Income inequality has risen in the majority of advanced economies and in most emerging economies since 1990. Across the globe, there has been a steady and dramatic rise in the concentration of wealth in the top 10 percent of the population and an even larger increase in the top one percent.
Even in countries where the gap between rich and poor narrowed, there are still large segments of the population whose economic status remains stagnant or has declined. Societies are always marked by different levels of resources among their members, but certain levels of inequality are so profound that they deprive individuals of the fundamental opportunities that all people should have.
Severe inequality often results in a lack of access to basic resources such as education, health, labor, and housing — resources that enable people to realize their full potential. The consequences of this lack of opportunity can endure over a lifetime or even for generations, affecting individuals, families, and communities.
Two projects that emerged from our unequal opportunity Forum are currently underway:
On June 19, 2018, Columbia World Projects (CWP) held a Forum with about 35 experts from inside and outside Columbia University. The goal of the meeting was to deepen understanding of the challenges associated with unequal opportunity and identify promising projects CWP could implement to improve lives and reduce inequality. Before the meeting, experts worked with CWP staff to develop 12 project proposals, which we discussed and evaluated during the Forum.
Working Groups and Project Proposals
Forum participants were split into five working groups organized by theme: education, housing, health, labor, and public policy and the economics of inequality. Subject matter experts were assigned to the groups based on their knowledge, background and different views on the topic.
Each working group had to evaluate several project proposals developed in advance by participants and CWP staff.
Read more about the project proposals and the working group discussions in our Forum report.
Participant biographies are current as of June 19, 2018
Lee C. BollingerPresident, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Lee C. Bollinger became Columbia University’s nineteenth president in 2002. Under his leadership, Columbia stands again at the very top rank of great research universities, distinguished...
Salman AhmedSenior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Salman Ahmed is currently a Senior Fellow in the new Geoeconomics and Strategy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. He leads a bipartisan task...
William (Bill) BeckerVice President and Corporate Drinking Water Practice Leader, Hazen and SawyerRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Bill Becker, PhD, PE, is Vice President and the Corporate Drinking Water Practice Leader at Hazen and Sawyer and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. He has a PhD from the Johns...
Peter BergmanAssistant Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Peter Bergman studies how information problems affect human capital decision making. Much of his research combines technology and information interventions to improve outcomes for lowincome families at scale.
Neil BoothbyProfessor of Population and Family Health, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Neil Boothby is a Professor of Population and Family Health and Director of the Fostering Resilience Program at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Jeanne Brooks-GunnColumbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Biography current as of January 29, 2019
Jimmy ChenCEO, PropelRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jimmy Chen is the founder and CEO of Propel. Propel builds Fresh EBT, a free smartphone app that enables food stamp recipients to manage their benefits, save money, and build their careers.
Allyson CrawfordCEO, Room to GrowRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Driven by a passionate belief in the transformational potential of early childhood investments, Allyson Crawford joined Room to Grow in 2014 with robust experience in the K-12 education...
Sheldon DanzigerPresident, Russell Sage FoundationRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Sheldon Danziger is the President of the Russell Sage Foundation, which supports social science research “for the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.
Deborah DeSantisPresident and CEO, Corporation for Supportive HousingRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
As President and Chief Executive Officer, Deborah DeSantis has led the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) since 2007 in tripling its lending and support for the creation of over...
Gregory M. EirichDirector, Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Gregory M. Eirich is the Director of the Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (QMSS) MA Program at Columbia University. His course offerings include Data Analysis for the Social...
Nabila El-BasselWillma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Nabila El-Bassel is a Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and Director of the Columbia University Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA).
Jason FurmanFormer Chair, Council of Economic Advisers (2013-2017)Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy, Harvard Kennedy SchoolRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jason Furman is Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Negar GhobadiMonitoring and Evaluation Manager in Jordan, Norwegian Refugee CouncilRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Negar Ghobadi is an economist by training, and a humanitarian practitioner by vocation. She finished her PhD in development economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and has...
