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An Imaginary Conversation on Myth, Reason and Religion

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“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”― Plato, The Symposium

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”   ― Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

Author’s Preface: What follows is a spirited, imaginary conversation across time, between a two well-known scholars: one an ancient philosopher and the other the foremost modern authority on myths and symbols, at a café in Athens overlooking the acropolis. While the conversation is purely imaginary, not overly academic, and rather colloquial at that, the integrity of the thought of its interlocutors on myth, reason and religion has been scrupulously respected, for not to do so would be to fail at arriving at the truth and run the danger of falling into the worst kind of sophistry as described by the ancients.

Plato: Good morning Professor Campbell!

Campbell: Good morning Professor Plato! I trust you don’t mind the title, even though you are so famous that your nick name would suffice to identify you. After all, you were the founder- director-manager, the first professor so to speak, of the ancient Greek Academy; a supreme intellectual institutional achievement which lasted a thousand years.

Plato. Oh, yes, yes, why don’t we simply dispense with formal academic titles? May I just call you Joe and you call me Plato? After all, we are not at a formal symposium or at a formal academic conference; we’re just sipping cognac and chatting at a café in modern Athens in view of the acropolis.

Campbell. By all means, Plato. In modern America, in fact, we prefer to dispense with too many social formalities and pomposity as you seem to prefer in Europe. Perhaps later we may even engage in a chess game and a pipe smoke, should you have the time. Those are pastimes suitable to reflective minds such as ours. I could teach you, if you are unfamiliar with those pastimes.

Plato. Sounds like a good idea, Joe. That way, while we may be discussing transcendent ideas beyond time and space unfamiliar to most ordinary people, we shall not give the false impression to passerby that we are two of those stereotypical unpractical philosophers with a beard, with their heads in the clouds of Mount Olympus, exchanging recondite abstract theories and reveries while smoking a pipe in an club’s armchair; rather, that we are practical men of the world, clever and democratic enough to mingle with the people while putting theory ahead of practice.

Campbell. Indeed, Plato, indeed. Human nature being what it is, it cannot have been a piece of cake for you to manage the logistics of the administration of a great academy and keep discipline among rowdy students and petty competing professors and their contemptuous ad hominem antics and juvenile slanderous attacks on each other. I know something about that. I am an insider at the academy, where I have sojourned all my life, but in reality, intellectually and spiritually that is, I have always felt like an outsider, a non-conventional academic who did not even bother to finish his Ph.D. dissertation, albeit I am presently widely known as the foremost mythology expert and scholar of the Western world.

Plato. Ah yes, I know your reputation, I have also heard about “the Ph.D. octopus,” the essay on the subject made famous by our colleague, your fellow countryman, William James. Excellent insightful essay; an exposé of sorts, it almost made me ashamed of having been the source of the term “academic.”

Campbell: Oh, well. Tell me Plato, do you think we moderns are justified in recognizing you as the first philosopher who brought to a head the conundrums of myth/history, reason/myth, religion/myth; all the more since you yourself repeatedly utilizes mythology and concocted myths galore in your dialogues and treatises, the best known of course being the myth of the cave as found in The Republic?

Plato: Indeed, Joe. The Myth of the Cave, whose narrative occurs in the Republic is a fantastical story, but it does not deal explicitly with the beyond, and is thus different from the traditional myths I myself used and invented. Strictly speaking, the Cave is an analogy, not a myth. Also in the Republic, Socrates says that until philosophers take control of a city “the politeia whose story we are telling in words (muthologein) will not achieve its fulfillment in practice”. The construction of the ideal city itself may be called a “myth” in the sense that it depicts an imaginary polis where we imagine the happy state.

