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“Inequality is a result of policy choices, it's not an economic inevitability.” Round-up of the UNRISD Conference Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World

13 Nov 2018


“Inequality is a result of policy choices, it's not an economic inevitability.” Round-up of the UNRISD Conference Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World
Insightful, inspiring and relevant were perhaps the most frequent words that participants used to describe the UNRISD Conference Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization, which took place on 7-9 November 2018 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Insights were provided by the speakers, ranging from eminent scholars and activists like Vandana Shiva, François Bourguignon, Naila Kabeer, Saskia Sassen and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, but also a diverse collection of researchers presenting papers, about half of which were from the global South and half were women. There was also a strong representation of early-stage researchers among the papers selected from an excellent response to the Call for Papers held earlier this year, demonstrating UNRISD’s commitment to promoting innovative emerging research, as well as benefiting from the erudition of well-established scholars.

Case studies from over 30 countries, the majority in the global South, were presented. The conference was rounded off with a UN-civil society round table at which Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, was joined by scholar and former UN Assistant Secretary-General Richard Jolly as well as two leaders from civil society organizations: Anita Nayar, Director of Regions Refocus, and Ben Phillips, launch director the Fight Inequality Initiative. They debated from their diverse perspectives the causes of extreme inequalities, ways to reduce them and the role of the private sector in those efforts. Underlying the conversation was the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its promise to leave no one behind.

The conference was the launch of a new UNRISD research endeavour focusing on extreme inequalities and how to combat them, which will be led by Senior Research Coordinator Katja Hujo. The research submitted to the Call and the network built up over the months leading to the conference provide the cornerstone for this exciting new area of work for the Institute.

Let’s leave the last word to Ben Phillips from the Fight Inequality Initiative, who summed up the conference with the following tweet:




In case you missed it


All the conference papers are here.

Facebook live recordings are available of the special sessions:

Opening event "Engines of Inequality? Elites, Power and Politics", featuring
  • Naila Kabeer, London School of Economics
  • Saskia Sassen, Columbia University
  • Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Council of Eminent Persons, Malaysia


Keynote speeches
François Bourguignon, Paris School of Economics
  • Global and National Inequalities: A Worried Look into the Future

Vandana Shiva, author, scientist, environmental activist, eco-feminist
  • Oneness vs. The 1%


UN-civil society round table "The Politics of Transformative Change", featuring
  • Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist (via videolink)
  • Ben Phillips, Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance
  • Anita Nayar, Director, Regions Refocus
  • Richard Jolly, Honorary Professor, Research Associate, University of Sussex