Winnie Byanyima speaking at the Skoll World Forum #SkollWF 2017

Winnie Byanyima speaking at the Skoll World Forum #SkollWF 2017


It’s truly an honour to be here. I stand here in an audience of leaders. You are disrupting, you are innovating,
you are reforming, you are not on the side-lines. You are determined
to be part of the solution. And yet, as much as my heart
asks me to be optimistic, I am uneasy about the world
forming before us. I see the foundations of global
co-operation, global decency, that our world built, not so long ago,
shakier than ever. When I was 18 years old, I fled a brutal dictatorship
and found refuge in this country, the United Kingdom. I seized a welcoming hand that
I will forever be grateful to. But can you imagine the welcome I would have received
today, as a young person looking for a future. I kept hearing about a globalization
success story for hardworking women in productive industries, especially
in the Asian countries like Myanmar. At Oxfam we work with some of these
young women on labour rights. Like millions of others, they are trapped
at the voiceless end of supply chains, trapped in debt, forced to compete
with each other, for poverty jobs. And I know talented African young girls and
boys like those in my village Rooti, in Uganda, who in fair circumstances, could become our world’s
greatest space scientists, bio technologists, and so on. Yet, our world crushes the possibility for them.
And then we all lose out. We lose out on their brilliance. They are fetching water,
they are carrying firewood, they are among the 800 million people who go
hungry every day. It’s a loss to all of us. Friends, you could have not picked a more appropriate
theme for your forum today, than fault lines. Let me offer one very
clear line of fault. 8 men, now own as much wealth as half
of humanity. 3.6 billion other people. The top 1% now own more wealth than
the bottom 99%. That’s a fault line. you know, as I do, that no amount
of charity will bridge that divide. We must indeed break free from this economic
model that’s rigged against the majority. Thank you. It is a model that sees talent squandered,
and that invests in those who already have, and not those who could do so much.
So, at Oxfam we are interested in new ideas
for a different economic model. One that can take advantage of technology,
innovation and disruption, but that is driven and
shaped by human need. It is a model that should tackle rising and equality,
climate change, and that should boost the power of women. We want to discuss ideas about
a more human economy. Private enterprise and private endeavour
is at the heart of this human economy. We need business to drive this human economy,
but it is the right kind of business. Businesses that create decent jobs,
and pay living wages, that restore the environment, rather than just extract
from it. And that treat women and girls equally. Thank you. So critically, we need businesses that are not
just dominated by the needs of their investors, but where their workers, the farmers, their suppliers,
and the communities have a real stake and power. And getting that right kind of business
will need more than just legal compliance, or commitments to corporate social
responsibility. At Oxfam, we are increasingly convinced it will require some
reforms to how companies are structured. What their incentives are, and it’s time to be honest too.
It’s about who has power within those businesses. Increasingly, companies behave as if shareholders
are the only interest that matter. This is not just wrong morally, but it hurts the economy,
and it even hurts the future viability of the business. In the 70’s British companies paid out 10%
of their profits, as dividends to shareholders. Today, they pay out more than 60%
of their profits to give us dividends. More money for shareholders, and more for executives,
rewarded for increasing margins. All that comes at the expense of workers
and producers and supply chains. But also at the expense of investment in innovation.
So, friends, there is a better way. For centuries, we’ve had businesses
that had more duty of care. Cooperatives, social businesses, worker owned
enterprises have been growing and thriving. Commercial success stories, like the Spanish multinational
Mondragon, like John Lewis here in the UK, demonstrate that market economies can go beyond
an obsession with growing shareholder wealth. Business models like these need support.
Without the enticement of high rewards, they won’t attract as much capital.
Governments will have to support them through tax schemes, credit guarantee
schemes and through other tools. And they will need impact investors
who help grow the businesses that prioritise the people they impact,
not just their investors. This is the point of the human economy.
The market doesn’t’ decide everything. We decide what we want business to deliver for people
and plan it. And we make those businesses happen. Thank you. So, I remain optimistic, innovators, disruptors, social
entrepreneurs, seismic resistors, as Stephan has called you. I urge you to focus your attention on reforming
this abusive economic model. You must strive the transition
to a more human economy. We can make this a fairer and more
sustainable world for us all. Thank you.

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