From the Shadows to the Roadmap: Empowering the Economically Invisible

Every society has invisible people. They are its citizens who fall through the economic cracks and simply do not have access to the same opportunities, even to its markets, as other people. These people lead precarious lives in parallel economic systems on the side of the mainstream. Gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation are often visible factors in this phenomenon.

Recently, Hope Global Forums turned the spotlight on this invisible people in the US and all over the world.

With service providers and people with lived experience in poverty and incarceration, the forum was a gathering of visionaries and decision makers. All were striving to increase inclusion and equity—with an eye to boosting economies worldwide.

Andrea Jung, CEO of Grameen America, pointed out that half of the households run by women in this country are not bankable. In other words, the heads of household do not have bank accounts. They rely on check cashing places and money wiring services to pay their bills. Reliance on such services is costly, presents with higher risk and prevents households from building credit. Such households can function outside the mainstream banking system for years, decades or lifetimes.

Jung also mentioned a significant discrepancy in earnings among Latinas and African-American women, an area where gender equity and inclusion clearly meet. Beyond the obvious unfairness, such discrepancies are troubling because they point to glass ceilings and barriers to economic opportunities which impact some groups more than others.

Inclusion and equity can help us build a healthier and stronger society. In a more empowering and inclusive society, citizens are more fulfilled, experience less unrest and are able to focus on well-being and growth. With Asians, African-Americans and Latinos representing close to 90% of the projected population growth in the US between 2014 and 2019, it is easy to see that more inclusive and equitable practices would directly benefit our nation.

A spotlight on incarceration revealed concerning trends as well. With only 5% of the world population, the US has 25% of the prisoners. In fact, 2.3 million people are housed in prisons in the country, with well over half of the prisoners African-American or Latino.

Even more mundane statistics seemed to tell a story, a speaker mentioned that 40% of car insurance bills are paid by money orders and other forms of payment which do not include checks or credit cards, simply because the car owners involved do not have credit or bank accounts.

In a recent article, USA Today referenced a study conducted by AAA, which revealed that 64 million drivers in the US could not pay out-of-pocket for a repair bill of $500 to 600. With 210 million licensed motorists in the country, this means that close to one third cannot afford to sustain their own transportation without resulting to credit. An added discrepancy exists between men and women with 76% of men and only 62% of women in a financial position to pay for such a repair.

Statistics like these are clear indicators that wages have lagged too far behind an increasing cost of living in the last few decades.

Philippe Bourguignon of Revolution, LLC, who co-directed the Davos World Economic Forum in 2003 and 2004, believes that healthy companies need to value their employees as much as their brands. For him, it is a paradox to try to grow your brand while you neglect your workforce. This is such a good observation, and decision makers in economic systems worldwide should take heed. After all, it is clear that more fulfilled employees build better companies and that added buying power fuels economies.

The forum explored solutions like financial literacy, entrepreneurship, changing narratives, and other forms of empowerment.

Most people requiring assistance only need a hand up. Offering targeted and cost-effective solutions is the way to go in many cases.

The belief in inclusion and equity rests on social justice and on the fact that giving more people seats at the table helps build companies, societies and economies. Trading the shadows for the roadmap, millions of invisible people may just have the power to impact on peace and prosperity worldwide with a little help from the system.

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