The World Economic Forum on how we can rebuild social cohesion and trust through citizen dialogues.
The economic and social disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic is severe. Loss of lives and livelihoods, poverty and inequality are rising in every country on Earth. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter have brought attention to systemic injustices across our societies. The compounding effects of different crises present a serious threat to social cohesion and global cooperation, potentially setting off a vicious cycle of economic despair and social unrest.
While knowing the aggregated effects of COVID-19 on the world helps us see the big picture for the post-pandemic recovery, understanding the individual experiences and perceptions of citizens will help chart a path forward towards a just recovery that puts those most affected by the crisis at the centre of these efforts. In this report, we share the results of deliberative citizen dialogues, unearthing collective intelligence on citizen priorities during the pandemic and beyond. The dialogues were conducted with 120-plus participants in five different contexts in December 2020: they encompassed European countries (France and Germany), India, West Africa, an international network of youth students and children, giving a glimpse of the global scale of the effects. The dialogues were executed with the support of six partnering organisations: Civis, Confkids, Isha Foundation, Missions Publiques, United World Colleges (UWC) and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). To ensure representative and evidence-based recommendations, the dialogue findings presented in this report have been supplemented by further supporting materials and insights, priorities and solutions proposed by global civil society.
The findings highlight the effects of COVID-19 on the participants and their priorities for the post-pandemic recovery, as well as the importance of social cohesion and trust. The report concludes with a proposal to spur collective action for a transformational recovery.
COVID-19 opens the doors to change
While, overall, participants felt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on their lives, there is optimism that the crisis will pave the way for positive effects in the years to come. There is a strong sentiment for change after the COVID-19 outbreak, both personally and for society.
The top positive impacts identified include increased solidarity in society, an infrastructure boost in developing nations and beneficial effects on the environment. A lack of clarity and transparency in decision-making, amplification of social inequalities and insecurity in livelihoods, and a decrease in global collaboration were emphasized as the biggest negative effects of the pandemic.
Strengthening social cohesion
The resilience of a society is dependent on high levels of social cohesion. In a time when economic and social issues are worsening and the vulnerability of individuals is increasing, an approach to the future needs to be cohesive rather than divisive.
Equality was deemed the central element to advancing social cohesion. Fairness in vaccine distribution stood out as a priority to drive equity in a post-COVID-19 world. Participants felt that trust in others was being eroded during the pandemic. A sense of declining trust in government was also observed. At the same time a stronger sense of social cohesion emerged that strengthened trust; this was exemplified by many solidarity initiatives and the great deal of mutual aid that was established.
Collective action and collectivism, dialogue, participation, diversity and social awareness and education on the root causes of inequality were all seen as central to encouraging social cohesion. Additionally, the role of religion and its influence in building social cohesion should not be underestimated.
Download the full report here.