Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joins discussions on economic parity at the Global Black Economic Forum summit

Closing the economic opportunity gap across the globe requires a multidimensional approach based on equity, inclusion, and the respect of human rights.

For people in Africa, economic and wealth disparities mean that many still live in poverty despite encouraging economic growth rate of the continent. Women and youth in rural areas are particularly affected by the lack of economic equality and inclusiveness.

Disparities also impact the African diaspora and marginalized communities around the world. The Global Black Economic Forum estimates that Black workers in the United States earn a 30% lower median annual wage compared to that of white workers, and that only 1% of all venture capital funding goes to Black founders.

In an effort to engage policy-makers, business leaders, activists, and stakeholders on a new path toward an equitable global economic climate, the Global Black Economic Forum recently convened a summit in New Orleans, Louisiana, that involved a wide range of distinguished speakers and women leaders.

The inaugural session featured an inspiring discussion between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and US Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Moderated by President and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum, Alphonso David, the discussion addressed economic equality and development in Africa, the importance of women’s leadership, and the role of equity and respect for human rights in closing the economic opportunity gap both in Africa and around the world.

Madam Sirleaf and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield pinpointed the positive change that women in positions of power can create for their societies, sharing highlights from their experiences working alongside each other in Liberia.

Madam Sirleaf’s tenure as president of Liberia had a transformative impact, not only on women in Liberia, but on millions around the world. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said:

“If there’s anything I’m most proud of in my entire life, it was the period when I served as ambassador to Liberia and I was able to work side by side with [President Sirleaf], to help her rebuild Liberia from the ashes of war… her impact on Liberia, on Africa, on the entire world will always be a part of all of our lives, as we look at how we move forward.”

The challenges that hamper inclusive economic development in Africa and other parts of the world were also addressed from the perspective of the large investments made by multinational corporations. These investments, Madam Sirleaf noted, must be directed toward developing the skills of local workers and ensure that employment practices are just and equitable. They must offer the chance for local workers to advance to decision-making roles, and help “make sure that women are given equal opportunities as men.”

Respecting human rights and the dignity of workers is a prerequisite for inclusive, equitable growth. Multinational corporations have a role to play, not just in advancing development through public-private partnerships, but in ensuring that equity, fair employment practices, and the rights of workers are upheld.

Noting that Africa needs a dynamic private sector that attracts capital and foreign investment, Madam Sirleaf called on US business leaders of African origin to step forward and invest in the continent.

“We want to see you in Africa taking a stand, taking a position, joining public-private partnerships for the enhancement of Africa. Because the enhancement of Africa and the success of Africa is a success of black America.”

As a life-long believer in equity and a champion of women’s leadership, Madam Sirleaf shared a concluding thought with the audience, saying that her dream for women is to see them “rule the world.”

The summit presented sessions that addressed the various pathways toward economic parity, and equity in health and education for women and disadvantaged communities across the globe. Speakers included US Vice President Kamala Harris; CEO of Essence, Caroline Wanga; Vice President of Partnerships & Engagement at Google, Inc, Valeisha Butterfield Jones; and Executive Vice President & Global Chief People Experience Officer at Sony Music Entertainment, Andrew Davis.

The discussions reflected the strong commitment of the Global Black Economic Forum to inclusive and equitable growth. They announced supporting the EJS Center by generously donating $300,000 over a three-year period in partnership with ESSENCE Ventures, expressing their belief in gender parity and women’s leadership as a main impetus for global economic justice.

Watch the full summit here.

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