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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization

Date: 8 - 9 Nov 2018


Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization
Welcome to the UNRISD Conference "Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization"

The full Programme is available here.

Practical information on the event is available here.

Special event


The top-level panel discussion Engines of Inequality? Elites, Power and Politics which UNRISD is co-hosting with the University of Geneva the day before the Conference may also be of interest to you. We are honoured to welcome as speakers :
  • Naila Kabeer, London School of Economics
  • Saskia Sassen, Columbia University
  • Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Council of Eminent Persons, Malaysia

Click here for more details about the opening.

What the conference is about


Inequalities are one of today’s greatest challenges, obstructing poverty reduction and sustainable development. Such disparities are catalysed by elite capture of economic and political power, a reinforcing process that compounds inequality, which—in its various dimensions—undermines social, environmental and economic sustainability, and fuels poverty, insecurity, crime and xenophobia.


As the power of elites grows and societal gaps widen, institutions representing the public good and universal values are increasingly disempowered or co-opted, and visions of social justice and equity side-lined. As a result, society is fracturing in ways that are becoming more and more tangible, with the growing divide between the privileged and the rest dramatically rearranging both macro structures and local lifeworlds.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks to overcome such disparities, “leaving no one behind”. But how can this ambitious vision be achieved in the current climate, in which those in power act to protect the status quo from which they benefit? How can we build progressive alliances to drive the political and policy changes needed for an equitable, inclusive 21st century eco-social compact?

Download the Overview of the Programme


The panels


The conference will comprise 9 panels, each with 5 speakers, who will tease out different aspects of the topics covered based on insightful research and evidence from case studies. Please see the Programme for more details on timing and speakers.

Keynote speakers
  • Thursday 8 November, 11.45–12.45: François Bourguignon, Paris School of Economics
  • Friday 9 November, 09.00–10.00: Vandana Shiva, author, scientist


DAY 1

09.00: Opening Session


09.30: Session 1. Inequality and Institutions: Political Barriers to Transformative Change (Room XXIII)

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


14.00: Session 2a. Networks of Power in a Fractured World: The Role and Influence of Elites

14.00: Session 2b. The Role of Institutions in Perpetuating or Curbing Inequalities

16.00: Session 3a. Elite Ideology and Perceptions of Inequality: Implications for Redistribution and Social Cohesion

16.00: Session 3b. Shifting Class Structures and Identities in the Age of Neoliberalism

DAY 2

09.00: Keynote Address
        Vandana Shiva, Author, scientist,
      • Oneness vs. The 1%


10.30: Session 4a. Cities for Whom? Causes and Consequences of Urban Socio-Spatial Inequalities

10.30: Session 4b. Between Climate Justice and Social Exclusion: Towards an Eco-Social Approach

13.30: Session 5a. Towards Transformative Public Policy: Undermining Elite Power through Local Collaboration and Social Mobilization

13.30: Session 5b. Actors, Alliances and Strategies for a New Social Compact
15.45: Special Session. UN and Civil Society Roundtable: The Politics of Transformative Change
        This special session features policy makers, practitioners and activists in conversation about the challenges of inequality and transformative change from their perspective, bringing the conference to a practice-oriented close.
        The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits all states to be part of a new global compact that will leave no one behind. It explicitly aims to tackle inequality within and between countries (SDG 10) and genders (SDG 5) and to promote peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16), three goals that exemplify the scope and depth of the new global development strategy and the strong engagement of a range of actors such as civil society organizations, activists and academics in its making. While the aspirations of the Agenda are laudable, it is silent on a more substantive understanding of transformation, and how it will actually happen. What is needed now is a better understanding of the politics of transformative change: how can effective and durable national and global compacts be forged between the multiple stakeholders addressed in the SDGs? This roundtable will bring together activists, policymakers and UN representatives to ask what is needed to forge a new social compact that truly leaves no one behind.
      • 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

17.15: Closing Session


Please see the Programme for more details on the sessions.


Objectives and impacts


The Conference brings together expertise from across a diversity of countries and disciplines to:
  • facilitate knowledge exchange and mutual learning across academia, civil society, the UN and national governments, about progressive alliances and policy change for more equitable, sustainable, and just societies;
  • propose evidence-based recommendations for innovative ways in which diverse actors can work together to design and deliver a transformative eco-social compact for the 21st century; and
  • bring this new evidence and analysis, especially from the Global South, to bear on UN debates and policy processes, including implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNRISD will disseminate the evidence and key recommendations from the papers and conference discussions in formats that will support practitioners, activists and decision makers at local, national, regional and global levels.



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