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Sustainable Economic Growth and Decent Work for All

This piece is part of our 2018 United Nations General Assembly series.

Sustainable economic growth starts with stability, opportunity and dignity everyday.

The world is getting richer. In a span of 30 years, those living on less than $2 a day dropped from 35 percent of the world population to 10 percent. Yet, there remains a weight bearing down on those at the poorer end of the spectrum, creating a yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. Perhaps nowhere else is this chasm more profound than in Asia. Last year, the number of Asian billionaires surpassed the number of American ones; meanwhile, 700 million people in the region still live on less than $1 per day.

As Asia speeds towards progress and prosperity, how do we help to move the most vulnerable to achieve and experience greater economic opportunity and stability?

Often, we think about sustainable economic growth and driving social mobility from a macro-economic lens. Top-down interventions are critical, but effects don’t always trickle down fast or far enough to benefit people at the ground level, where the day-to-day human experience is lived. We also cannot limit ourselves to equating economic growth with livelihood development. Or overlook gender disparities that prevent women from actualizing their potential and providing for economic stability. Instead, we should consider expanding our frameworks to encompass something more meaningful to the women and men we seek to serve—namely, opportunity.

Opportunity begins by ensuring economic stability at the level of the individual so they can prosper even in the face of volatility. Millions around the world will remain in less stable self-employment, the informal or gig economy, or subsistence agriculture as opportunities in the formal industrial and services sectors decline. We may see gig work as a trend in OECD countries, but for hundreds of years, these entrepreneurial enterprises have been the lifeblood of Asia’s economies. And as extreme climate events become more frequent, mood swings in global trade become more pronounced, and cross-border diseases become more virulent, communities across the region become ever more exposed to shocks and stresses.

But if we develop pathways for economic empowerment and ensure access to the modern economy is within reach of everyone, people will have the tools to create meaningful, purposeful livelihoods that not only provide them with an income, but ensure dignity.

FHI360, a grantee of The Rockefeller Foundation, recently published a report on policy, program and technological innovations around the world that drive economic stability from the bottom up. Many of the interventions discussed in the report are relative to the thorny challenges they hope to address. In Thailand, apps alert vulnerable migrant workers of working conditions; across South and East Asia, digital tools give factory workers new means to report violations ranging from underpayment to sexual harassment or child labor; and in Southeast Asia, nimble services are making health benefits accessible to casual workers.

Such innovations make a profound impact in an individual’s ability to rise from poverty for the long-term, and not just until the next typhoon. They afford the most vulnerable people real opportunities at making meaningful, sustainable contributions to the economy. Importantly, these innovations give people dignity.

Stability breeds opportunity and economic mobility. It provides the foundation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth to reach people across all socio-economic conditions in Asia and beyond.

This piece is part of our UNGA 2018 series.

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