Rome Roundtable, opening remarks

from the Foundation’s Secretary General, Steve Howard and Chairman, Louise Watson

Steve Howard, opening remarks

We are living through an unusual, perhaps exceptional, moment in modern history.  Pope Francis says ‘this feels more like the end of an epoch rather than just the end of an era’. We are facing the existential question: what is it that humanity must change in order to have a sustainable planet for our future generations? And what is our capacity and our will – this group of influential global citizens gathered around the table today, with all of our combined networks and powers to act – to make a positive difference, over and above the many individual and collective efforts you are already making?

The work of the Global Foundation is underpinned by ‘business with purpose’, that is leadership on issues affecting the global commons by those leaders in business and markets who are both capable and willing to help lead the process of change, in partnership with others. It is also ‘people-centred’, that is in believing that the ultimate destiny of humanity can only be best realised by building from the ground up, not only from the top down.  A ‘fair and just transition’, that we are committed to, means exactly what it says. Many of you have been invited to join us in this room because this is what you already practice.  You are exemplars of the change that must become infectious, universal, the norm.  However, as good as your efforts are, you and we have much more do, to inspire and lead others, as there are pressures building in the opposite direction.

Our world is fracturing, into blocs, or opposing camps.  North vs South, West vs East.  If allowed to continue, it will not only threaten global prosperity, it will challenge the fundamental security of the human race – and sooner than we might care to think!  And this dark prospect collides with big signals being sent by our planet, back to us as humankind – we’re also faced with a re-calibration of how we live and share a finite planet together. But, there is hope.  That’s why our work is also ‘faith-enabled’, for a very good reason.   One of the great inspirations for the Global Foundation is the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy.  Last night, you saw a beautiful presentation about a project that we are supporting, for a small chapel in the woods of St Francis, outside the walls of Assisi, where he would retreat to connect with nature and pray.  Our ambition is to help the Mayor and Friars of Assisi to elevate the global potential of Assisi as a city where people can meet, in the spirit of St Francis, to dialogue about the very issues that he himself gave his life to – an integral ecology about the Earth, surrounded by a world at peace. For those who think that St Francis was a humble tree-hugger, I ask you to consider this: in his time, 800 years ago, Christians and Muslims were at war in the Middle East.  Somehow, with no weapons, Francis made his way to Egypt, to meet with the Sultan. They negotiated a peace deal and the Sultan gifted Francis this beautiful decorated animal horn, that sits today in the Lower Basilica in Assisi.

Louise Watson, opening remarks

Welcome to this, the fifth Rome Roundtable meeting convened by the Global Foundation. If feel it is only right to firstly acknowledge the Global Foundation and its work, at this, our signature Roundtable. May 2024 marked 26 years since the inception of The Global Foundation. A stunning achievement of longevity and worth in a fast-moving world. This success is due to the vision, the drive and the incomparable skill of bringing together global leaders of goodwill, of our founder and Secretary General, Steve Howard. Steve, we salute you and thank you for your enormous contribution to promoting cooperative globalisation that is fair, inclusive, prosperous, and transformative – in simple terms, for making our world a better place.

As we have shown again and again, as a trusted, apolitical organisation that operates behind the scenes, we can create the connections between influential global citizens and be the catalyst for meaningful change. Thank you and your team, particularly Natalia Cikorska our Chief of Staff who is here with us for the Rome Roundtable, for the extensive preparations for this meeting and for the comprehensive Program and reading materials that frame our discussions.  It is astonishing that such a small secretariat is able to accomplish so much, with such limited resources.  On behalf on the Foundation, our Partners and members we thank you and acknowledge your incredible efforts.  

A special welcome and thanks to  Mark Cutifani and Sharan Burrow, who lead our Global Advisory Council.  Mark and Sharan show what can be done when two people, from traditionally opposing sides, come together with goodwill, common sense and strong visions based on successful experience. Together, they are also leading our most important global project, and the focus for this meeting;  our ‘Shaping Global Governance, Climate and Nature’ Project.  Mark and Sharan will have lots to say about this (!) and our hopes for global mobilisation over the next 2-3 years, stemming from your contributions to positive outcomes here in Rome.

We are meeting at a moment that history may judge to have been pivotal, in terms of the choices that we make and the consequences of our actions – or our failure to act, as the case may be. One of the distinguishing features of the Global Foundation, apart from our convening ability, is our relentless optimism about the future of humanity, even in the face of an outlook which may look bleak at moments such as these. We are committed to the idea than people of influence and goodwill have agency to affect change in a positive and lasting way, even if trends sometimes look to be heading in the other direction. I would like to bring in a positive context here about the benefits of increasing private and public investment that globalisation has enabled, particularly over the last 30 years. The power of markets in promoting economic progress has been universally recognized.

As Dr Larry Summers pointed out at our 2018 Rome Roundtable, and I like to reiterate, global living standards have risen faster in the last 30 years than at any point in history.  And material progress has coincided with even more rapid progress in combating hunger; empowering women; promoting literacy and extending life. Every single day since 1990 there were an average of 108,000 fewer people in extreme poverty. We need to be cognisant of these achievements to motivate us difficult times, but equally complacency is not an option if we want to bring about further necessary change, including increasing  the pace of change which seems to have stalled somewhat as a result of the COVID pandemic and its after affects.

This is what brings us together in Rome where, over these coming days at least, all roads lead! Let’s make the most of this time together in constructing a positive agenda, with real commitments and measurable outcomes.  This is something that business, at its best, can do very well. At this Roundtable let’s share ideas and wisdom, and that can-do attitude all of you have, so we can aim high, set targets and absolutely go for them. Its onwards and upwards for the global common good at this, The Global Foundation’s signature Rome Roundtable.

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