3 Ways Leaders Can Tackle Global Issues In A Fragmented World


By Wadia Ait Hamza, Head of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum

The world continues to face several complex and interconnected challenges that require global leaders to collaborate and cooperate. From climate change and rising inequality to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have far-reaching consequences that affect us all. In an increasingly fragmented world, we must find comprehensive and coordinated solutions to these problems to secure a brighter future for everyone.

One effective way for leaders to address these challenges is by promoting social cohesion within and between societies. Building social cohesion – the ties and connections within a community – is critical for fostering trust, cooperation, and resilience. By encouraging a sense of inclusion and belonging, social cohesion can help to reduce conflict, promote stability, and enable communities to work together to achieve shared objectives.

How can leaders build social cohesion?

Here are three ways that leaders can build social cohesion to address global challenges and fight fragmentation in the year ahead.

1. Encourage dialogue and understanding

Leaders play a crucial role in inspiring social cohesion through dialogue. They help to create a sense of shared purpose and unity that can inspire action to improve the state of the world. Building these necessary bridges between different groups and fostering understanding is possible when leaders create an open environment where people from different backgrounds can share ideas and opinions.

We saw this during the height of the pandemic when Young Global Leader (YGL) Maya Roy, Director of Partnerships at the Institute for Change Leaders, developed the Feminist Recovery Plan for Canada – a detailed plan to address the barriers that made some groups more vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects. Ideas for the plan were sparked by simple conversations that rallied YGLs worldwide, who also helped Maya organize her response strategy in real-time.

“When you have a Telegram group set up with leading people from non-profit, the private sector, supply chain management, or biotech, I just found I was able to connect the dots around the trends from a number of different sectors,” Roy said.

Similarly, YGL Camilla Hagen Sørli, Board Member of Canica Holding, was inspired to push for sustainable business practices at her family company after talking to teenage girls she encountered in a classroom at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, who shared their dreams and goals, despite the uncertain future they faced. The company has since implemented sustainability as part of its overall strategy and encouraged others to follow suit.

“The YGL Community gave me the confidence and knowledge to speak up and drive change,” Sørli said. By providing opportunities for leaders to listen to and learn from one another, it is clear that dialogue can promote deep understanding between various groups in meaningful ways.

2. Prioritize collaboration and cooperation

It is easy for different groups to prioritize their own needs over those of the greater good, in a world so fragmented. Leaders can, however, better address global challenges and create solutions if they work together and find common ground. In this way, leaders can tackle significant, complex issues that are difficult for individuals or institutions to handle on their own.

We see this in action with one group of YGLs who have launched the 1t.org India Coalition, to support the country’s commitment to restore 26 million hectares of deforested land and sequester 2.5-3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030. Led by YGL Bhairavi Jani, Executive Director of SCA Group of Companies, the coalition is working closely with the World Economic Forum to help mitigate the effects of climate change, water scarcity, and loss of topsoil in India. This restoration is critical for the livelihoods of India’s 700 million rural inhabitants who depend on forests and agriculture.

In another case, YGLs came together to launch the Alliance for Clean Air at COP26 last year. The initiative has brought together 10 multinational companies in the first global private-sector partnership to tackle air pollution. YGLs Eva Scherer, Global Head of Investor Relations at Siemens AG, and Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund, have supported business leaders in committing to measuring their air pollution footprint and creating plans to deliver clean air. These examples illustrate that by encouraging leaders to work together towards shared objectives, group action is ignited and measurable progress is made.

3. Invest in education and training

Providing people with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world can help to build more social cohesion and a resilient society. Investing in education and training opportunities, as well as supporting lifelong learning, can help develop critical thinking skills and knowledge among leaders. This promotes understanding and respect among diverse groups, as seen in the success of our educational modules.

For example, 40 YGLs came together this year to participate in a unique executive education module on racial equity in partnership with the University of Virginia. Over four days, they examined the origins of anti-black racism and developed strategies for advancing racial equity in their organizations and communities.

According to YGL Molly Crockett, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale University, “the intuitive idea is that business executives want to hear a business case for racial equity and diversity, but the moral case may ultimately be more effective.” After reflecting on their moral responsibility as leaders, YGLs drafted action plans with accountability measures for creating impact within their spheres of influence.

We need to prioritize social cohesion

Global leaders have the power to create a more united, resilient, and inclusive world by taking action to foster social cohesion. They can foster trust, cooperation, and resilience within and between societies by encouraging dialogue, prioritizing collaboration, and investing in education. These efforts are critical for addressing the complex challenges facing the world today and enabling communities to work together to overcome fragmentation.

This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023.

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