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World Values Day provides an opportunity to think on our most deeply held values and explore and act on them with others. Individuals, groups and organisations all take part. Many ideas and resources to help them plan their events /activities are provided on the World Values Day website. Everyone is encouraged to share what they have done on social media or directly with friends and colleagues to inspire others.
Trust as a Value
Faith in institutions and in each other is vital during a crisis. In an increasingly globalized world, trust among governments is a fundamental ingredient necessary to cope with any mega-challenge, whether it is related to health, the environment, peace and security, or economic and financial stability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that trust in institutions and between institutions is necessary to cope with global challenges. Trust is not a simple concept, however.
It has been suggested that in addition to skills and knowledge, a distinct portion of human capital - the value of a workforce - has to do with an ability to associate with other people, which can be critical not only for business but for other aspects of everyday existence as well.
Trust impacts our ability to make decisions and take risks. Indeed, an entire nation’s well-being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by the level of trust inherent in society. Some scholars have noted the role of trust in collective action situations, and the important role it plays in maintaining social networks and building communities.
The role of trust is widely recognized as a pillar of public organizations. When the World Health Organization, for example, seeks to provide guidance on how to limit the spread of a new type of virus about which relatively little is known, it cannot fulfil its role if it does not enjoy a certain level of trust from both people and governments.
It is multi-layered, and comprised of a range of attributes: credibility, faithfulness, information sharing, and the expectation of cooperation between partners. Trust is also a feeling, and an attitude; it expresses an awareness of safety and security and helps form a frame of mind that influences behavior, personal relationships, a sense of community, and confidence in leaders. It provides the glue for the social context in which communities function and businesses operate.
The ability to associate depends, in turn, on the degree to which communities share norms and values - and are able to subordinate individual interests to those of the larger group. Trust can be a result of these shared values, and it has a potentially large and measurable economic impact.
Valuing the Environment
Increasing sustainability and combatting climate change require shared values. Natural capital enables human life and well-being through ecosystem services like climate regulation, fresh water flows, arable land, and natural fuels. Natural capital is limited, however.
Efforts to establish shared values that can propel us down a more environmentally-sustainable path have included the founding of Earth Day in 1970, the United Nations “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015 - which established the Sustainable Development Goals.
The goals key on shared values in order to set targets related to resource and energy efficiency, circular economy practices, decarbonization, and nature-based solutions that can re-orient development towards more responsible economic growth.
Applying more innovative economic indicators that go beyond GDP to focus on values could encourage better policy choices. Sustainable finance can play a significant role in this regard, by providing the necessary (and often difficult to obtain) funding for sustainable infrastructure in developing economies - and for renovating and refurbishing existing infrastructure in developed economies in more sustainable ways, in fields like energy (using more renewables), mobility (better facilitating public transportation and electric vehicles), and telecommunications (finding more sustainable ways to provide computing power and data storage).
Cities poised for massive population increases are ideal places to focus investment aimed at bolstering our “natural capital,” or the natural resources on land and in the atmosphere that provide the essential functions necessary to maintain our planet’s metabolism.
The current, generally-accepted model of economic development is unsustainable; several elements of natural capital are under severe stress, causing severe environmental damage, social conflict, and economic instability. This stress has only grown worse over time, despite clear warnings about how to best address it.
It can be and is being quantitatively and qualitatively depleted by human activity (the cleaner air enjoyed following COVID-19 mobility restrictions vividly illustrated the impact of this activity). Increasing environmental sustainability will mean boosting our capacity to use renewable resources, and to progressively substitute the consumption of non-renewable with renewable resources.
Without increased commitments to shared values related to sustainability, the extinction of species, pollution, and the climate crisis may therefore become irreversible.
Valuing Human Dignity
The world is getting richer, but wealth is being concentrated in fewer hands. Inequality is only getting worse, and exacting a heavy toll on dignity.
The issue of inequality relative to economic development is receiving renewed public attention, as it has only worsened in many parts of the world since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
That is, while global inequality has generally declined as millions of people are lifted out of poverty, inequality within countries has continued to rise. The world’s 2,153 billionaires hold more cumulative wealth than 4.6 billion people - a group equal in size to more than half of the global population - according to a report published in early 2020 by Oxfam International.
