Earlier today Shakira received the Crystal Award in the World Economic Forum, for her humanitarian work. You can read her speech below:
Good evening – thank you for the honor of this award, and for the opportunity to speak to you all.
Today, we know more than ever about the early years of child development — especially that of the brain. The brain of a child who is nourished and nurtured, played with and read to, protected from factors like stress and conflict, has the best chance of developing its full potential because it’s proven that children who receive proper care in those first five years, do better in school and in life.
Sadly, this is not the case in countries like mine or others in the developing world, where being born into poverty means never breaking out of it.
We should be devastated that in 2017, 250 million children under the age of five are at risk and will likely be stunted physically and intellectually.
Now, take that in for a second. We are talking about nearly the population of an entire country the size of the US.
This is a tragedy for those children, and an epic failure for all of us. If we don’t attend to these kids in time, we are talking about intergenerational cycles of poverty and inequality. And the wider the gap of inequality grows—the harder it becomes to reach across it. The more numerous the faces of those born into poverty—the more difficult to see and empathize with each individual and recognize, that if not for the pure geography of where they were born; they could be one of our children.
It should make us all furious! And it should make us all want to take action. Because we all have a stake in the outcome. The world is facing serious challenges today. By 2050, massive population growth is expected, and we will need to feed 9 billion people, or risk being at the threshold of conflict and starvation. Will this generation of kids be ready to take on the task of eliminating malnutrition and providing food security?
Will they be prepared to come up with new innovations and find solutions to climate change, unemployment and the most complex challenges our society faces?
Who will help us manage our resources more efficiently and sustainably going forward, from here to the next 20 years? It´s your kids, Milan and Sasha my kids, and those 250 million kids at risk who need us to tip the scales back in their favor.
Today’s babies will someday drive tomorrow’s businesses. Their productivity will fuel tomorrow’s economies. Their capacity to contribute will shape tomorrow’s societies. Solve tomorrow’s problems.
All of you here today have a critical role to play. So what can you do? Let´s face it; in this room are some of the most powerful people in the world who know what it means to be ahead of the curve, and you can be tremendously influential. We need to apply the brains and strategies of business and use the assets, the human resources and talents of your companies, to do social good and solve social problems.
All of us need to pick up where governments leave off. It’s the only way.
That said—it’s not about letting the government off the hook—it’s about re-engaging them. But we have to take the first steps because as businesspeople we have the ideas, the agility, organizational skills, and the manpower (and female power of course!).
When we started building schools in Colombia, we chose the most remote areas, where there was literally nothing—no infrastructure, no paved roads, not even potable water.
Where historically the government had checked out, we checked in.
We decided to build not only schools but state of the art schools, with comprehensive models that included ECD programs, school feeding, parent and teacher training. We engaged the government as a strategic partner and made it nearly impossible for them to say no to doing their part.
The transformation in these communities could be seen immediately, the jobs generated and the hope inspired, but the improvements to the infrastructure were jaw dropping. Electricity and potable water were made accessible, roads were paved, malnutrition plummeted and the best part of all — the students really responded academically, and now those kids who could have been recruited by guerrillas or drug traffickers are on their way to university or thriving in their communities. Now I don’t have to call the governments so often, thank god! they are calling us wanting to invest and build more schools.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy but there’s an exit strategy to poverty and it’s getting these 250 million kids the access they need to quality ECD programs so they get in school and stay in school.
We have to push governments to increase their spend on ECD… we have to invest in campaigns for public awareness, we have to make access to pre-school free and we have to create a global fund for education just like aids, malaria and tuberculosis have their own fund.
I know I can sound vehement, as Bono once called me, it’s because I AM. And I know I can drive some people some nuts with my insistence but the reason why I’m so passionate is because I’ve seen with my own eyes, what investing in education can do! There’s nothing more fun and satisfying than seeing a child who had almost no possibilities to succeed, flourish and perform well in life. For me it beats even winning a Grammy any day.
We can’t press pause and ask those kids to wait to grow up until we’ve got it all figured out. There isn’t a moment to lose.
We need to invest in humans: it is the smart thing to do, the strategic thing to do and the just thing to do.
Thank you very much.
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