Inclusivity: How To Ensure Everyone Wins

The thorny issue of economic inclusivity — how to court it, encourage it and ensure it thrives — was a key topic of discussion Thursday at the Public Policy Forum’s growth summit.

In a wide-ranging panel discussion, participants said inclusive growth has to ensure all members of society benefit equally.

Moderator Shannon MacDonald, vice chair and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte, asked the panel members if it was wrong to focus inclusivity efforts on certain segments of the population, like women and First Nations, rather than aiming for inclusivity “from the get-go.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi seemed to bristle at the question.

“There are people in this country, in a nation of unparalleled prosperity, who do not have the luxury of clean drinking water every day, and there’s not just a few of them, and it’s not a new thing,” he said.

“So it’s ridiculous to say that broad-based policies that help everyone will lead to economic growth for everyone when there are people who are living in conditions that would be unacceptable to the vast majority of the rest of us. So you’ve gotta have a baseline … we are not at the point to say everyone’s starting at the same point.”

If people don’t have a job to go to, don’t go to school and can’t afford a bus pass, then investments in public transit, to name just one example, don’t help them, Nenshi added.

Gemma Corrigan, economist at the World Economic Forum, said fostering growth while battling economic inequality can be tackled at the same time — it’s not an either/or proposition.

“Growth and social inclusion can go hand and hand and in fact they should,” she said. “Inclusion can be an important driver of growth.”

Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of credit union Vancity, said businesses can help drive inclusive growth.

“The allocation of capital is one of the single biggest tools we can use to faciliate the future that we want,” she said. “Who gets access to capital and who doesn’t makes a big difference to the future that we want to create.”

Nenshi urged those pondering inclusivity not to over-think it.

“It’s easy to get so technocratic on this question that it becomes completely divorced from people’s everyday lives,” he said. 

“I say to every one one of my colleagues in the city of Calgary … multiple times a day, every day, ask yourself the question: ‘Is what I am doing right now making it better for someone to live here? Is what I am doing making life better?’ And really, sometimes it’s that simple.”