Opinion: Diversity and inclusion are moral imperatives

The University of Victoria and Global Affairs Canada wrapped up the inaugural Victoria Forum this past weekend. Our aspirations were high — to tackle some of the most intimidating and inter-connected problems facing our world today, ranging from climate justice to trade and development, from developing a nation-to-nation dialogue with Indigenous peoples to global migration, from trade and development to philanthropy, from smart cities to impact investing. 

Underlying all of these issues are questions of diversity and inclusion. The former is a reality, the latter is a function of the actions we take, and the ones that we cannot afford not to take.

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With more than 75 nationally and internationally recognized speakers and more than 200 other attendees, our goal was to create an open and inclusive space where individuals and organizations from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives could come together to discuss ideas about diversity and inclusion in the 21st century. We wanted to break down the silos and encourage different perspectives.

We engaged in powerful dialogues with Indigenous, government and business leaders exploring their ideas together with students and academics. From the energy and feedback, it was obvious that such discussions happen rarely and our goal is to ensure that they occur more often.

What did we learn? It was evident from the outset that people feel passionately about the issues and feel a moral obligation to make the world a better place. What became clear over the course of the forum, moreover, was that there are very practical reasons why we need to build a more inclusive society and that the risks of not doing so are high. The future of our planet and our society is bleak if we sit back and do nothing.

The numbers are compelling — Canada is aging, our Indigenous population is growing, the labour force is shrinking, disparities are increasing, and the number of immigrants is on the rise. By 2030, it is estimated that more than 30 per cent of the Canadian population could be from a visible minority group. This rate may climb to 60 per cent in Vancouver and Toronto.

As Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde reminded us, when First Nations statistics are applied to the United Nations Human Development Index, the living conditions of First Nations people in Canada are ranked as 63rd in the world while living conditions for Canadians overall are ranked as sixth. This disparity is shocking and appalling, and represents an incredible waste of talent and opportunity.

Throughout the three days of the forum, we heard often that to ensure Canada’s continued success at home and abroad, we need to evolve from a “short-term shareholder” model to a “long-term stakeholder” paradigm. We need to resolve the tensions facing business between “doing well” and “doing good.” And we need to build a society based on shared values, while we embrace the things that make us different. Core values of respect, fairness and trust are important foundations to build upon.

The Victoria Forum aims to continue charting a way forward and nurturing these ideas for a better world — built on a robust civil society and strong partnerships.

We launched what we hope will be an ongoing movement, responding to an urgent call for action to take charge of the legacy we are leaving future generations. We encourage everyone to review our discussions at victoriaforum.ca and help us chart a path forward to a brighter future for all.

Saul Klein is chair of the Victoria Forum and dean of the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. The Victoria Forum was co-hosted by the University of Victoria and Global Affairs Canada, in partnership with the Canadian International Council, the Conference Board of Canada, the Global Centre for Pluralism, the Haida Enterprise Corporation, Philanthropic Foundations Canada, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund Canada.

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