The recently published 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer – Navigating a Polarized World – is the 23rd annual trust and credibility survey of more than 32,000 respondents across 28 countries by global communications firm Edelman.
In the 23 years this survey has been published, 3 long term trends about trust have been identified:
1. For the first 19 years, NGOs were the most trusted institutions. In one year in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, it was government. In the last three years, it has been business.
2. Asia and the Middle East are the most trusting regions in the world. Developed democracies do poorly but developing countries do well.
3. Trust has moved from top down to peer-to-peer, to local … it’s in my employer.
An article written by CEO Richard Edelman described “2022 as the year when the world emerged from the pandemic, with a promised return to normal life and an economic boom. Instead, we got an unprecedented Russian invasion of Ukraine, spiraling commodity prices, greater global food insecurity, skyrocketing interest rates, continued climate shocks, strict Covid lockdowns in China and a retreat from globalization due to geopolitical risks. This triggered a cost-of-living crisis among the lower- and even the middle-class worldwide.”
Edelman explained that the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer see how these macro pressures manifest at an individual level in a set of fears ranging from inflation to nuclear war. These sit on top of pre-existing worries about job losses to automation and the impact of climate change. The consequence is a descent from distrust to acute polarization in society. Without intervention, we will see a continued move from a crisis of institutional trust to a crisis of interpersonal trust.
He noted that the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer points to four forces that are affecting trust.
– Force One: Economic Performance and Expectations of Future Income
– Force Two: Institutional Imbalance
– Force Three: Mass-Class Divide
– Force Four: The Battle for Truth
Edelman stated, “Trust enables action and action builds trust. The precondition for trust is a system that works for all. That is our perennial task.”
He shares a To Do List for Business in 2023:
1. Get to a simple measure of ESG, so you can demonstrate your societal impact. At present there are a dizzying 180 different approaches. A simple and single standard, which is universally accepted, will be much easier to defend when challenged by political or vested interests. KPIs (key performance indicators) that show Business is indeed keeping its word on ESG goals while building support for innovation, would allow companies to calculate their progress and respond to financial institutions evaluating potential investments.
2. Make Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a fundamental part of global business strategy. DE&I must live beyond our largest companies. Use the supply chain to insist on diversity at medium- and small businesses as has been done in sustainability. Defy the usual excuse of recession; keep pushing for more diverse boards of directors and top management teams and make religion an equal third leg along with race and gender.
3. Hold divisive forces accountable. Pull advertising money from media platforms that spread disinformation. Defend facts by showing the science behind innovation and publishing on your own platforms. Stop talking to media that push conspiracy theories. Stand up to politicians who may try to bully you.
4. Work with and not against Government. That goes especially for policies that raise living standards, offer opportunities for continuing education/reskilling, and improve public safety. That also means partnership with Government on a broader set of issues including privacy and security, geopolitics, plus proper supervision of new markets such as crypto.
We are living through a period of huge systemic change in a multi-polar world, with divisive forces fanning economic grievance. Left untended, the consequence will be further polarization, slowing economic growth, deeper discrimination and an inherent inability to solve problems. Business needs to play a leading role, restoring economic optimism by creating jobs. This will give Government time to recover its footing while the social fabric is mended from the rifts caused by the pandemic.