Global progress requires three things. A laser-focus on results, measurable targets and ability to find common ground. In the period between the end of the cold war and the global economic crisis, child mortality was halved, primary school attendance doubled and Polio cases reduced by 99%. This accompanied a near-global endorsement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and UN Development Goals. Such a consensus is always contingent on a shared view of human rights and global development as a Common Good. The aspiration is that this progress must be universal, not selective.
After the global economic crisis, populism soared and health and education results stagnated. A sense of common good gave way to growing inequality and polarisation. Populists tried to shift from a universal view of human rights to a selective one that tied rights to identity. Culture warriors present a unique threat to universal progress. They suck the oxygen from public discourse without providing any improvement in the lives of the people they claim to serve.
Our vulnerability to the pandemic was turbo-boosted by surging inequality. When schools closed in New York city, the poorest 300,000 children did not have access to online learning. Globally 40% of families had no consistent means of hand hygiene. The virus mutated while those in poorer countries who wished to be vaccinated could not be. In rich countries the misinformed fought for air in hospital beds having refused the jab. Vaccine inequality and vaccine refusal are mutually reinforcing pandemic prolongers driven by bad politics.
Despite all of this, it is a moment to be optimistic. There is the knowledge and technology now to end preventable childhood death and disease and dramatically reduce abuse, neglect and harmful practices. It is possible to deliver fairer and more relevant education in countries currently suffering what the World bank has termed a Learning Crisis. With better global collaboration and leadership we could uphold the protection of the one in four children currently living in conflict zones. Equally, it is not a moment to be complacent. Climate change and population growth bring new challenges which require hard work to maintain prior progress and build out from it.
When we think about the leaders we love, they carried themselves with an abiding sense of the common good. They served all constituencies and took responsibility for what they said and the secondary impacts of how it may be interpreted by others. They delivered results by producing policies that may not have been loved by anyone, but which were acceptable to all.
Reimagining a post-pandemic world needs to bring focus back to a universal common good that appeals across constituencies. We need to talk about how nationalism, isolationism and inequality made us vulnerable to the pandemic. To reward politicians for humility, service and delivering progress for the people they serve. Building a better world, based on values of human rights and a common good is more possible now than it has ever been.