“Inclusive, representative, and equitable world” With Rania Hoteit

Many people believe that an “inclusive, representative, and equitable world” is a utopian vision that is far fetched because our systems keep failing to simultaneously include all stakeholders in society at multiple levels, from the individual, community and local levels, to the regional and global levels. In the face of resistance to change, our main […]

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Many people believe that an “inclusive, representative, and equitable world” is a utopian vision that is far fetched because our systems keep failing to simultaneously include all stakeholders in society at multiple levels, from the individual, community and local levels, to the regional and global levels. In the face of resistance to change, our main challenge as a collective remains in creating a global paradigm shift towards a true recognition of each human’s inherent dignity beyond moral imperatives, as well as setting realistic measures geared towards a ‘society for all’ where ethical principles are put into practice and legislation guarantee the rights of all people.

Aspart of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Rania Hoteit.

Rania Hoteit is a multi-award winning serial entrepreneur, global impact leader, speaker, advisor and author with recognition from the White House, United Nations, UK Parliament, The Global CEO Excellence Award and other prestigious honors. As founder and CEO of ID4A Technologies, Rania has built a company whose developments are widely adopted, disrupting traditional supply chains, revolutionizing manufacturing processes, reducing labor exploitation in global production pipelines, improving workers’ skills, providing decent employment opportunities, and creating significant environmental, economic and social impact that reached over 1400 businesses and nearly 2 million people worldwide.

Under her leadership, ID4A Technologies has been recognized by the White House Office of Science and Technology for ‘Fostering The Development of Advanced Manufacturing in the US as The World’; ranked on the 2016 Entrepreneur360 List of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America”; honored on the 2018 Inc.5000 List of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies”; and awarded the 2019 Real Leaders “100 Top Impact Companies” Award, and LUX “World’s Best Emerging Design Technology Company” Award. Most recently, ID4A received the 2020 “Best in Business Services” San Francisco Award and the 2020 Technology Innovator Award for “Best Automated Manufacturing Technology Company”. (Learn more about ID4A)

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

There were extraordinary struggles at different phases, from navigating a difficult upbringing, to being an immigrant, a young woman and self-starter in a new country. I grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, when sectarian violence was at its peak in the late 80s. Our house was bombed several times, and our lives were under constant threat. At some point, my family managed to escape to the south of the country, then we fled to Syria and Jordan, and settled in Egypt until the war officially ended. When we went back home, our way of living had completely transformed. Since my parents were starting from scratch, new challenges emerged and our unity as a family began to deteriorate. In short, my childhood was marked by anxiety, destruction, displacement, losses and tragedies. Then my teenage years unfolded within an unstable household that was full of marital conflicts and economic hardships. When I graduated from high school, my parents were going through divorce and couldn’t afford paying my college tuition. Leaving the country was an opportunity to forge my own path, build a life of my creation, and fulfill ambitions I could never achieve at home. At the age of 18, I boarded the plane with only a $1000 in my pocket, no set plan, no clear vision of the future, and absolutely no idea how I will survive and continue my education. As I reflect on where I am today, I can’t possibly attribute my success to a single factor. But my early experiences and journey coming from Lebanon have undoubtably shaped my values, influenced my trajectory, and inspired my desire to succeed. Being exposed to adversity from a young age was the super power I used to build my resilience and discover passions, talents and strengths that I never knew existed. Being raised in a diverse environment opened my mind to a multitude of beliefs, perspectives and alternative ways of thinking. Being trilingual broadened my communication skills and enhanced my understanding of many cultures from around the world. All these factors were extremely advantageous to my personal growth and career development, and contributed immensely to the expansion my entrepreneurial ventures and impact initiatives internationally.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As an avid reader and passionate seeker of knowledge, there are hundreds of books from across the world that made a significant impact on me in different ways. But I often refer to “The Unbearable Lightness of

Being” by Milan Kundera, a philosophical novel set in Prague during the Czechoslovak communist period in 1968 that discusses concepts of lightness and heaviness through the lives of its characters by setting a stark contrast between Parmenides’ philosophy that each person has one life with all its occurrences only happening once, and Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal recurrence that all existence has been recurring and will continue to occur across infinite time and space. The key dichotomy in this novel resonates with me as an entrepreneur. On one hand, the concept of singular existence creates the urge to be bold, take risks and seek the magic that arises from conquering challenges and reaching success in spite of adversity because we have once chance. Whereas the concept of eternal recurrence allows for multiplicity, transformation and change. Which means if I follow a path and it doesn’t lead to the right place, I can course correct, forge a new path, or start over recurrently within one lifetime. This particularly applies to entrepreneurship and business where failures, setbacks and complete restarts are expected along the way. Philosophically it might sound complex, but that’s how most entrepreneurs are wired to function, whether we consciously realize it or not.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

