Queen Rania's Interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson during the 20th Warwick Economics Summit - 2021

February 06, 2021

Hello and welcome, to you all wherever you are in the world. It’s a great pleasure to have you on board today. I’m Becky Anderson joining you today from CNN’s Middle East broadcasting hub in Abu Dhabi here in the UAE.

And what a time to be gathering… We are living through a pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic acting as both a catalyst and inventor of unimaginable change in our daily lives…from how we live, how we work, how we socialize, how our children access their education, and to how the global order of geo-strategic alignment itself is being reshaped in front of our eyes.

May you live in interesting times….said to be a curse from ancient China. That has truly been the maxim of this modern era.

Well, for the last 20 years, the Warwick Economics Summit has built a reputation as a leading platform for discussion of the most pressing issues of our times. An opportunity to debate the here and now and what’s to come with global leaders who are shaping our world.

So, it is my great pleasure today to introduce Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, who I am honored to say I’ve known for many years. And over the years, I’ve had the privilege of spending time with Her Majesty, getting a firsthand look at her pioneering initiatives in education and entrepreneurship, which are at the heart of her commitment to bettering the lives of all Jordanians, with a real focus on empowering women and children, which we will discuss today.

Over the years, Queen Rania and I have also spoken at great length about the importance of tolerance around the world and of Her Majesty’s efforts to promote greater understanding and acceptance of people of all faiths and cultures – with a particular focus on challenging stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. Against the backdrop of the pandemic we are living with today, these are all valuable topics that I hope we can develop in our discussion today.

Your Majesty, it is a great delight to see you again. How are you?

QUEEN RANIA: I’m doing great, Becky. It’s great to be speaking to you. And thank you for the introduction and for the great reporting you always do.

BECKY ANDERSON: Thank you very much indeed. Let’s just jump straight in…

COVID-19 is clearly the backdrop to this discussion and the equitable distribution of vaccines is, rightly so, one of the most important topics we are reporting on today. I know you are interested in this discussion. Jordan, of course, is one of the few countries promising and delivering vaccines for refugees, and that is something we applaud. We know, Queen Rania, that vaccine nationalism is rife. We know it will cost many lives and perhaps, it will cost millions, as far as the global economy is concerned. Perhaps billions, if not trillions, according to the latest reports. On an economic level and on an empathetic level, what is your case, to your mind, for the equitable distribution of vaccines?

QUEEN RANIA: I think, my husband, His Majesty King Abdullah, has said: vaccines are a global public good, and they should be viewed as such. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. You know, even before pharmaceuticals were given the green light to mass-produce and sell their vaccines, the majority of doses were pre-ordered by wealthy nations. According to the vaccine watchdog, the People’s Vaccine Alliance, some wealthy nations ordered enough doses to inoculate their populations three times over. Lower-income countries, on the other hand, will at best only manage to vaccinate a tenth of their populations. I see no reason why those who have excess supply can’t donate their surplus to poorer countries, and I’m glad that some countries have committed to doing just that.

I’m also glad that some countries have signed on to support and donate to COVAX, which is hoping to deliver upwards of a billion doses by the end of the year to low-income countries. I think it’s imperative to make sure that vaccine equity is a priority for us because we do have a cloud hanging over our heads – all of us, not just the poor nations. Whether you’re wealthy or poor, whether you’re a high-income or low-income nation, we have a cloud of unevenness over us. This unevenness is not just in terms of how people have been impacted, some much more severely than others…but also our ability to recover. High-income countries are able to provide the economic stimulus, whereas low-income countries and emerging markets do not have the fiscal space to provide liquidity to their economies, which will help them recover.

As a result, if countries are unable to recover, then there’s going to be instability and insecurity for all of us. No matter how wealthy you are as an individual or as a nation, no amount of wealth will shield you from the real anger and hostility that’s out there. I feel a very potent anger among people because of the inequality we are seeing. You know, this pandemic has really revealed and reinforced cracks in our world order, along lines of income inequality, gender inequity, social injustice… and you can add health inequality on top of that. It is absolutely imperative that we really address these issues. If we’re not motivated from a moral or ethical responsibility, then at least we should be motivated from a global health standpoint.

We’re all in a race against a pandemic, not against each other. And it’s not a cliché to say that until all of us are safe, none of us are safe. If anybody was uncertain about how interconnected our world is, I think this disease – the way it has spread – has really demonstrated that we’re just so interconnected, that we as nations and individuals cannot recover until everybody else is able to recover.

BECKY ANDERSON: Children around the world, wherever they live, be it the developed or developing, the richer or poorer nations, have been impacted by this pandemic. But the issue of education inequality lies at the heart of much of what you and I have discussed over the years, and has been exacerbated by the current crisis. You and I have been, as I said, discussing education for years. I just want to play a brief clip of us speaking more than 10 years ago in 2009. Have a look at this.

CLIP OF QUEEN RANIA (2009):There are 75 million children who are not going to school…41 million of them are girls. These are girls who are out of school, they’re out fetching water, they’re out farming fields, out weaving carpets, out getting married early. When I think of girls, I think of them being soft and vulnerable. They might not be the solution necessarily to the world’s toughest problems, but they really are. Educating a girl gives her self-respect, gives her self-confidence – she gets married later in life, has fewer children, has a healthier family, works to build a more prosperous community. So really, they can be part of the solution.

BECKY ANDERSON: Well, that was more than a decade ago. The Secretary General of the UN in just the past few days saying: this pandemic is an opportunity to reimagine education itself. Given the existing problems, I wonder what you believe can be done towards ensuring equity of education, access to education for all. With the initiatives that you and I discussed back in 2009, you have been at the forefront of some of the most pioneering initiatives in the field, so what are your thoughts at this point?

