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Takeaways from the World Economic Forum

In a recent New York Times column, Nicolas Kristof reminded us of some of the good news happening around the world.

Kristof noted that, according to the World Bank, every day 250,000 people escape extreme poverty.  Since 1990, vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion and other health treatments have saved more than 100 million children’s lives.  And parents today are only half as likely to lose a child as in 1990. 

This incredibly important progress is raising the standard of living for people worldwide.

Positive news extends to the growing middle classes of many countries and to the recent record high school graduation rate set in the United States.  Taken together, these facts tell me that while our world is filled with challenges, there are reasons for optimism.  That’s something to keep in mind.

At the recent Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, however, the concerns took center stage.  Speakers, including President Xi Jinping of China, Bill Gates, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, discussed the shifting geopolitical roles of the United States, China and Europe.  They questioned what these changes meant for globalization and how technology could be harnessed to create economic growth and opportunity, as opposed to causing job loss and straining communities.

I participated in many sessions aimed at making sure that our education systems are preparing people – particularly young people – for the jobs of tomorrow.  Worldwide, 75 million young people are unemployed, but 40 percent of employers say a skills gap keeps them from filling entry-level positions.   It’s society’s responsibility to help those looking for work get the training and opportunities they need to fill good-paying jobs.

At United Way, we work with other non-profit organizations, businesses and governments to develop lasting solutions that allow people to meet their needs and lead happier and healthier lives.  And we never leave anyone behind – we fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.  It’s a core part of who we are and our mission to improve lives.

Making sustainable progress, however, requires the involvement of people and organizations from all parts of society.  It takes public ministers and corporate CEOs.  It takes non-profit leaders and community activists.  It also requires mothers, fathers, teachers and others to make their voices heard and to get involved.  Time and time again at this month’s meeting, participants spoke of the need for greater inclusivity by reinforcing values such as fairness and engaging regular citizens in the process of developing new initiatives.

I’m proud that United Way is helping to lead this effort by building an online platform with Salesforce and Deloitte Digital to give employee groups everywhere a way to team up to solve community issues.  United Way interacts with tens of millions of people every year, but too often we’ve only focused on money raised and volunteer hours. 

Now, through this new platform, people will be able to engage with one another in the community problem-solving process.  By pairing our organization’s scale and community knowledge with today’s digital technology, we hope to inspire new ideas and actions to make our communities stronger and create the world we all want to live in.

United Way learned many years ago that lasting solutions come from the ground up.  When people reach across traditional divides to solve problems, those solutions are more likely to stand the test of time.  They also serve as examples for other communities to emulate and tailor to their specific needs.

The World Economic Forum was a great opportunity to see what leaders are thinking and to press United Way’s value as a partner and a problem-solver.  When people come together and tackle big challenges, communities benefit.  People find better jobs.  Poverty is reduced.  And families lead healthier lives.

Let’s keep our progress in mind as we continue to work together to build the world we wish to see.