One of my favorite quotes by the great poet and Sufi master Rumi: “As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.” These words can’t be any more relevant in moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. From my personal experiences and attitudes towards life, being a self-starter and successful entrepreneur requires having an unshakable sense of purpose and a deep trust in oneself. There is tremendous power in walking our journey with a sharply articulated vision in our mind and a firmly planted decision in our consciousness. Unfortunately, people are often afraid to walk out on the way because they lack determination and self-trust due to limiting beliefs, conditioning, and doubts. Instead of forging ahead, they hesitate, procrastinate, and quit before their dreams could ever blossom into great possibilities. The promise of a remarkable adventure and attainable success always lied in my strong self-belief, while maintaining a sense of humility and child-like curiosity to continuously evolve. For me, I always remind myself that I’m at the beginnings of my journey. There is so much more work to do, knowledge to seek, growth to reach, impact to make, and success to achieve in the future. As I keep walking in my purpose, the way always appeared, and I trust it always will.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

First, it’s important to understand that leadership is not a “job”. Not every individual who holds a position of management or authority is a true leader. Ultimately, leadership is about the power of your influence, and the willingness of people to adopt your vision and follow your lead. In my definition, leadership is both a science and an art form. It requires having a broad set of practical skills, along with creativity, emotional intelligence and a deep understanding of human psychology to exert positive influence in motivational and constructive ways. One must have a visionary mind, a courageous spirit, and a resilient character. From an organizational perspective, great leaders must be able to provide direction, support, and autonomy. Which means they can see where they’re heading and help others believe that their vision is achievable; they know how to organize support systems to ensure employees can do their jobs productively; and they put trust in the competences of their teams to achieve goals. Above all, resilience is a foundation for great leadership. It takes a resilient leader to inspire and motivate, especially when crises or challenges arise.

The problem is most leaders emphasize developing their visionary, practical and strategic thinking skills, but often fail to effectively listen, interact, communicate, connect and empathize with others. We frequently see examples of figures rising to prominence and being praised due to their great business or political schemes, while their people’s leadership failures get ignored. However, empathy has a major impact on the success or failure in leadership because it builds inherent character’s qualities of relatedness, kindness, respectfulness, trustworthiness, and fairness. It’s the most critical driver of any leader’s overall performance. When leaders have the ability to empathize, not only they engage people effectively, but they lead their communities and organizations to higher levels of innovation, progress and growth. On this note, there is plenty of substantial evidence on the correlation between empathy and performance. If we look at the top rated companies on the Global Empathy Index, we see they’re generating 50% more earnings per employee than those rated at the bottom. That said, empathy isn’t only fundamental to elevating the quality of human interactions at a societal level, but it’s also critical for business growth and leadership success.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Generally, there isn’t one situational ritual that I practice to release stress or prepare myself prior to high stakes meetings, talks, and major decisions. I have a holistic approach for creating balanced states across interrelated dimensions that are equally vital to reaching my own optimal level of mental and physical wellbeing. It takes consistent repetition of implementing practices, habits, and activities that support one’s evolutionary process and provide the self-care, awareness, and respect our own bodies, minds, and souls need in order to reach an ultimate state of balance. Being a busy leader adds a whole set of challenges to prioritizing my personal needs. There was a period of time when I neglected myself in the thick of building companies, managing multiple initiatives, and dedicating my energy towards fulfilling the demands of my enormous responsibilities. My health was deteriorating due to severe exhaustion for several years, until I made radical changes towards a more fulfilling quality of life to ensure I can subdue stress and protect my own physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. At this point, there are multiple self-care rituals that I incorporate in my daily routines. My intellectual wellbeing tops my priorities, so I avidly read, write, learn and engage in activities that expand my knowledge base and skill set. Spiritually, I check-in with myself and assess my reality on regular basis to stay aligned with my vision and connected to my purpose. Physically, I’m a highly active and athletic individual. It’s crucial for me to consume a healthy diet and exercise several times a week. Mentally, I practice mindfulness and mediate nightly before going to sleep, which allow me to clear my mind, focus my attention, manage my emotions, and control my stress levels at all times. When it comes to my surrounding environment, I maintain a minimalist lifestyle which helps me to feel peaceful, organized and grounded. Socially, I ensure I’m only investing in the right people, nurturing encouraging relationships, and developing networks that are constructive at all levels. That said, it’s an ongoing process of conscious self-optimization that hasn’t only been vital to increasing my readiness for any situation, but it’s also been extremely supportive to achieving my goals and thriving in everything I do.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

