Upward Mobility Solutions Include Financial Returns

Upward mobility is a critical issue across the country.  The previous newsletter addressed the work by Raj Chetty and how the lack of upward mobility is being experienced across the country.

If we step back, we see all sorts of challenges that can be addressed and which impact upward mobility. One source of information is from the Global Risks Report written for the participants in The World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos Switzerland. The Global Risks Report 2019 is published against a backdrop of worrying geopolitical and geo-economic tensions. If unresolved, these tensions will hinder the world’s ability to deal with a growing range of collective challenges, from the mounting evidence of environmental degradation to the increasing disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The report presents the results of their latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 decision-makers from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society, assess worldwide risks.  Nine out of 10 respondents expect worsening economic and political confrontations between major powers this year. Over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.

This year’s report includes another series of “what-if” Future Shocks that examine quantum computing, weather manipulation, monetary populism, emotionally responsive artificial intelligence and other potential risks. The theme of emotions is also addressed in a chapter on the human causes and effects of global risks; the chapter calls for greater action around rising levels of psychological strain across the world.

The current report shows the issues that are likely to have a high impact on our world and likely to occur include: extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, natural disasters, water crises, and cyber- attacks. This high focus on environmental issues is stunning and notable for future public policy and all work on human society.  And, the connection to upward mobility is direct. People without means, for example, will not be able to flee adverse environmental events. Witness Katrina for a dramatic example of this point.

Another look at macro challenges is from the United Nation’s global Sustainable Development GoalsThe 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

The SDGs build on decades of work by countries and the UN, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

We should juxtapose this information against two research projects.  One project is Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness. See his TED talk.  The other work that is important is Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Both books make the point that our world is actually improving.  This means that overall we are improving.  Yet, in local areas, we have specific challenges that cannot be ignored.

Take this short quiz from Rosling’s book to prove the point here about overall improvement.

1.  In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?

A. 20%

B. 40%

C. 60%

2.  What is life expectancy of the world today?

A. 50 years

B. 60 years

C. 70 years

3.  How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?

A. 80%

B. 50%

C. 20%

[Answers:  C, C, A]

The point is that we tend to have a view that the world is worse off than it might be; we tend to think the world is collapsing. We have our challenges – climate change, nuclear proliferation, technology challenges are all too real. 

So, we can identify macro issues and we should be cognizant of the real issues and challenges. Bringing these concerns to our location is critical – hence the focus on upward mobility in specific geographic areas.

So, what might the solution approach? First, I advocate three specific ways of thinking about these challenges. Systems thinking is fundamental – looking at the group of interconnected elements that work together to achieve a common purpose or function. This way of thinking is critical to identifying the underlying structures that cause problems.   See my previous blog on this point. Another way of thinking is design thinking, well covered in my blogs. Finally, these are strategic issues at the organizational level. I advocate for organizational strategies to include shared value concerns, ways of bridging society’s challenges to organizational success.

We then can get much more specific. We can Invest for Impact. Ways to accomplish this investment include philanthropy, government policy, creating not-for-profits, and using corporate social responsibility.

This brings me to another powerful way to achieve improved environmental and social outcomes. These are investments where we expect impact AND financial returns. The types of actions that achieve these dual goals are socially responsible investing where we use negative screens to make investment decisions – not investing in fossil fuels for example; engagement which includes buying shares to have a say in company activities; themed and ESG investing by picking companies that support a certain theme (gender equality; financial stability) or investments that have positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes.  Finally, and paramount to future blogs is impact investing, which I discussed in a few previous blogs. 

In future newsletters, I’ll apply these financial approaches to upward mobility. At this point, consider how you would go about analyzing your investment portfolio to demand market-rate financial returns and social and environmental impacts.     


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