In the Phaedrus I use the word muthos to name the rhetorical exercise which Socrates carries out, but this seems to be a loose usage of the word. In any case, when I inveighed against the bad poets I certainly did not have the likes of Homer and his Odyssey or Iliad in mind. I respect and revere the likes of Homer, or Shakespeare or Dante. What I was critiquing was the mind-set of those banal mediocre poets, the poets who write poems for wedding receptions and then lay claim to the title of great poet; those with no poetical vision who couldn’t even write a decent novel, never mind an epic poem. Did you know that in my youth I had aspirations toward poetry; an aspiration that never left me?

Campbell: Yes I know, Plato, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit judging from the complex beauty of your ancient Greek prose which depicts your myths so well and fit harmoniously the form and the content. But what I am particularly interested in is finding out why you included myths such as “the myth of the cave” in the Republic? How did that help your rational philosophical discourse about good governance, democracy, justice? You seem to conceive of myth as a clue to the search for life’s meaning. I, on the other hand, see them as a clue to the spiritual potentialities of human life. For me myths are the ongoing search for “the experience of life,” to “finding one’s bliss.” They seem to tell us that the meaning of life is the experience of life, that eternity isn’t some later time, or a long time; that in fact it has nothing to do with time! It is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time usually cuts out. I may be wrong but it seems to me that if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere; that the experience of eternity and transcendence right here and now is the function of life.

Plato: Oh well. Frankly, I am a bit surprised that you should even ask such a question as the eminent mythologist that you are. As you well know, mythology as well as drama sprang directly from the realm of the religious and the symbolical as stories about the gods and their all too human and petty interactions with humans and the universe and nature, stories which at first sight resemble children’s fairy tales, but when looked at closely reveal certain universal truths which later on a psychologist like Jung dubbed “archetypes of the human condition”; the journey archetype, for instance, being one of those. Jung also discovered that those archetypes are universal and occur among people who have had precious little cultural interaction with each other.

This origin from the religious and the symbolical is often overlooked in modern theories on mythology. Dante’s journey in the Divine Comedy is one concrete example of a mythological journey which remains tied to its religious origins, so is Homer’s in the Odyssey, so is Captain Picard journey on the Enterprise space ship; the journey is always a journey into the self looking for its origins and its final destination. They are not historically documented journeys; they are more in the realm of the subjective, the imaginative and even that of the prophetic, more in the way of a myth, but a myth that repeats itself in many forms and among many people, revealing a hidden deeper truth, a truth that goes beyond a mere empirical positivistic explanation of the visible material phenomena. They may not be historically or empirically verifiable but they are certainly real since they exist in the realm of the intelligible just as logic, or mathematics, or astronomy are imbedded in the realm of the intelligible even when utilized for concrete material necessities arising from the positivistic realm of what is empirically verifiable. This akin to belief in the gods or religious faith which remains subjectively even when we are unable to prove it empirically.

Campbell: Well put Plato; you sound quite modern; sometimes I wonder if we moderns have not reinvented the wheel. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I would say that you have caught up and even surpassed us moderns in the understanding of the essence or nature of myth: it is not to be considered a lie, or as the mere sugaring of the bitter pill of truth, as you put it when you criticized the bad poets, but a deeper truth to be decoded, interpreted and reflected upon. That’s basically what I try to do in my various books on mythology, especially the one titled “The Hero with a thousand Faces.”

Plato: I have read all your books and they are quite illuminating on the subject of mythology. They invariably expand one’s intellectual-spiritual horizon on the relationship of myth religion and reason.

Campbell: thank you for your kind words Plato, but could you indulge me a bit more by explaining to me your summation of ancient Greek mythology mentioned by you, of Zeus splitting the human being in half so that from then on one half has been searching for the other half? Most scholars, including Jung, interpret that statement of yours via a biological metaphor as the masculine in search of the feminine looking for wholeness, but I suspect that there is much more to it.