This crisis evolved to the boiling point it has due to many social, political and economic factors. In the midst of combatting the coronavirus outbreak and its devastating public health consequences, the United States is facing the worst economic decline since the Great Depression and our labor market is undergoing enormous stress as a result of stay-at-home orders, spread concerns, business closures and reduced demand. Within this context, it also became evident that unemployment rates and job losses have been concentrated in poor communities of color where blacks and other minorities are facing significantly worse economic and health effects related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, this came as no surprise. We notoriously have a dramatic divide between the rich and the poor, especially in certain gentrified parts of the country; in addition to the systemic racism that continues to segregate communities of color from access to opportunity and upward mobility by making it more difficult to secure housing, employment, quality education, healthcare, and fair treatment in the criminal justice system.

Obviously the horrific police killing of Gorge Floyd in Minneapolis was the boiling point at which massive public outrage erupted and violence escalated as protests spiraled into chaos across different cities. This incident is not new either. There is a long, painful history of police brutality in the US accompanied with perpetual oppression, harassment, disenfranchisement and racial profiling that has disproportionately affected black communities and minority groups for generations. The predominance of African Americans among victims further unveils the deeply seeded structural racism within our cultural, political and criminal justice systems that continues to enable white supremacy and exacerbate ethnic inequities through biased policies, practices and norms. In fact, police kill black people at a rate six times higher than they kill white people in certain parts of the US, with the most stark differences in the northern Midwest, especially in Chicago, and in north-eastern states like New York. Needless to mention that police officers are rarely held accountable and justly prosecuted to the level their crimes deserve.

Without a doubt, we reap what we sow as an inequitable society. While we continue to elevate the public discourse about race, diversity, equality and inclusion in America, we must urgently move into actionable solutions to address these inequities across all our public and private institutions, organizations and sectors. Until our systemic issues are resolved, this racial volcano will automatically keep erupting.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

For me, the emphasis has always been on making positive change and empowering people through all my entrepreneurial ventures, impact initiatives, investments, partnerships and philanthropic activities. Over the last decade, my efforts have taken many forms. Holding my vision as CEO despite negative perceptions that profitability equates with low societal value, we scaled a high-growth company while integrating greater causes in our business strategies and driving massive impact. Through our commitments to the SDGs 5, 8, 9, 10 and 12, we’ve impacted over 1400 businesses and nearly 2 million people by the end of 2019. Due to these efforts, more than 285 thousand people gained employment in industrial sectors among which are 64,316 individuals of minority groups; 89,900 women who were provided steady, decent jobs; and 2,764 women who were trained for leadership positions. Furthermore, as part of our mission to reduce global labor exploitation in production pipelines more than 1.5 million people have been saved from exploitative jobs, including 426,159 women and girls.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, our efforts as a company have taken many forms as well. Since the beginning of the crisis, we’ve made significant contributions to the COVID-19 response by leveraging our funds, high-tech infrastructure, advanced manufacturing capabilities and global networks to support front line workers and underserved communities. First, we’ve donated $35 million to accelerate the production and distribution of critical medical products and PPEs in collaboration with our global partners in 25 countries. Second, we’ve donated $1 million to 10 local public schools for underserved students to help provide critical services for more than 3,000 low-income children and their families. Above all, we’ve been working hard to maintain the highest level of service to our clients, partners and suppliers around the globe while making a difference in the world and providing the utmost support, safety and security to our 334 employees and field workers across America, Asia and Europe.

