely ignored in international policy scripts that privilege academic achievement in science, mathematics and literacy. This technicist and instrumentalist view of education has exposed developmental agendas to even greater threats, the unravelling of human relations that are so crucial to both people and performance across the world.

Prof. Jansen made these arguments real by presenting his research on race, intimacy and leadership at the University of the Free State in South Africa — and how many students made the transition from tolerance to embrace in segregated communities. According to prof. Jansen „Any analysis that begins and ends with condemnation, rather than pressing for an understanding of the underlying dilemmas of inequality, poverty, segregation and violence cannot begin to resolve the human challenges in specific territories without which development remains an elusive project.”

Citizen mobilisation and empowerment

Can behavioural science improve public policy?

Social business reducing poverty in Africa

Effective pursuing of sustainable development globally requires both political high-level agreements and practical implementation on the ground. Nick Moon takes care of the latter. As a co-founder of the KickStart International initiative, he promotes simple, cost-effective tools and solutions which increase agricultural productivity in Africa. Moon proves that social economy can bring benefits and effectively lift people out of extreme poverty through triggering their entrepreneurship rather than giving aid.

 

KickStart is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise, listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s Top 30 Social Enterprises. KickStart has to date enabled over 135,000 “base of the pyramid” entrepreneurs to invest in and build successful rural family enterprises, taking over 670,000 people out of poverty, providing an additional 210,000 on-farm jobs, and generating $130 million annually in net profits and new household incomes.

Complexity and innovation in development

Owen Barder argued that development should be understood as an emergent feature of a complex adaptive system, which usually have the following five characteristics:

  • Its evolution is difficult to predict
  • It cannot be pinned down to a component
  • It can have a broad shape, but it remains largely unpredictable when it comes to details
  • It tends towards greater complexity
  • It does not tend towards equilibrium

The argumentation was built around the ideas that evolution would generate more efficient solutions, that society and economy are outcomes of adaptive processes, habits, products, institutions, and individuals, and that change is possible through adaptation.

In supporting his claims, he gave examples from fields as diverse as psychology, climate studies, economics and engineering.

The last part of the lecture consisted of seven policy recommendations:

  • Resist social engineering (because evolution outperforms design) and avoid isomorphic mimicry (new institutions would not have the drivers for evolution to perform)
  • Resist fatalism
  • Promote innovation
  • Embrace creative destruction (there is a feedback loop that selects those performing)
  • Shape development
  • Embrace experimentation
  • Act globally