Plato: your suspicion is well founded, Joe. The Janus face represents the split which occurred when rationality, beginning with Socrates, my mentor, overpowered the poetical and the mythological so that the poetical began to be defined as the deceptive which lies and puts sugar on the bitter truth of rationality to make it more bearable. Your modern philosopher Pascal points to this error with his statement that “the heart has reasons that reason knows not.” Also there is another highly insightful philosopher of history, Giambattista Vico, from the 18th century, who identified the mistake of much of Western philosophy beginning with me alas, not only in its totalizing tendencies but in the attempt to subside the imaginative and the poetical under the rational and the empirical. The two realms really belong together and have been searching for each other since they were split asunder by Positivism in modern times. He expresses all this in his masterpiece The New Science (1725). When myth is split from the rational it becomes harmful, it ends up in myths such as that of “the master race.”

When reason is split from myth and the poetical it begins to rationalize and justify what ought never be rationalized and tolerates unethical behaviour. Indeed Pascal’s and Vico’s corrections, the corrections of those two Christian humanists were very much needed within the ethical Western tradition, as Emmanuel Levinas has also pointed out in the 20th century via his concept of “the other.”

As you know, in the Protagoras I make a distinction between muthos and logos, where muthos appears to refer to a story and logos to an argument. This distinction is also echoed in the Theaetetus and the Sophist. In the Theaetetus Socrates discusses Protagoras’ main doctrine and refers to it as “the muthos of Protagoras.” Socrates there calls a muthos the teaching according to which active and passive motions generate perception and perceived objects. In the Sophist, the Visitor from Elea tells his interlocutors that Xenophanes, Parmenides and other Eleatic, Ionian (Heraclitus included) and Sicilian philosophers “appear to me to tell us a myth, as if we were children”.

By calling all those philosophical doctrines muthoi I do not claim that they are myths proper, but that they are, or appear to be, non-argumentative. In the Republic I may come across as fairly hostile to particular traditional myths. And in many dialogues I condemn the use of images in knowing things and claim that true philosophical knowledge should avoid images. But I ask you: does Book X of the Republic offer a single repudiation of the best poets of the Hellenic world? Try as you may, you will not find one. What you will find is a complicated counterpoint in which resistance and attraction to their work are intertwined, a counterpoint which (among other things) explores the problem of whether, and in what sense, it might be possible to be a ‘philosophical lover’ of poetry” a la Vico.

I wanted to persuade a wider audience, so I had to make a compromise. Sometime I use myth as a supplement to philosophical discourse Most importantly, in the Timaeus, I actually attempt to overcome the opposition between muthos and logos: human reason has limits, and when it reaches them it has to rely on myth. That is to say, the telling of stories is a necessary adjunct to, or extension of, philosophical argument, one which recognizes our human limitations, and—perhaps—the fact that our natures combine irrational elements with the rational.”

Consider the fact that I chose to express my thoughts through a narrative form, namely that of the dialogue. So you may say that the use of a fictional narrative form (the dialogue, such as the prosaic one we are having right now) will mean that any conclusions reached, by whatever method (including that of academic ‘rational argument’), may themselves be treated as having the status of a kind of myth. So, a sense of the fictionality of human utterance, as provisional, inadequate, and at best approximating to the truth, pervade my writing at its deepest level. It is not that myth fills in the gaps that reason leaves, but that human reason itself ineradicably displays some of the features we characteristically associate with story-telling.

Campbell: Wow! This is interesting stuff indeed! Perhaps we moderns need to reinvent the wheel since we seem to have forgotten how it came about. It partly explains, to me at least, what a Catholic theologian expressed to me in a dispute we were having on “religion as myth.” He told me that it may be true that religions are based on certain archetypes of human nature and myths of the human condition but to say that Christianity is just another myth to be disposed as all the other myths as lies and falsehoods, to put a point across as we do with children’s fairy tales, to be superseded by the scientific mind-set, is to have misunderstood the very nature of mythology which is there to help us better understand transcendental-revealed truths. That is to say, to use mythology as an excuse to dump religion as retrograde, obscurantist, and unenlightened, is to run the risk of throwing the baby out the window with the dirty bathwater.