Aside from leading our initiatives, I’ve mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs and helped other organizations build strategies to promote diversity in the workplace and ensure equality amongst their teams. I also have a wide range of investments in women-led businesses, causes and initiatives that tackle diversity, inclusion and equality gaps across areas of education, technology, business and leadership.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

From a leadership perspective, I believe companies can be powerful platforms for social change, and leaders have a responsibility to look beyond profit to make positive impact on the world. A diverse executive team is important not only because it facilitates a top-down approach that permeates through the entire organization and adds value to all aspects of a business, but it also creates an immense ripple effect in society when all people feel represented and included across positions of leadership. Thus, it’s vitally important to build an organizational culture where everyone has equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunities to thrive, lead, and succeed. When we have ‘diversity in the workplace,’ it means that our companies truly reflect the many facets of the communities we serve including age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, as well as people with differing cultural references, experiences, educational backgrounds, personality types, and physical abilities.

Diversity has a tangible impact on a company’s bottom line. According to the Center for American Progress, diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism. It drives economic growth, captures a greater market share, helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs, fosters an innovative workforce, and creates competitive economies in a globalized world. In that sense, a diverse organizational leadership is extremely important to building bridges across boundaries, and leaders must be able to ignite a collaborative spirit to foster innovation within their companies. But even when a company is vastly diverse, if unique perspectives aren’t being heard and if those different people do not feel a sense of belonging, the impact can be lost. Therefore, we must simultaneously cultivate inclusion. Inclusion is when every single person is valued, heard, respected, empowered, and feels a true sense of belonging. It goes beyond tolerance to actually celebrating and elevating every person in the room. A report by Salesforce Research found that companies who actively make their cultures more inclusive are better positioned to achieve strong customer loyalty and boost employees’ engagement and productivity. Furthermore, a recent McKinsey study showed that companies which are gender diverse are 21% more likely to outperform others; and those which are ethnically diverse are 33% more likely to outperform others. Their study conducted on major companies’ financial performance according to gender diversity at senior levels reported high returns on equity correlated with greater diversity. In essence, women senior leaders and board directors are connected with better financial performance. McKinsey also found that $12T can be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. So cultivating equality is not only the right thing to do, it’s also smart because it has tangible economic impact.

All that being said, equality, diversity and inclusion are integral parts of moving an entire business forward, if not an entire society. I believe the most innovative and profitable companies of the future will be those who foster diversity and inclusion, maximize the potential of every employee, adapt to the unique needs of their customers, and operate with the full understanding of both the societal and the business value of equality.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

In our pursuit to create a truly inclusive, representative, and equitable society, it’s imperative to fully address the profound political, social, economic and governance issues underlying exclusion, marginalization and inequality. Since 1948, international human rights law has been explicitly grounded on the moral assumption that people have equal rights. But we still have a long way to end patterns of inequality that are reinforced by imbalanced power dynamics and intergenerational transmission through various groups, geographies, and institutions. To ensure social cohesion and fair treatment for all, an integrated approach guided by equity as a principle is critical to shape particular areas of policy and make progress across levels. The core priorities and steps we must take are:

1. Eradicate poverty: Poverty is an indispensable requirement for increasing equity and ensuring sustainable development. In addition to the lack of resources, poverty manifests into high health risks, limited access to education and basic services, decreased economic mobility, increased crime, exploitation, violence and conflicts; all due to severe deprivation, marginalization and governance incompetency. Today, more than 820 million people around the globe do not have enough food and 736 million live in extreme poverty, half of whom are children as reported by the UNICEF. Childhood poverty is particularly harmful because of its lifelong consequences and generational negative impact on society. Such economic inequalities are not only prevalent in developing countries. OECD data reveals nearly 40% of people living across 28 of the world’s most developed countries are economically vulnerable. In the US, the official poverty rate was last estimated by the Census Bureau at 11.8% in 2018; with 38.1 million people being poor and one in eight Americans living below the poverty line. However, this estimate was argued to have excluded a significant number of people suffering deprivation due to outdated metrics. In fact, our system has repeatedly failed to set a well-defined poverty line that reflects shared social understandings among Americans about what counts as a minimally decent life. Most recently, we’re experiencing the pandemic’s crippling effect on the US economy with a soaring unemployment rate, widened racial disparities and increased poverty among underrepresented groups. The World Bank also estimates that the global extreme poverty rate could rise to 9% this year, exacerbating the grievances of inequality further. At a national level, we can improve our social protection programs, labour market regulations, taxation policies and redistribution actions to provide the poor with resources, human development tools and productive assets. On a whole, we can’t achieve our goal when large population segments are struggling to fulfill their most basic needs and the individual’s possibilities for self-actualization are extremely reduced or unfairly eliminated.

