23 May 2019

Middle Plenary Paris 2019 – Égalité

Kicking off this session, which focused on the notion of “égalité” and philanthropy’s role in creating more equal societies, Zhora Moosa, Executive Director of MamaCash and plenary moderator, stressed that there are “infinite combinations” of inequalities depending on where one lives, who one is, and the time in which one lives. Being disabled in the Netherlands is a different experience than in Poland, for instance. It is crucial that we recognise this variation when talking about inequalities. The session explored several forms of inequality, including economic and gender inequality.

Ghada Hatem, Founder of La Maison des Femmes, focused on the cost to society of violence against women and children. She saw philanthropy’s key role as bridging gaps for organisations like hers that are deemed too untested to fund by governments. Philanthropy can provide support initially, giving an organisation time to prove itself, making it seem less risky to governments as they consider funding. Hatem said that “without philanthropy, my organisation would not exist.”

Economic inequality was a key issue for Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam. He noted that 26 of the world’s richest men own more wealth than half of the global population. “We are on the cusp of a global emergency when it comes to economic inequality,” he said. He worried that the European equality we have fought so hard for is being undermined. Sriskandarajah talked about systemic reform and getting at the root causes of inequality, and the need for philanthropy to face up to its obligation to tackle inequality as it may very well be a product of it.

Lionel Zinsou, economist and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Benin, warned that the “fight around inequalities will be hard”. He discussed how a relatively small tax base in countries in Africa – averaging about 20% of GDP – means that many African countries simply do not have the resources to support a robust and equitable social system. He noted that in the last 15 years, poverty has moved from being primarily a working class and youth issue to becoming one more related to women. He said that if the parameters are shifting, then public policy will have to adapt. Zinsou also touched on the topic of perceptions of inequality driven by the news media vs. the reality on the ground. For elderly in France, for instance, economic conditions have actually improved in recent years.

The session wrapped up with a Q&A from the audience of philanthropic organisations. Tackling systemic factors contributing to inequality, recognising the link between social cohesion and inequality, and restoring the social contract between business/philanthropy and communities were seen as key ways forward for philanthropy to help create more “égalité”.