He also pointed out that Zeus or Atlas are impersonal ideas personified which when worshipped renders us idolaters or narcissists, but the concept of a benevolent providential creator God who takes on human nature to experience the human condition and enters physical reality historically and materially to redeem it is not a philosophical abstract idea to be found in any mythology; I dare say that not even brilliant philosophers like yourself ever thought of it; it is however the stuff of reality and historical events for which 12 ignorant fishermen from Palestine (no experts in Platonic or Socratic philosophy for which they’d be willing to die) were in fact willing to die because their allegiance was not to an idea but to a person who spiritually won the whole continent of Europe in a couple of centuries and gave it its ultimate identity as Judeo-Greco-Roman civilization; a religion this which makes a synthesis between the human and the divine and not only at an abstract theoretical level but at an existential level, and therefore it is humanistic to the core; that at its best advocates tolerance of other traditions, mythology itself, freedom of speech and democratic governance, given that we are all children of the same benevolent father and are commanded to love each other as brothers and sisters.

I must confess to you that I am still chewing on what that theologian provided for me on that day. I felt as if I had been check-mated in a chess game, but I don’t think now that he was playing chess with me, out to win some kind of sophistic debate or diatribe. To the contrary, he simply challenged some of the common assumptions of “enlightened” positivistic modernity which I had inherited uncritically.

Plato: well you should have Joe, well you should have. I myself am already ruminating on this whole conversation. While I do so, why don’t we order another cognac, light up a pipe and start a game of chess? Perhaps even take in a soccer game in the afternoon, since it happens to be Sunday?

Campbell: Indeed Plato, soccer games are now the new religion of the brave new world of the EU in which we live and have our being. Some call it the world of globalization. Some, perhaps more wisely, call it “reinventing the wheel,” which come to think of it, can itself be a myth (the myth of Sisyphus?) and an archetype of the human condition. Have you ever noticed that the world of dreams has no Kantian rational categories of the understanding; it is not linear, nor strictly logical and rational and it needs plenty of interpretation once it is recollected? Could the Hindus, who are not even Westerners in their thinking, have it on track when they say that we are all dreaming and when we die we will wake up to Reality, to the point of it all (the Word)?

Plato: I understand the concept of logos, but there are other things such as revealed truth and the need for forgiveness and the theological virtue of charity which I find difficult to grasp as an ancient; plenty of food for thought here; but perhaps it’s only the antipasto announcing the main course still to come. In any case, let the debate go on.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

E-resilience readiness for an inclusive digital society by 2030

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Photo: United Nations/Chetan Soni

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between digitalization and development, both by showing the potential of digital solutions and by laying bare the significant digital divides that still exist. Digital transformation means the new development paradigm change and its process of the whole social fabric of value creation, management, use, and distribution by using disruptive technologies including AI, digital data, connectivity, and network. E-government, platform enterprises, payments via the cloud, streaming entertainment, and social networks are some examples.

In this regard, the Fifth Session of the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway Steering Committee (AP-IS SC-5) adopted the AP-IS Action Plan 2022-2026 on 25 November 2021. The Action Plan consists of three main pillars with 25 actions centered on Connectivity for All; Digital Technologies and Applications, and Digital Data. One of the key focus areas under the pillar of Connectivity for All is e-resilience. It is identified as essential to accelerate digital transformation.  

E-resilience is essential for the operation of a digital economy and society in the long term.  The ability of a society to resist, accommodate, adapt to, and recover from the effects of shocks including disasters, in a timely and efficient manner can be measured through resilient ICT infrastructure. 