2. Provide universal public services: As part of fulfilling basic needs and ensuring a minimum level of wellbeing, we must prioritize providing universal access to critical public services, such as education and basic healthcare. Access to education is a key component to ending generational cycles of poverty and providing a strong foundation for sustainable development. Although there has been an unprecedented transformation in literacy over the last few centuries, many people are still left behind because of poverty, discrimination, and limited access to a quality education without financial hardship. The same reasons underly the limited access to healthcare. Today, about 260 million children and youth around the world are out of school and 773 million are illiterate adults, most of whom are women and girls. Without urgent action, in a decade 825 million children — half of the world’s youth — will not have the most basic skills necessary for jobs of the future. With barriers to education, earning potential and employment in life, these people are more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes and less likely to participate in the decisions that affect them — threatening their ability to improve their living conditions and build a better future for their communities. The global education crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 is also causing great concerns about a potential generational catastrophe, with over a billion students affected by school closures. According to the World Bank and World Health Organization, at least half of the world’s population is too poor to access basic health care services due to stratified wealth and income inequality. Systemic poverty also prevents certain groups from being able to purchase access to health care. This is particularly evident in the US as an estimated 30.5 million people do not have coverage because the cost of health care insurance is unaffordable. Uninsured working-age adults are disproportionately of low income minorities. That said, providing universal access to public services requires strengthening underlying institutions, improving their quality and delivery, and ensuring that no people are ever excluded.

3. Tackle Power Imbalances and Empower Disadvantaged People: By using the term ‘equitable’ in the context of creating a just and fair society, we make explicit the fact that rebalancing power relations and resource distribution is necessary to achieve more equal and inclusive systems. In order to create social inclusion, we must tackle the entrenched power imbalances in discriminatory behaviors and structural differences that sustain inequity. On one hand, activating inclusion processes involves addressing the individual’s beliefs, perceptions, and prejudices that lead to discrimination against others based on characteristics such as physical appearance, age, status, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or political and cultural affiliations. On the other hand, it involves formal levels of engagement addressing the institutions’ policies, practices, and decision-making procedures to ensure they reflect a systematic understanding of equity that respects the inherent dignity of each person, without discrimination against others based on their attributes, and social, economic or physical disadvantages. Empowerment is also vital for breaking cycles of exclusion and increasing inclusive participation in the societal framework. That said, it’s a shared responsibility between institutions, organizations and civil society to set strategic responses that support development assistance, capacity building, and access to employment for vulnerable groups, including women, people in poverty, youth, older persons, people with disabilities, LGBT communities, indigenous peoples, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as individuals with stigmatized diseases.

4. End Exploitation and Provide Decent Employment: In contemporary philosophy exploitation is defined as taking unfair advantage of people’s vulnerability to benefit from their work. Which translates into powerful capitalists taking unfair advantage of workers to reduce their cost and maximize their profits. Since labor markets in capitalist economies are fundamentally tilted against workers’ ability to negotiate effectively with employers, the vicious cycle of labor exploitation often begins by paying the lowest wages and extends to all kinds of humans rights violations and abuses; especially in communities or countries with extreme poverty, political instability, corruption, and lack of regulations. Companies’ strategic choices particularly dictate where their products are produced and how workers get exploited during different stages of the production cycle, before these products reach global markets. Based on the International Labor Organization and the United Nations, around 40 million people worldwide are in modern slavery; with 29 million women and girls being disproportionately affected and all being exploited by private sector and state authorities. Almost 16 million people are in forced sexual exploitation and 25 million in forced labor in domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and mining sectors. Nearly 218 million children between ages 5 and 17 are in employment instead of schools — of which 152 million are in child labor and 73 million are doing extremely hazardous work that threaten their health and safety. Child domestic workers are exceptionally vulnerable to trafficking, forced labor, sexual violence and health issues. In the United States, horrific exploitation, workers abuse and labor violations are prevalent against people of color and immigrants. In fact, 6% of the US labor force are underpaid and mistreated but cannot safely complain or sue employers that exploit them. Overall, labor exploitation generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year in the private economy, with the highest numbers recorded in construction, manufacturing, and mining industries, according to ILO reports. All that said, it’s of utmost importance to target the defective policies and exploitative strategies deployed in labor markets that only entrench the profound inequalities affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations.

