Global Goal #10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.
“No Irish Need Apply”
Written in employment advertisements in the United States during the 1800s and even into the early 20th century, this phrase captured the anti-Catholic sentiment in the Protestant world. The Irish set sail for America searching for a better life. Some had the “luck of the Irish,” a phrase meant to deride Irish people who found success by those who didn’t believe they should or could. But many employers were determined the Irish would have no luck at all.
Discrimination has been ingrained into societies across centuries and continents, and continues in many countries around the world. Many struggle to find work based on the color of their skin, the place of their birth, or the religion they practice. Afro-Brazilians face discrimination despite the banning of slavery in 1888. High unemployment persists among the Romové minority in the Czech Republic. People with colored skin in the Ukraine continue to be second-class citizens.
Officially frowned upon as a violation of rights in most countries, discrimination persists. In reality, it is one thing to outlaw discrimination, but quite another to enforce it. The Dalits, the lowest in India’s caste system, continue to be “untouchables” facing discrimination in work, education, health, and housing. Though illegal, most authorities turn a blind eye to it. In other countries, discrimination can be found within the law – not so much in what is said, but in what is not. For example, the Kenyan Employment Act 2007 disallows employment discrimination, but it openly persists in other areas such as housing.
Racial and ethnic inequality isn’t the only variety. Gender bias is very real in advanced and emerging societies. Lack of data by gender and ethnicity makes it difficult to track on a global level. Data2X, an initiative lead by the UN Foundation, is looking to address the problem for women by advocating for, and educating people about, the need to collect gender-relevant data in a nonbiased way.
The United States has long prided itself on being “a land of equal opportunity.” Critics have questioned such a claim in recent years. Joseph Stiglitz – an economist, Columbia University professor, and Nobel Memorial Prize winner – wrote a 2011 Vanity Fair article titled, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” highlighting the stark contrast between the haves and the have nots. With 1% of the U.S. population earning 25% of the income and controlling 40% of the wealth, advocacy groups like We Are the 99% are crying foul over the growing inequality in the world’s largest economy. Change is difficult when the financial institutions and corporations run by the 1% place their own interests first.
Self-interest doesn’t drive every corporation, of course. Begun in 1990 as a modest initiative to provide micro-financing to small businesses started by women with low incomes, Compartamos Banco has grown into a thrivinginternational bank. Today, the bank has over 2.8 million customers, 90% of whom are women. The bank has a passion to see women in Latin America succeed. As part of our vision and purpose to improve people’s lives, SAP is proud to help Compartamos Banco use technology to expand access to its services and to reach new communities.
Technology in the hands of organizations committed to eliminating inequality can help make a difference. And so can data. Open data initiatives are pushing governments around the world to provide the public with data that can help improve accountability. This is the kind of accountability that is required if leaders are to take very real steps to eliminate inequality.
With our world increasingly centered on technology, access is foundational to achieving equality. The billions who still lack an on-ramp to the information superhighway may face one of the biggest inequalities of the 21st century.
This blog is part of our 17 Weeks to Davos series. To learn more about the UN Global Goals and how you can help make the world a better place, view this interactive Web experience from SAP: 17 Global Goals to Achieve a Sustainable Future.