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Our panelists (L to R): Sara Minkara, Manal Ataya, Dr. Heidi Alaudeen Alaskary

In crafting the good society, we seek to leave no one behind. The phrase “to leave no one behind” is a popular slogan, one often used to characterize the mission of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At its core, the phrase evokes a shared commitment by all members of society to ensure each and every individual feels valued and is able to live to their full potential. In practice, what would a society that leaves no one behind actually look like?

On December 2, 2020, the Good Society Forum hosted a webinar on disability inclusion to hone in on one aspect of this question. According to the World Bank, over one billion people, that’s fifteen percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Due to population ageing and the global increase in chronic health conditions, this number is unambiguously growing. …

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The COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions their livelihoods, upended everyone’s daily routines and habits, and brought pain, suffering, and losses to many. The new normal, along with sweeping changes to policies, is exacting a tremendous toll on the emotional wellbeing of individuals and communities alike. According to a Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence study, over the last eight months the number one word that people have been using to describe how they are feeling is the word “anxiety”. …

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The panelists for our September 30 webinar

Twenty-one billionaires in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) saw their wealth increase by nearly $10 billion since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a recent Oxfam report “For a decade of hope not austerity in the Middle East and North Africa: Towards a fair and inclusive recovery to fight inequality.” The region’s richest amassed more than double the regional emergency funds provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to respond to the pandemic, and almost five times the United Nation’s COVID-19 humanitarian appeal for MENA.

Before the virus hit, the Middle East was already one of the most unequal regions in the world. The pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities and massive failures in economic systems in the Middle East which leave millions without jobs, healthcare, or any kind of social security. It has also deepened the gap between rich and poor. Only 11% of stimulus packages in the region focus on social protection and health measures. Nearly 90% of the region’s informal workers have been severely affected by lockdown measures. They have no unemployment insurance or welfare provisions to fall back on. …

By the early 2010s, social media platforms had connected the world and provided a platform for those voices that had previously been muted. There was a tangible excitement for the potential that platforms like Twitter and Facebook represented in the fulfillment of the democratic values of free speech, equality and participation. Movements such as the Arab Spring seemed to support this techno optimism.

However, by 2020, we have learned that social media platforms can be used for brutal oppression and against democratic values — clear examples of this are the incitement to genocide in Facebook against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Russian interference through social media platforms in the 2016 US elections, or the cases in India where WhatsApp were used to organize lynchings. Just as social media can be used by activists to organize protests, it can be used to track them down by repressive governments. Just as it can be used to denounce human rights abuses, it can be used to incite violence. Just as it can be used to spread speech that will help build the good society, it can be used to spread hate speech that can tear it apart. …

By Luke Grenfell-Shaw

In February, I went for a jog with a running group with a difference. Each person had a cancer diagnosis, and was dealing with it in a hugely positive fashion, through the power of exercise. As we ran, I heard stories of incredible fortitude, bravery and positivity. 5K Your Way, the small charity behind the group, helps to empower these individuals, who are literally facing the challenge of their lifetime. This prompted me to reflect on the power of exercise to help those facing great challenges in our society. …

Although there has been considerable progress since the 1995 conference on women in Beijing, gender equality has yet to be attained particularly in the Arab world, reflected Tunisian politician Samia Melki, at a Good Society Forum webinar on 8 July. Samia, who is president of Kadirat and member of the steering committee of Solidarity for African women’s rights network, observed that women’s political participation in the region is hindered by male interpretations of the Quran, traditions and culture.

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photo by Mostafa Meraji

In some countries, the Arab uprisings helped women achieve greater rights through revised constitutions and increased representation in parliament and government. The uprisings were initiated by what Samia described as “secular and progressive forces.” …

“Our visions for racial equity are so small that we’re asking only to die at the same rate as others”. This unsettling truth from our most recent webinar encapsulates how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed deep racial fault lines in our societies, including entrenched inequalities that have led to disproportionate health and economic impacts on minority communities, with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts in the UK, and the same being true for African-American and Hispanic communities in the United States.

The brutal murder of George Floyd captured this tragic interplay both visibly and symbolically, from the systemic police violence that physically killed Mr. Floyd through to the desperate pleas of “I can’t breathe” echoing out during a global pandemic targeting the respiratory system. This sparked global protests and reinforced the Black Lives Matter movement that has for many years been highlighting the historical and structural nature of why disproportionality exists in the first place, with the Dean of Harvard University’s School of Public Health stating “racism is a public health issue”. So just how we do progress from what feels like a historic inflection point and create a good society that truly embeds race equity at its heart? …

As the human and economic toll of the coronavirus crisis continues to reveal itself, there has been little to celebrate. One positive story, however, has been the way local communities right across the globe have responded, from coming together to clap for our nurses, doctors and key workers, to locally self-organising and providing mutual support to help our most vulnerable neighbours. It has shown us the potential for positive relationships between different groups in society and that a new social contract with each other is possible.

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But as our recent Good Society Forum Webinar on building inclusive and welcoming societies highlighted, this is against a very challenging backdrop that will require significant focus and resource to achieve. We heard fascinating regional, national and international insights from Yasir Naqvi, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC); Dr Colleen Thouez, Director of the Welcoming and Integrated Societies Initiative at the Open Society Foundations; Vladimir Horvath of the Strengthening Inter-Ethnic Political Discourse and Minority Inclusion project at the National Democratic Institute (NDI); and Samar Ali, Founding President of the Millions of Conversations campaign. …

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The spreading of a virus from a wet market in Wuhan to all corners of the globe has shown how interconnected the world is. And yet in the face of the pandemic, multilateral institutions were slow to respond.

At a Good Society Forum webinar on 10 June, Michel Rentenaar, the Netherlands Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO, asserted that NATO — a 70-year old organization comprising 30 allies — prides itself on providing security to almost a billion people. Yet when COVID19 hit Europe, this was a threat it was not prepared to face.

However, NATO officials quickly realized that the pandemic could exacerbate other crises and that action was required on its part. Within a few weeks, NATO responded by flying around medical equipment and military hospitals. …

It is generally appreciated that art has an intrinsic value in that it enriches individual lives. At a webinar on 7 June 2020, hosted by the Good Society Forum, Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi asserted that it art also has a societal value. Al-Qassemi is an Emirati columnist and researcher, and the Founder of Barjeel Art Foundation. He was a 2018 Yale World Fellow and taught a class at Yale on the Politics of Middle Eastern Art. Al-Qassemi described how in the Arab world, art played an instrumental role in the formation of national identity during the 20th century. He used the example of the prominent Egyptian sculptor, Mahmoud Mokhtar, who was commissioned to sculpt a monument that he called Nahdat Misr, Egypt’s Awakening. He depicted a woman with her hand on a sphynx, lifting up her veil. It symbolized both modernity as well as rootedness in Egypt’s Pharaonic past. …


Good Society Forum

The Good Society Forum is a community of change-makers around the world with a common quest to building the good society.

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