Vatican Youth Symposium Breakdown

As we’ve explored the idea of taking the Patriotic Millionaires model international, we’ve been faced with a challenge: how do we reach influencers and funders in countries where we have no contacts and no background in the cultural or political landscape?

The answer is that we need great allies to help us in this next step. Luckily, we’ve found some. We’ve largely been working with Oxfam International to brainstorm how we could structure an international network of PM chapters, but we’ve also found support from another group, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), that has a wide network of civil society, public, and private sector leaders across the globe working on sustainable development. Some of you who attended our gathering in New York a few weeks ago were able to meet its Director, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics and leader in sustainable development.

About a month ago, Professor Sachs invited the Patriotic Millionaires to speak at the Vatican Youth Symposium, an event cohosted by SDSN and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City. The annual Symposium brings together every year nearly 100 leaders and innovators in global development from around the world to develop solutions and partnerships to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include eradicating extreme poverty, establishing universal fair pay for work, and shrinking inequality (a full list can be found here).

So last week I flew out to Rome and joined business, government, faith, and academic leaders from around the world in a series of discussion sessions on how countries and individuals can make progress towards meeting the SDGs, and how young people can mobilize to address the challenges we’re facing. My role, as a representative of the Patriotic Millionaires, was to participate in a conversation focusing on the challenge at the heart of every facet of sustainable development: financing.

The UN SDG goals are intentionally and necessarily ambitious, and to reach them, the world is going to need to spend a lot of money. I made the case, as did Djaffar Shalchi, a Danish billionaire who founded Move Humanity and who we’ve been collaborating with on our effort to expand internationally, that this money needs to come largely from wealthy people, and it needs to come from them via taxes, not just philanthropy. We’re facing massive, systemic problems, and in order to effectively address them, we need to tackle them in equally large, systematic ways, and operating on that scale that takes coordinated government action.

Throughout the event, I talked with people from probably around 25 different countries, and every single one had the exact same reaction to hearing about the Patriotic Millionaires – “I wish we had something like that in my country.” People all over the world know that rich people, no matter where they live, don’t pay enough in taxes. They know, particularly in developing countries, that the wealth needed to fix things exists in their country, it’s just being held by too few people and not being used productively. We’re (rightly) frustrated about the tax system in America, but how much more outraged would we be if millions of people in our country lived on less than $5 a day? This is an existential question for many, and there’s real passion here that we can and should use to build out our international presence.

We need to turn that growing sentiment into action. My most significant takeaway from the Symposium was the pressing urgency of our situation. The event highlighted a number of incredibly innovative programs and showed that we have a lot of smart people working on these issues, but the scope of the solutions being offered are nowhere near what they need to be in order to address the problems we’re facing, and we’re running out of time.

Whether it’s reshaping the global economy to prevent an unstoppable accumulation of wealth and power in a small number of elites or taking bold climate action to save our planet, the world needs to dedicate exponentially more power and resources if we want to stop these issues before they reach a point of no return. That’s going to take government action, and it’s going to take taxing the rich.

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