Attendees of our Fortune-Time Global Forum, held in Rome and the Vatican, were treated to an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.
On Dec. 2, nearly 150 of the globe’s most prominent leaders in business, the nonprofit sector, labor, media, and strategic problem solving gathered in a Rome hotel and promised to change that. And more remarkable, they put those promises to paper.
Among those assembled were the CEOs of companies employing nearly 5 million people around the world (including Barclays, Dow Chemical, Flex, IBM (IBM, -0.21%), Levi Strauss, Monsanto (MON, -0.07%), Novartis (NVS, +0.11%), Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, United Technologies, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WAG), WPP, and dozens of others).
Joining them were the heads of major consultancies (Accenture, BCG, Deloitte, Insigniam, McKinsey, and Teneo) and some of the biggest and most creative charitable organizations on the planet (BRAC, Environmental Defense Fund, Ford Foundation, International Rescue Committee, Last Mile Health, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Partners in Health, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Save the Children International).
All had gathered for the Fortune + Time Global Forum (read our coverage here). And they vowed to work with one another to ensure that the one-fifth of the world’s citizens who lack a legal (officially recognized) identity—and who are therefore shut out of the financial grid—are brought in to the system.
They promised to increase access to inexpensive and secure mobile banking platforms and to develop new forms of insurance for small businesses to reduce risk and build local wealth. They promised to sharply increase the amount of investment capital going to people and places that now get little of it. And they pledged to develop and report on “material metrics” that track the social and environmental returns on their corporate investments.
That all these commitments were made over the course of a day is remarkable in itself. But they didn’t stop there. Breaking into eight working groups, teams of CEOs and labor leaders, management gurus, and NGO directors promised to make 22 distinct commitments in all. (Read the full report here.)
They pledged to do a better job of protecting the planet, reduce their own companies’ energy use and environmental footprints, and accelerate efforts to fight climate change.
In proposals that were, at times, surprising in their specificity, they agreed to support meaningful carbon pricing (by way of taxes, caps, or other economic mechanisms), help smallholder farmers, reduce food waste by half, and set ambitious water-management goals.
They promised to help rebuild the global workforce to better match the knowledge economy being born around it—retraining millions who have been left behind by the forces transforming business so that they might thrive in what IBM CEO Ginni Rometty calls “new collar” jobs—a realm that is feverishly evolving as the old hierarchies of blue collar and white collar, technical and professional fade into irrelevancy. The gathered leaders promised to redouble efforts to bring primary education to all children—making a particular effort to send young girls, the children of migrants, and the rural poor to school. And they recommitted to embracing inclusion in their own ranks.
In the area of public health, the pledges were, if anything, more ambitious still—with business and nonprofit leaders vowing, among other things, to work together to train 750,000 community health workers in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions of endemic poverty. In addition to providing basic “frontline” health care to a million children, this corps would focus on combatting persistent health threats, such as malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases. “Seven out of 10 of the world’s poor live in rural areas,” says Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez, outlining the massive challenge (read Jimenez’s thoughts on how to make healthcare more accessible here). “It’s important that we do our part to help build sustainable local health care systems.” To that aim, Novartis is offering to the cause help in financing, logistics, technology, and communications—necessary for developing clinics and hospitals.
How all this came to be is one of the defining stories of our time: Many have lost faith in business as a force for good. While the two sweeping trends of the past half-century— globalization and digitization—have brought huge economic gains and enriched many, they have also pushed the “haves” further away from the “have-nots.”
The Fortune + Time Global Forum was an effort to reverse that polar force—reinforcing the message that the interests of business are not ultimately at odds with the interests of the world it serves. The forum was an opportunity for companies themselves to show they could do good—working in concert—and do well by doing it.
Here is what Pope Francis said, translated to English. (His original Italian remarks follow.)
I am very pleased to welcome all of you who are participating in the Fortune-Time Global Forum, and I express my appreciation for your work these past two days. I thank Mrs. Nancy Gibbs and Mr. Alan Murray for their kind words. The theme you have chosen, “The 21st-Century Challenge: Forging a New Social Compact”, is very opportune and points to the urgent need for more inclusive and equitable economic models. Your time together has allowed for a substantive exchange of ideas and sharing of information. Important as this is, what is required now is not a new social compact in the abstract, but concrete ideas and decisive action which will benefit all people and which will begin to respond to the pressing issues of our day.
I would like to offer a particular word of thanks for all that you are doing to promote the centrality and dignity of the human person within our institutions and economic models, and to draw attention to the plight of the poor and refugees, who are so often forgotten by society. When we ignore the cries of so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, we not only deny them their God-given rights and worth, but we also reject their wisdom and prevent them from offering their talents, traditions and cultures to the world. In so doing, the poor and marginalized are made to suffer even more, and we ourselves grow impoverished, not only materially, but morally and spiritually.
Our world today is marked by great unrest. Inequality between peoples continues to rise, and many communities are impacted directly by war and poverty, or the migration and displacement which flow from them. People want to make their voices heard and express their concerns and fears. They want to make their rightful contribution to their local communities and broader society, and to benefit from the resources and development too often reserved for the few. While this may create conflict and lay bare the many sorrows of our world, it also makes us realize that we are living in a moment of hope. For when we finally recognize the evil in our midst, we can seek healing by applying the remedy. Your very presence here today is a sign of such hope, because it shows that you recognize the issues before us and the imperative to act decisively. This strategy of renewal and hope calls for institutional and personal conversion; a change of heart that attaches primacy to the deepest expressions of our common humanity, our cultures, our religious beliefs and our traditions.
This fundamental renewal does not have to do simply with market economics, figures to be balanced, the development of raw materials and improvements made to infrastructures. No, what we are speaking about is the common good of humanity, of the right of each person to share in the resources of this world and to have the same opportunities to realize his or her potential, a potential that is ultimately based on the dignity of the children of God, created in his image and likeness.
Our great challenge is to respond to global levels of injustice by promoting a local and even personal sense of responsibility so that no one is excluded from participating in society. Thus, the question before us is how best to encourage one another and our respective communities to respond to the suffering and needs we see, both from afar and in our midst. The renewal, purification and strengthening of solid economic models depends on our own personal conversion and generosity to those in need.
I encourage you to continue the work you have begun at this Forum, and to seek ever more creative ways to transform our institutions and economic structures so that they may be able to respond to the needs of our day and be in service of the human person, especially those marginalized and discarded. I pray too that you may involve in your efforts those whom you seek to help; give them a voice, listen to their stories, learn from their experiences and understand their needs. See in them a brother and a sister, a son and a daughter, a mother and a father. Amid the challenges of our day, see the human face of those you earnestly seek to help.
I assure you of my prayer that your efforts will bear fruit, and of the Catholic Church’s commitment to be a voice for those who otherwise are silenced. Upon you, your families and all your colleagues, I invoke the divine blessings of wisdom, strength and peace. Thank you.
Read the rest of our coverage of the Fortune-Time Global Forum.