Michael J. GraetzColumbia Alumni Professor of Tax Law, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Before coming to Columbia in 2009, Michael Graetz was the Justus S. Hotchkiss Professor of Law at Yale University, where he had taught since 1983. During January-June 1992, Graetz served...
Jacob S. HackerVisiting Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs, Columbia UniversityStanley Resor Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jacob S. Hacker is a Visiting Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Columbia University and the Stanley Resor Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution...
Avril D. HainesFormer Deputy DirectorRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Avril Haines was the Deputy Director of Columbia World Projects from 2017-2020. She now serves as director of national intelligence in the Biden administration.
Malo HutsonDirector, Project DevelopmentAssociate Professor of Urban Planning and Director of the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Malo is an associate professor in Urban Planning and founder and director of the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab at Columbia University. He is also an associate member of the Earth...
Merit JanowDean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Merit E. Janow is an internationally recognized expert in international trade and investment, with extensive experience in academia, government, international organizations, and business.
Olatunde JohnsonJerome B. Sherman Professor of Law and Vice-Dean for Intellectual Life, Columbia Law SchoolRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Olatunde Johnson is the Jerome B. Sherman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School where she teaches legislation, antidiscrimination law, and civil procedure, and writes about congressional...
Mary JordanNational Correspondent, The Washington PostRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Mary Jordan writes about national political issues for The Washington Post. She spent 14 years abroad as a foreign correspondent based in Tokyo, Mexico City, and London.
Alan KhazeiCEO, Be The Change, Inc.Read Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Alan Khazei is a social entrepreneur who has pioneered ways to empower citizens to make a difference. Khazei is the Founder and CEO of Be The Change, Inc., which developed three campaigns...
Upmanu LallColumbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dr. Lall is the Director of the Columbia Water Center and the Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering, and the Chair of the Dept. of Earth & Environmental Engineering at...
Nicholas LemannFormer DirectorJoseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism; Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Journalism; Director, Columbia Global ReportsRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Nicholas Lemann was the director of Columbia World Projects from 2017 through February 2021. He directs Columbia Global Reports, a book publishing venture that commissions reporting...
Hon. Jacob LewFormer United States Secretary of the Treasury (2013-2017)Visiting Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
The Honorable Jacob J. Lew is a Partner at Lindsay Goldberg LLC and a Visiting Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Hon. Denis McDonoughSenior Principal, Markle FoundationRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Denis McDonough served as White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama from February 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017. In this role, he managed a four-thousand-member White House staff...
Tara McGuinnessSenior Advisor, National Network, New AmericaRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Tara Dawson McGuinness is a Senior Fellow with New America where she focuses on how new technologies can be used to reduce inequity. Prior to this work she served in several roles in the...
Na’ilah NasirPresident, Spencer FoundationRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dr. Na'ilah Suad Nasir is the sixth President of the Spencer Foundation, which supports research about education. She has been a faculty member (currently on leave) at the University of...
Damon PhillipsLambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise, Columbia Business SchoolCo-Director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, Columbia Business SchoolRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Damon J. Phillips is the Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise. He is also Co-Director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia University.
Kenneth PrewittCarnegie Professor of Public Affairs, Columbia UniversitySpecial Advisor to the PresidentRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Kenneth Prewitt is the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University. He taught Political Science at the University of Chicago from 1965–1982, and for shorter stints was...
Representative Terri SewellCongresswoman, 7th District of AlabamaRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell is in her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. She is one of the first women elected to Congress from Alabama in her own right...
Palak ShahSocial Innovations Director, National Domestic Workers AllianceFounding Director, Fair Care LabsRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Palak Shah leads NDWA's national strategy on raising market norms and standards, partnering with the private sector, and building scalable and sustainable business ventures.
Nik SteinbergDeputy DirectorRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Nik is the Deputy Director of Columbia World Projects. He previously served as the Counselor and Chief Speechwriter for Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ashwin VasanExecutive Director, Health Access Equity Unit, NYC Department of Health and Mental HygieneAssistant Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health & Medicine, Mailman School of Public Health, Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dr. Vasan is the founding Executive Director of the Health Access Equity Unit at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. This unit – the first of its kind in the nation ...