World Economy

For an Inclusive Economy, Begin with an Inclusive Society

October 24, 2019  • David K. Gibson

We live in an era of great technological and economic change. For some, this heralds a time of unparalleled possibility and prosperity. But for others — millions, both around the world in our own neighborhoods — there’s a very real feeling of being left behind.

Earlier this week, the Aspen Institute and Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth hosted the Global Inclusive Growth Summit. The meeting brought together leaders and thinkers from the private sector, governments, and nonprofits to look for scalable solutions at work in the world of equitable growth, and to celebrate the people and policies that are tackling these issues today.

The sessions were packed with people passionate about creating a future that includes us all, and one moment in particular underscored that dedication. The two convening organizations announced a partnership — anchored by a $26 million investment from Mastercard — that will help power a new Institute initiative to build an inclusive global economy. The newly formed Aspen Partnership for an Inclusive Economy (APIE) will combine the ideas, talents, and resources of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to address income and information inequality — and, in the words of Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield, “Help change the structures that hold people back.”

If you want to promote inclusive growth, you first have to think about what “inclusive” means. Staci Warden, Executive Director of the Center for Financial Markets at the Milken Institute, compared an inclusive economy to a party. “I want to argue against this idea that inclusion means we get to invite people to OUR party. Inclusion means… we understand that the party is only a good party if all of these people are included.” 

In the US, “in the world’s richest country, with a growing economy, with rising education levels, rising productivity, growing capital markets, and growing corporate profits,” we are at risk of becoming a low-wage nation. David Rolf, the founder and president emeritus of SEIU 775, shared economic realities facing America’s working families.

“It’s real simple — if there’s no inclusion, there’s not going to be any growth,” said Mitch Landrieu, Former Mayor of the City of New Orleans. 

In excluding people from banking, for instance, we limit their ability to invest capital, and many of the Summit speakers want to address that problem. Chetna Sinha told the origin story of Mann Deshi Bank,which works to help women in India open secure savings accounts.

Neville Crawley of Kiva spoke about the “morally unacceptable” global problem of a billion people who are outside of the system — and he suggest some solutions.

It’s not just monetary capital that’s being excluded, either. There’s massive human capital that’s going to waste. When changemakers exclude the people who are most affected by the world’s problems from the conversations about solving them, the most important perspectives are left unheard. But when we enlist women, minorities, and people from other cultures in creating solutions, we all benefit, argued Jean Case of the Case Foundation.

Exclusion is deeply ingrained in the systems that run our society. Sometimes, the results are visible to the naked eye. This is the case in New Orleans, where structural racism behind city planning decisions impacted the federal highway system, as Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes of the New Orleans Business Alliance explained. 

In other cases, an exclusive system is less obvious. It’s there in the way we think about employment and ability, said Byron Auguste of Opportunity@Work.

Exclusion also leads to political upheaval, including the growth of Nationalism, according to the “no longer a diplomat” Madeleine Albright (watch this entire session for a glimpse of Albright’s frank and hilarious assessment of the world today). 

So what can we do? It starts with taking a stand, according to Andrea Jung of Grameen America, which works to empower women entrepreneurs. 

As is the case with many problems, the first steps are recognizing the issue and deciding to do something about it. This Summit, and the creation of APIE, are the next big steps. In the words of Porterfield, “We all have a moral imperative to take action on economic inequality and ensure that no person is left behind, that no idea is left uncovered and that no collaboration is left untapped.”

“I want to argue against this idea that inclusion means we get to invite people to OUR party. Inclusion means and is beneficial if we understand that the party is only a good party if all of these people are included.”
— Staci Warden, Executive Director of the Center for Financial Markets at the Milken Institute