In this connection, ESCAP has developed a new ESCAP e-resilience monitoring dashboard, which combines all ICT indicators into four thematic pillars of assessment of e-resilience readiness, in the background of hazard and exposure scoring:  (i) ICT infrastructure as a physical basis, (ii) ICT policy in various sectors,  (iii) the role of ICT in data management, and (iv) the role of ICT in creating new systems and applications. The e-resilience dashboard offers visually appealing Internet speed maps for various economic groups as well as risk maps, ranked by the degree of risk for each country. For example,

E-resilience of ICT infrastructure scores low across several indicators. Internet penetration in Bangladesh and Afghanistan is at 15 and 14 per cent, respectively. Cross-sectoral coordination among government agencies and telecom operators is lacking and creates problems in these countries. Security challenges in Afghanistan pose considerable impediments to the laying of optical fiber cable networks. There is much room for improvement in Kyrgyzstan (38 per cent) and Mongolia (47 per cent), which could be attributed to the lower use of computers. Although, Kazakhstan, a landlocked developing country, demonstrated the highest level of internet penetration regionally (79 per cent), the structural and societal barriers reduce the affordability and access to broadband networks in rural areas and lower the e-resilience readiness of the country. 

ICT policy in different sectors in the least developed and landlocked developing countries does not provide a full picture of how to equip policymakers on disaster risk reduction measures.  Cybersecurity regulations and cross-sectoral deployment are lacking as well. DRR measures and e-resilience are weak in most least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, despite the efforts and investments made in ICT infrastructure improvement and enabling regulatory environment. 

The importance of partnerships and cooperation to continue e-resilience monitoring and actions includes highlighting the need to collect ICT data.  The e-resilience readiness metrics of ESCAP organize this data under four pillars to assess progress towards 2030 through digital foresight planning, considering the abilities to respond to hazards and exposure.

  • For example, in Japan, it was found that the earthquake and tsunami in the east in March 2011 destroyed more than 56,000 households. In this regard, the country has contributed to the relocation of power lines according to new requirements and has compelled all municipalities and prefectures to make plans to replace overhead cables with underground ones.
  • One illustrative example is the current developments in the policies of Bhutan, which is entering into a partnership with Skylink to ensure that the population has access to low-orbiting satellites, providing internet access to support the development of a third national language around coding and software programming language. Computer software, apps, and websites are created by the coding language.

The ICT technology should serve the economy, and, in turn, the digital economy must support the environment and society. The shared vision among businesses and the government in Thailand defines the digital economy as a transformative economy that maximizes digital technologies in all socio-economic activities. This understanding will influence infrastructure, innovation, data, human capital, and other digital resources.

In summary, e-resilience is an essential foundation for achieving an inclusive digital society based on strong partnerships and regional cooperation.  

UN ESCAP

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New Social Compact

Delivering on Our Promise for Universal Education

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

On the International Day of Education, we call on world leaders to transform how we deliver on education.

The clock is ticking. As a global community, we have committed to delivering universal, equitable education by 2030. That’s just eight short years to get a quarter of a billion children into the classroom.

While remarkable efforts are underway, armed conflicts raging worldwide, forced displacement, climate change-induced disasters, and now COVID-19 are derailing progress, compromising the futures of entire generations. Unless we act now, it will affect all of humanity one day.  

On the International Day of Education, it’s time we change course and transform how we deliver on our promise of universal education – especially for the millions of girls and boys caught in emergencies and protracted crises who are being denied their inherent human right to go to school, to learn and to thrive. They are the ones left furthest behind and whom we need to place at the forefront at this critical juncture.

According to UNESCO, as many as 258 million children and youth don’t attend school across the world. Two out of three students are still impacted by full or partial school closures from COVID-19. Girls are particularly at risk, with estimates projecting that between 11 million and 20 million girls will not return to school after the pandemic.

While a minority of people on the planet are enjoying all the comforts of modern life, over 617 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic math. That’s more than the total population of Germany, the United Kingdom and United States combined.  

The children living on the frontlines of conflict, forced displacement, disasters and protracted crises are the most at risk, with as many as 128 million in need of urgent education support.

So how do we get back on track and deliver on our promises? There are three key pillars to transforming education for children in emergencies and protracted crises. Number 1. We need to step up in a major way to fund these efforts. Number 2. We need to deliver in partnership, break down silos, and find ways to be more agile and responsive. Number 3. We need to deliver context-specific whole-of-child solutions geared to the realities of crisis.