That in turn has helped trigger the rise of populist political movements that exploit fears about job security and immigration. The risks created by persistent inequality threaten to trigger long-term impacts on individual rights - and on personal dignity. This assault on dignity further fuels the appeal of populist rhetoric, aggravates levels of political polarization, and threatens to erode the social fabric in many countries.
The recognition of the inherent dignity of every living person must be shared by all societies - and translated into action aimed at reducing economic and social inequality, providing equal access to essential services and goods as well as equal opportunities, and securing human rights and individual freedom. These rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to work and receive an education.
In addition to the wealth gap, other forms of inequality have also robbed many people of their dignity. The WEF has noted that the global gender parity gap in terms of health, education, politics, and the workplace only continues to widen, for example. And reports have detailed systemic racial discrimination creating significant social and financial barriers in countries including the US and the United Kingdom.
Developments like this have a very real human cost, not least in the form of psychological and emotional strain. Indeed, young people are increasingly suffering from mental health problems.
The Common Good
Valuing Digital Equity
The concept is at least as old as Aristotle, but has never been more relevant than now. The common good should always be viewed as a shared standpoint for making the right decisions in a way that bolsters these interests, related to safety, health, public policy, corporate governance, and sustainable development. Taken together, all of these factors can potentially contribute to the common good. Mere socio-economic welfare is not an end in itself, however - the common good is valuable only if it allows people and societies to attain their highest aspirations.
The “common good” refers to both the interests that members of a community have in common, and the material, cultural, and institutional factors that allow them to serve those interests. The common good has been a recurring theme throughout the history of philosophy, politics, and civic life - Aristotle talked about members of a political community being part of a “friendship” where citizens wish one another well, and Plato held that political solidarity requires channeling wealth into the public domain.
In any era and in any society, the common good stems from the concepts of dignity, unity, and equality. It assumes that people cannot find fulfilment in themselves because they exist both with and for others, making the common good the ultimate life goal. The responsibility for accomplishing the common good falls to individuals as well as to all social units ranging from the family, to companies, to local and national governments, and to nations themselves - because the common good is a core element of and reason for their existence.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacted a staggering death toll while sowing uncertainty and financial chaos around the world, has clearly demonstrated that the achievement of a global public good - namely a healthy recovery and all of the attendant social and economic benefits to result from that - requires coordinated action among all actors including both public institutions and private businesses. Even in more stable periods, this coordination is required to effectively pursue common interests including peace, effective democracy, sufficient and satisfactory employment, equal justice and application of the law, and protection of the environment and natural resources.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to fully participate in public life. Digital equity is emerging as a shared value and a global goal - in order to enable everyone to have the information technology capacity necessary for full participation, in political and economic terms, in modern society.
According to the United Nations, just two countries - the US and China - account for as much as 90% of the market capitalization value of the world’s 70 largest digital platform companies, 75% of all patents related to blockchain, and half of all spending on the Internet of Things. Meanwhile only slightly more than half of the global population was using the internet as of the end of 2019, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
True digital inclusion means doing everything necessary to ensure that people, including the most disadvantaged, have access to the information they need. Digital equity is necessary to create fair opportunities for employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. Its value was particularly apparent as the COVID-19 crisis spread across developing economies, when many people had relatively limited access to potentially life-saving information.
It is commonly accepted that digital inclusion strategies and policies need to address technology access (including affordability and inclusive design), the ability to adopt technologies (through digital literacy, and adequate safety and security), and establishing the right conditions to apply technologies (though workforce development, education, health care, and civic engagement).
Information and communication technologies have developed dramatically since the late 20th century, changing lives and ways of thinking and ushering in an information-based era that differs significantly from previous periods. Digital inequity has been an unfortunate side effect.
In addition, the design and delivery of devices and services can create unnecessary barriers if they do not recognize the particular needs of people in different age groups.
The root causes of it vary: inadequate or inaccessible infrastructure, ethnic or racial discrimination as a basis for not investing in or delivering technology and technology-related services to specific areas or populations, and barriers related to socioeconomic status, education level and literacy, special needs or disabilities, or language ability.
Values are essential - particularly in times of crisis. As the fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate people, organizations, and communities, they provide a basis for social justice and belief in necessary institutions. They also express personal and collective judgments about what is important - influenced by culture, religion, and laws.
Values can potentially spur purposeful action aimed at increasing equality, decreasing harm to the environment, and improving global health.