World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Resources / Documents / WCC general secretary / Sermons / Accountability in global leadership

Accountability in global leadership

By Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2017.

17 January 2017

This speech is also available in Norwegian (Nynorsk) (pdf, 50 KB)

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2017.

New expressions of polarizing populism are leading to greater division in our world and in our societies. We see more tribalism, nationalism, racism, and violence. The root causes of these trends can often be found in the negative effects of economic globalization – or of its radical opposite, economic protectionism, inequality and exclusion – with more and more people marginalized and left behind, creating ever greater gaps between the rich and the poor. Some of those left behind are vocal and voting, some of them are young unemployed, many of them live in marginal conditions without any public voice, some of them are homeless.

Appeasing the fear of one group by increasing the fear of another cannot be the solution. These challenges require leadership accountable to the whole and one humanity for the sake of justice and peace for all. Real accountable relationships, not only to owners but also to employees, is a condition for a healthy business. Responsible global leadership today entails a much wider horizon of accountability, as an attitude, a self-critical awareness of the negative effects of narrow interest and of excluding so many others from the growth and the development enjoyed by a few. Economic gains must provide the resources for education, jobs, health, and a healthy environment - for all. Taxes are common resources needed for sustainable development of a society, and should not be escaped or avoided. In a wider horizon of mutual accountability to humanity and the future of the one planet Earth, we can find much better solutions together than apart.

Many powerful and prominent women and men will soon arrive in Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. They will discuss what responsible global leadership means in our time. This theme, though appropriate to every historical context, seems especially critical now. All leaders in all sectors need to define and embody leadership based on mutual accountability among them to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. Accountable leadership cannot be built on half-truths or a post-truth approach.

It is time for all responsible leaders to address together and with fresh minds what is required of us now, in this time. This also includes religious leaders, who must take the lead in being accountable for our moral and spiritual values to those who have the greatest needs. This is based on our belief that accountability to God means accountability to all those created in the image of God. Let me mention some urgent examples:

It is obvious that we need to address climate change both as a global problem and as a local problem everywhere, through accountability to the shared commitments of Paris 2015 and Marrakesh 2016. This must include accountability to the victims of climate changes today and tomorrow. We must never forget that the most vulnerable suffer the most severe effects of greenhouse gas emissions already. Economic development, which we all need, is mutually accountable when it favours sources of energy and methods of production and transportation that are sustainable. This “green shift” is possible. It requires moral motivation, political decisions, new directions in investment and business. This Earth is our one and only home, and that of our children and grandchildren.

Indeed, it is children who frequently suffer the most from economic injustice and new forms of polarization, local conflicts and violence. We acknowledge that religion is sometimes misused to legitimize or justify violence against children, even in their own homes. Children have the right to grow up without violence and in security. Children who do not receive what they need for their development in terms of nutrition, safety, health, education and loving care are suffering now, and they will carry the wounds for their whole lives. There is no better investment for a world of peace and justice than care and education for all girls and boys. Accountable leaders of all sectors must pay much more attention to the needs of children, as the hope of humanity.

New and different forms of violence and terrorism are appearing in many parts of the world. Violence happens in homes, against women, in communities, against minorities of many kinds, between tribes, communities and nations, by individuals and by groups, and by states in the form of oppression and structural violence or use of weapons. Some of it claims a religious justification. But violence in the name of religion is violence against the true meaning of religion. Religious leaders and those who believe and practice their faith must show their accountability and stand together against abuse of religion to directly motivate or indirectly legitimize violence. It is our responsibility as religious leaders today to define how religious faith and practices can lead to more justice and more peace, for all God’s creation.

A true leader knows that we need the wisdom of one another, gained through open and even critical dialogue across interests and boarders. To commit to a vision of inclusivity and mutual accountability is a challenge for everyone, whatever sector we are in. Nevertheless, this is what it is required of global leadership in our time. We need to promote hope for all, not only for our own interests or those of companies, specific groups, or nations. Otherwise it is not a real hope.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary
World Council of Churches