Number 1. Funding education in emergencies

It starts with substantive financing and predictable funding. As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has surpassed $1 billion in funds mobilized for its Trust Fund (and $1 billion leveraged or aligned in-country to ECW’s investments).

This milestone was possible thanks to ECW’s strategic donors, such as Germany who announced today US$228.3 million (Є200 million) in additional funding to support the fund’s multi-year investments, becoming ECW’s single largest donor to date with US$362.7 million (Є318 million) in total contributions.

Beyond scaling up significant financing, flexibility and predictability are also crucial. Quality learning outcomes cannot be achieved through short-term emergency responses. We need multi-year funding and programmes that can adapt to evolving needs amidst the instability that is intrinsic to crisis and which can ensure a continuous and uninterrupted education.

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4: inclusive, equitable quality education, is the best way to advance all the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is the silver bullet for creating social and economic impacts that can generate long-lasting human development and prosperity.  

For every $1 spent on girls’ education, we generate approximately $2.80 in return. Making sure girls finish secondary education could boost the GDP of developing countries by 10% over the next decade.

In just five years, ECW has been able to reach five million children and adolescents with the safety and opportunity of a quality education

On the ground, this means that in places like Bangladesh, Chad, Ecuador and Syria children are receiving the holistic support they need to return to the safety, protection and opportunity of quality learning environments.

As we’ve seen from Germany’s generous contribution today, key public donors are rising to this challenge and prioritizing education in their official development or/and humanitarian assistance.

Now it’s time for others to follow suit. ODA governments will need to scale up financing to match the actual needs, all while we must also further engage with the private sector and philanthropic foundations to dramatically bolster our global investment in education based on realistic calculations commensurate to the actual costs.

In a world where football teams sell for billions of dollars and billionaires fly themselves into space, how is it possible that we are not finding the resources to send every child to school?

Investing in a child’s education means investing in all of humanity. It is time to transform our perception of the world, our priorities and how we shoulder our responsibility as a human family.

Number 2. Delivering in partnership

No single stakeholder can do it alone. At this year’s Transforming Education Summit, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, we will ask ourselves how we can avert a generational catastrophe and rethink our education systems and financing thereof to make good on our commitments and promises.

When it comes to investing in education, one part of the solution is to break down silos and build bridges. Based the United Nations Secretary-General’s reform, this means partnerships through joint programming, or ‘The New Way of Working.”  ECW’s global investments translate the Secretary-General’s UN reform into results.

Think how partnerships can work to deliver education in a crisis like Afghanistan – where ECW has invested in joint programming for holistic approaches, bridging humanitarian and development operations, since 2018.

Teachers’ salaries must be paid. Schools and learning centers need to be built and equipped. Girls and female teachers need to feel safe going to school – and girls’ rights to an education must be upheld. Students that have dealt with a lifetime of conflict and trauma need mental health services.  

On my recent mission to Afghanistan, I saw firsthand how collaboration among humanitarian and development stakeholders is crucial to effectively address these multiple challenges. Despite the bulk of international aid to Afghanistan remaining frozen, on the ground UN agencies, and international and national NGOs have the operational capacities required to deliver the response – they only lack the funding.

ECW partners like UNICEF and WFP, as well as numerous NGOs – such as Save the Children, Swedish Afghanistan Committee, the Aga Khan Foundation and Wadan – are jointly supporting education in this mountainous and seemingly inaccessible country, including secondary girls’ education.

To transform the delivery of education, visionary leaders such as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of ECW Gordon Brown, António Guterres, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, and German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze are approaching education through a new lens, connecting humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding aid interventions. 

Number 3. Whole-of-child solutions

A child who is hungry or traumatized by the unspeakable violence they have witnessed will most likely struggle to achieve quality learning outcomes. No matter how well-trained a teacher is, or how well-equipped a classroom is, if a girl skips classes each month during her periods for a lack of sanitary products or of adequate sanitation facilities at the school, or if she dares not go to school for fear of harassment and kidnapping – we are failing her.

