Weighing tactics to help public leaders confront polarization
At the annual flagship event held by the Center for International Development (CID) at the Kennedy School, top business leaders, policymakers, and academics debated challenges of polarization, “us and them,” and conflict. The Global Empowerment Meeting gathered for a full week of virtual discussions, with hosts including Professor Asim Khwaja, the CID director, and Professor Ricardo Hausmann, director of the center’s Growth Lab. The opening session heard public leaders from Colombia, South Africa, Yemen, and Canada draw on their own experiences with polarization and how to overcome it. They considered polarization as a political tool and as a driver of recent increases in political extremism. A path to overcoming polarization, they argued, emerges only when the moderate majority binds together—despite differences—in support of the greater good or in opposition to a greater threat such as violence and war. One example: Former South African Cabinet Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi described how South Africans banded together after 1990 amid widespread violence to forge the National Peace Accord that led to the first democratic election in 1994, and then did so again to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with past rights violations.