Sitting in the audience of the City of Sydney’s #SydCityTalk event featuring human rights advocate and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, it was clear that she was preaching to the choir. The message of “people first” deeply resonated with the audience and spread out like a shock wave from the stalls back. It wasn’t that we haven’t heard discussions about the importance of human-centred policy and action before – it’s just apparent that this style of conversation has been missing from our public discourse for some time.

After all, we live in an age where our sense of humanity has taken a backseat on our roadtrip to the future, and we’ve packed off the difficult issues like climate change, asylum seekers and refugees to live with the relatives.

So hearing a discussion of how governments, business and citizens can work together seems strangely foreign and wildly exciting.

Mary Robinson packed plenty into a short presentation – sustainable development goals, global focus, Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson and Bill Gates and global recognition for the programs and actions of the City of Sydney. Be sure to watch her speech in the video below.

Debunking Trickle Down Economics

One of the most interesting talks of the evening was Richard Denniss, Chief Economist from The Australia Institute. Not only was he able to make economics sound interesting and entertaining, he was able to do so in a way that illustrated his main point – that trickle down economics does not work. While we have seen this for ourselves in the widening gap between rich and poor – and the accelerating distance between the poor and the poorest – the raw numbers from the IMF tell an altogether more compelling story.

The research from five IMF economists, drew attention to the issue of global inequality, dismissed “trickle-down” economics and urged governments to target policies toward the bottom 20 percent of their citizens.

The problem with inequality is that it actually cripples growth. If we invest in the top 20% of our population, then GDP declines over the medium term. While a 1% increase in the income share of the poorest 20% of the population results in a 0.38% increase in GDP.

Where to from here?

Each of the speakers told a compelling and vital story. But the facts and figures from Richard Denniss’ speech coupled with Mary Robinson’s urgent insistence on change made me wonder. In fact, it made many of us in the audience wonder – where do we go from here? The levers of change are being applied to the UN’s sustainable development goals – and Australia is a willing signatory. But there is a yawning gulf between intention and policy, signature and action. Where do we go from here? How do we take these good intentions and make change happen? And precisely who is this WE?

I would dearly love to hear an update on progress at the next City Talks event.

Perhaps it is too soon to expect change to take place – or maybe – just maybe, we need more impatience in the mix of government, business and citizen policy making.

You can watch the full replay of the event below.