Delivering education to children and adolescents living in crisis settings goes beyond providing classrooms and textbooks. We must create the enabling environments and policies needed to support the overall wellbeing of a child – including educational, psychological, socio-emotional needs, health, nutrition, and protection – and ensure that gender equality and disability inclusion are at the core of our responses.

Only by working collectively will we have the breadth of expertise and the operational outreach to support these multiple facets of a child’s or adolescent’s needs. Only then will we unlock the power of education for these girls and boys to achieve their potentials and thrive. 

Our place in history

We are living in one of history’s inflection points.

Seas are rising and threatening human existence, and millions of children are being denied their inherent right to an education, as a consequence of conflict, abject poverty and climate-induced disasters, which displace families and entire communities, erode infrastructure and brain-drain a country. In two years, a virus has taken over 5 million lives, disrupted global commerce, and impacted the lives of people around the world.

Education is the very bedrock that can steer our efforts to safeguard our humanity. The clock is ticking, and there will be no other chance. Now is the time to define the future of our existence on earth to deliver on our global promises for a better, more stable, just and prosperous world.

In the final analysis, leaders driven by humanity rather than power see things from afar and within. And so, they recognize the relation between themselves, the world, and universal values and human rights.

In honor of the rights of the 128 million children and youth whose education has been disrupted in their young lives due to conflict, forced displacement and climate-disasters, I call on all of you – not only to define – but to direct their and our future.

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The Social Innovators of the Year 2022

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Mikaela Jade. (Image: Veuve Clicquot New Generation Awards)

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced today 15 awardees for social innovation in 2022.

From a Brazilian entrepreneur using hip-hop to turn Favela youth away from crime, a Dutch nurse revolutionizing home healthcare and a park ranger turned tech founder using Minecraft to revive Australia’s Indigenous culture, the 2022 Social Innovators of the Year includes a list of outstanding founders and chief executive officers, multinational and regional business leaders, government leaders and recognized experts.

The awardees were selected by Schwab Foundation Board members, including Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-2015), and social innovation expert Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance in Germany, and H.M. Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Honorary Board Member, in recognition of their innovative approach and potential for global impact.

“The Social Innovators of the Year 2022 represent a new ecosystem of leaders who are driving change and shifting organizations and systems towards a more just, inclusive, sustainable future,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The Schwab Foundation’s unique community of social innovators dates back more than two decades to 1998 when Hilde Schwab, together with her husband Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, created the foundation to support a new model for social change, combining often-overlooked values of mission, compassion and dedication with the best business principles on the planet to serve the most disadvantaged people on earth and build a better society.

Today, the foundation has a thriving community of 400 global social entrepreneurs that have impacted the lives of 722 million people in 190 countries. They offer access to healthcare, education, housing, finance, digital skills and advocacy networks resulting in job creation economic opportunity, improved health and stability.

To help the social enterprise sector increase its reach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Schwab Foundation established the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs early 2020, representing 90+ members and an estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs as the largest collaborative in the sector.

“This year’s Schwab Foundation Awardees demonstrate that through values-based approaches centring on inclusivity, collaboration, relationships of trust and long-term sustainability, we have proven ways of changing institutions and mindsets, and disrupting traditional ways of working that hold systemic barriers in place,” said François Bonnici, Director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The 2022 Schwab Foundation Awards are hosted in a long-term partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, founded on the philosophy of “Ubuntu”, the African concept of giving and caring for your neighbour and other members of your community.

“I strongly believe social entrepreneurship, combined with local innovation and technology, can create meaningful change and recovery in Africa and many developing nations. At its core it is about bringing together the best of business discipline and efficiency with the best of human and social values. We need this synergy, now more than ever,” said Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Co-Chair, Motsepe Foundation and Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

The 2022 awardees are:
Social entrepreneurs

Founders or chief executive officers who solve a social or environmental problem, with a focus on low-income, marginalized or vulnerable populations.