In our efforts to empower disadvantaged people, reduce inequalities, and achieve sustainable economic growth for all, we must provide decent jobs, create safe work environments, and enable workers to be built into the new economy and re-skilled to thrive in tomorrow’s workplace. Technology also plays a critical role in this progress, especially in today’s globalized economy. Over the last decade, I have extensively shared my vision for the future of work and how technology can be leveraged to create more equitable societies. As an entrepreneur and impact leader, I made it an integral part of my mission to address labor exploitation in global production pipelines and eliminate companies’ incentive to exploit workers by implementing cutting-edge automation technologies, and guiding businesses with practical steps to reduce their cost, increase profits, and provide more jobs without compromising human dignity or sacrificing millions of lives. Through this collaborative process, we’ve also supported our clients to invest in the up-skilling and training of their workforce as they move into new jobs, and enabled them to create more equitable employment opportunities and safer workplaces. Although we’ve made significant impact that reached over 1400 businesses and nearly 2 million people worldwide so far, greater progress can be achieved if we increase our collective efforts. But it will require solid accountability regimes and further cooperation between global businesses, educational systems, labor inspection, social protection, and the enforcement of international laws to completely eradicate all forms of labor exploitation from supply chains.

5. Sustain peace. The unaddressed grievances of inequality, injustice and exclusion are often expressed in criminality, violent rebellion, conflict and war that inevitably create further violence and human insecurity. This interconnectedness is particularly evident in already poor countries and marginalized regions; with social exclusion and poverty leading to conflicts, and conflicts impairing economic performance, thus increasing poverty and the risk of conflict relapse. British economist Paul Collier calculated that civil war reduces growth by around 2.3% per year, so a 7-year war typically leaves a country around 15% poorer than it was. Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that it takes an average of 11.1 years for countries to regain their pre-conflict per capita income levels. Living through civil war and forced displacement, I experienced these effects first hand as economic hardships dominated our household and political instability continued after the war ended. In the US, outrage and violence also persist due exceptional inequality issues. Until we create more equitable societies, we can’t possibly sustain peace locally, regionally or globally. All that said, peace-building should have a central priority in our responses to challenges because it’s the key enabler of reconciliation, security, prosperity, social justice, and sustainable development. Without peace, it’s impossible to build durable solutions, and without durable solutions it’s difficult for peace to be consolidated.

Many people believe that an “inclusive, representative, and equitable world” is a utopian vision that is far fetched because our systems keep failing to simultaneously include all stakeholders in society at multiple levels, from the individual, community and local levels, to the regional and global levels. In the face of resistance to change, our main challenge as a collective remains in creating a global paradigm shift towards a true recognition of each human’s inherent dignity beyond moral imperatives, as well as setting realistic measures geared towards a ‘society for all’ where ethical principles are put into practice and legislation guarantee the rights of all people.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

At various points in history, humanity was faced with major challenges, catastrophes and crises. Until today, humans are racially divided and governance structures breed poverty, corruption, and injustice around the globe. Once again, we’re caught up in racial turmoil because of the persistent structural racism and failure to organize unitary actions that can reduce sharp inequalities in America as the world. Clearly, we have a long way to go. But we’ve also made progress over the past decades, regardless how excruciatingly slow it might seem. Amid unrest however, I am optimistic that race relations can be improved and systemic issues can be resolved as long as we persist in demanding change and pushing our society in the right direction. I believe that intelligent optimism, cooperation, empathy, and ethical discernment are the most powerful tools we can leverage to dismantle divisiveness and create a more equal world. If we intend to safeguard humanity from its self-destructive patterns and lead our evolution forward, everything we do has to become part of a collective vision to preserve human dignity and protect the rights of all people. Hopefully we see massive actions towards drastic systemic change as we come out of this pandemic.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are several people in the world I’d love to have a private conversation with, including global spiritual leader and the father of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh; groundbreaking social psychologist and pioneer of the Growth Mindset theory, Dr. Carol Dweck; renowned speaker and author, Simon Sinek; and many others. Obviously these individuals belong to different generations and the scope of their impact varies. But I wish to meet them because I respect the contributions they’ve made with their ideas, teachings, or advocacies around the globe. In case one of them or their reps sees this, I invite them to reach out when possible.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers are welcome to visit my website, subscribe to my newsletter, submit a contact form if they need to reach me, and follow my social media pages for inspiring content and updates via links below:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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