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Background to the Rome round table meeting

Steve Howard, Roundtable convenor, Secretary General of The Global Foundation

When The Global Foundation and its partners decided to build upon the conclusions of our roundtable discussions on global economic governance, held in Rome in December 2014, we had hopes but concerns about how the year ahead would unfold.

We had convened these and earlier conversations because we were troubled by an uneasy sense of drift and an obvious deficit of trust in the world economy, along with with some pretty stark statistics and underlying negative trends about impacts on society.

We met in Rome, inspired by the wake – up calls from Pope Francis, in particular, to reject the ‘globalisation of indifference’ in our modern world. Our discussions benefitted from the active participation of senior figures from the Vatican.

We concluded in Rome that nothing less than a new narrative would be required for the global economy. Further, for this to be achieved, we and others should encourage and create different styles of cross–border conversations to those with which we had been previously familiar. Instead, we agreed that we should consider more profound and human–centred strategy, not just technical, financial or political solutions, to economic governance and related challenges.

We further concluded that Foundation’s own most useful contribution would be to do what it did best – to continue to bring together people of goodwill from a range of global backgrounds, from faiths, business, international institutions, academia and civil society, to help to build such a new frame of reference, through frank and honest personal exchange.

So, here we are, back in Rome, at the beginning of 2016, with an impressive group of people, gathering for a much more substantial Roundtable meeting, with an even more serious purpose in mind.

Now, let’s not for a moment forget that many positive and far–reaching things did occur over 2015. The world economy kept growing, albeit at an uneven and slower rate than had previously been the case. Policy–makers made good (and not so good calls), pulling various levers at their disposal, here and there. The world economy sputtered on.

World summits considered and agreed on financing for development, sustainable development goals, and global climate change policies. The G20 agreed on new regulations for ‘too big to fail’ banks and for unethical corporate tax–shifting. The re–calibration of economic power between the developed world and the emerging world took another step, with a change in voting rights at the IMF.

Yet, even if much of what was attempted and promised comes to pass, here we are at the start of 2016 and considerable pessimism remains, about the state of the global economy and about the gaps that continue to widen across so many parts of society.

What are we able to do to more positively impact on our world and how do we go about it? Is it possible to move the global economy from the ‘new mediocre’, as Christine Lagarde had called it, to a ‘new possible’? And if so, on what basis – is it going to be one that serves the common good, and the betterment of society?

We have an agenda that incorporates both high–level principles and practical actions and, hopefully, serves to integrate both.

We will enjoy skilled facilitation from our colleagues at McKinsey and Company, supported by others.

We will meet in eternal Rome, enjoying the continuing inspiration of Pope Francis and the active participation of senior faith leaders from the Vatican and other Christian churches.

And we will benefit from the advance contributions of participants, who have prepared 500–word Reflection Memos, as a basis for discussion at the Roundtable, in response to these questions:

1. ‘What do you see as the most significant barriers or challenges to creating a more inclusive and sustainable global economy?’

2. ‘What actions can business, international institutions, governments and civil society leaders take – individually or collectively – that would make the greatest difference in addressing or overcoming these challenges?’