Ashraf Patel, Co-Founder of Pravah and ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC), India: For almost three decades, Patel has nurtured inside-out youth leadership with collective organisations. This ecosystem has co-created the right space, context and narrative that has reached over 15 million young people.

Celso Athayde, Founder, Central Unica das Favelas (CUFA) and Chief Executive Officer, Favela Holding, Brazil: One of Brazil’s best-known social entrepreneurs, Athayde founded the nation’s largest social enterprise focused on favela communities, using music and sport to transform their lives.

Jos de Blok, Founder, Buurtzorg, Netherlands: de Blok is revolutionizing nursing around the world with buurtzorg, meaning neighbourhood care, which puts nurses and patients at the heart of its social enterprise model.

Kennedy Odede, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), Kenya: Passion, 20 cents and a soccer ball were the building blocks for Odede’s social enterprise SHOFCO, which is transforming urban slums and providing economic hope.

Marlon Parker, Co-Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) and Rene Parker, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, RLabs, South Africa: Marlon and Renee Parker grew a Cape Town community project helping ex-convicts into a global social enterprise that has helped around 20 million disadvantaged people by offering tech skills, training, funding and workspaces.

Mikaela Jade, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Indigital, Australia: From park ranger to tech founder, Jade founded Australia’s first Indigenous edu-tech company using augmented and mixed realities to preserve and teach Indigenous culture and history.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, Taghyeer/We Love Reading, Jordan: Dajani sparked a global reading revolution, training female volunteers to read to kids. We Love Reading now operates in 56 countries, benefiting nearly half a million children.

Wenfeng Wei (Jim), Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DaddyLab, People’s Republic of China: “Daddy Wei” is a social media champion for safer consumer goods. His enterprise DaddyLab is a one-stop shop for trusted product testing, consumer rights advice for families.

Corporate social intrapreneurs

Leaders within multinational or regional companies who drive the development of new products, initiatives, services or business models that address societal and environmental challenges.

Gisela Sanchez, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Strategy and Sustainability Director, Bac International Bank and Board Member, Nutrivida, Costa Rica: Nutritional food firm Nutrivida, the brainchild of Gisela Sanchez, combats a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, known as hidden hunger, that affects 2 billion people.

Sam McCracken, Founder and General Manager, Nike N7, USA: A member of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes from the Ft Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, McCracken founded Nike N7 20 years ago with a vision of using the power of sport to promote cultural awareness. It demonstrates Nike’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the Indigenous populations of North America. Today, N7 has benefited more than 500,000 Indigenous youth.

Public social intrapreneurs

Government leaders who harness the power of social innovation social entrepreneurship to create public good through policy, regulation or public initiatives.

Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of Innovation, UNAIDS, Switzerland: Kakkattil founded global platform HIEx to link innovators, governments and investors and find solutions to global healthcare problems, from COVID diagnosis to the cost of medicines.

Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Global: Pradhan has been a tireless champion of good governance and fighting corruption, leading a partnership of 78 countries, 76 local governments and thousands of civil society organizations that are working together to make governments more open and less corrupt.

Social innovation thought leaders

Recognized experts and champions shaping the evolution of social innovation.

Alberto Alemanno, Professor of Law, HEC Paris and Founder, The Good Lobby, European Union, France: Alemanno is passionate about overcoming social, economic and political inequalities. His civic start-up, The Good Lobby, kickstarted a movement for ethical and sustainable lobbying.

Adam Kahane, Director, Reos Partners, Canada: Kahane is a global leader in helping diverse teams of leaders work together, across their differences, to address their most important and intractable issues. He has facilitated breakthrough projects in more than 50 countries on climate action, racial equity, democratic governance, Indigenous rights, health, food, energy, water, education, justice and security.

Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, USA: Han is a leading academic and author on collective action and the way citizens can collaborate to solve public problems and influence policy, from immigration to voting rights.

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