QUEEN RANIA: Firstly, I think COVID-19 has caused the greatest disruption to education in human history, with school closures affecting upwards of 1.6 billion learners around the world. Even in the best of times, access to education has never been fair, but the disparities that we are seeing today, both within and across countries, are quite staggering. A child’s fate hinges on which side of the digital divide they fall, and far too many, millions in fact, are falling on the wrong side. During lockdowns, most of the governments, around 70% of them, offered some kind of remote instruction. But, according to UNICEF, around 460 million students were completely cut off from any kind of remote learning. That’s not surprising when you consider that 40% of the world’s population do not even have internet access. Add to that the need for remote-ready classrooms and teachers, infrastructure, and time and space at home, and the barriers to online learning just keep rising. 

Although online learning has been a lifeline for many students around the world, until it is universally accessible, then it is going to continue to fall tragically short. Even within wealthy countries, like the UK for example, the differences across income levels are quite stark. Last year in the UK, poor students missed more days of school than their rich counterparts, which increased the learning gap between the two groups by 50%.

One way to reinforce and build resilience in our education systems is through the expansion of hybridization. Now is the time to truly invest in in-person and remote learning methods, and to really build the capacities to deliver on them. Online learning solutions aren’t just band-aid measures for temporary problems. They reinforce our education systems by offering contingency options for us. In my opinion, if they are delivered universally and if they are delivered effectively, they can once and for all provide the opportunity to really equalize the quality of education across different income levels, circumstances, and abilities. That is something we really need. I believe it’s the future of learning.

As a global community, we need to prioritize closing the global education-funding gap. UNESCO is warning that it’s reaching $200 billion a year. That might sound like a lot, but when you think that it’s only 10% of global military expenditure, I think there is no excuse for us not to make an effort to close that gap.

BECKY ANDERSON: That’s a very good point. You and I have also talked about the gender gap in learning and the learning disparities between girls and boys. We know that the pandemic could really exacerbate those inequalities, not just in the classroom, but also at work. A new report from McKinsey puts the differential between allowing regressive effects on women versus taking a proactive approach to advancing gender equality at about $14 trillion in 2030. That is the GDP of China, a huge number, and that will affect men and women alike. How do you see that lack of equality at work and also the transformation of our working lives as we move forward?

QUEEN RANIA: This pandemic has really upended the entire working population, but some things have remained painfully constant. The barriers to women’s employment have been holding strong. Even those women who are working aren’t receiving the support they need. Women are more likely to be employed by sectors that have been impacted by lockdowns, and when jobs are scarce, they are the first to be let go.

The school and daycare closures have been nothing short of a full-scale crisis for a lot of working moms. In the UK alone, 1 in 5 women had to either quit their jobs or were forced to leave. That is really tough on mothers and families, but it is also terrible for the global economy, like you mentioned.

The McKinsey study warns that by 2030, the growing gap between men and women’s employment is going to come at a cost of a trillion dollars to global GDP. That’s a lot of money being left at the table. But today, we have an opportunity to completely revamp, rethink, and redesign the workplace so that it better meets the needs of men and women. Employers need to adopt and adapt family-friendly, flexible work models that allow parents to progress in their careers without feeling that they’re compromising on having a well-rounded life or on their family relationships.

One way to ensure that women’s needs are always taken into consideration is to guarantee that there are more women in the room. Whether it’s board rooms or important policy decisions, we still have a lot of room to grow in that regard. A lot of our targets have still not been met in terms of gender equity and in terms of representation and compensation in the workplace.

When it comes to the workplace in general, this aspect has paused a lot of aspects in our life, but it has also fast-forwarded many others. The future of work, with all its potential benefits and pitfalls, is one of them. I am by no means an expert, but I think the way we think about work will never be the same again. Studies show that the majority of skilled workers now prefer a blend of a home-office work arrangement. Employers who don’t embrace that flexibility will be at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new talent.

I also think that the flexible workplace is more inclusive because it brings in people who were traditionally shut out from the workplace because of their circumstances, like single parents, people with disabilities, and even talented refugees abroad. But the option to work from home still remains elusive to many around the world. According to the World Bank, in higher-income countries, one in three jobs can be done from home, but that number goes down to one in 26 in lower-income countries.

As our reliance on machines continues to increase, those same jobs that cannot be done from home – for example, bank tellers, factory workers, and cashiers – those are the jobs that are going to be disappearing, and much sooner than we think. Global recessions and accelerated automation have caused a double disruption, which, according to the World Economic Forum, will mean that jobs will be divided equally between humans and machines by 2025. That is in four years’ time. That will eliminate about 85 million jobs.

We will be able to make up for these jobs in the green economy and in technology, but it means we will have to move very quickly to reskill and upskill our workers so that they remain relevant to the job market. What this pandemic has done is that it has removed the luxury of time. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well under way with AI, genetic engineering, the Internet of Things, and robotics making huge leaps. We need to be careful to make sure that these technologies serve all citizens in human-centered ways, and we need to move very quickly to protect our more vulnerable workers.

BECKY ANDERSON: And the poor who are often times getting poorer at this point. I know that this is particularly important to you, the poor getting poorer, especially in developing countries, even such as Jordan itself. I wonder if you see a further crisis for globalization, perhaps as [great as] we’ve ever seen, particularly when we see these sort of populist movements emerging around the world. I do wonder how you believe effective leadership can address this – I wonder how we make a case for that, when there are so many assaults on it at this point?

QUEEN RANIA: From the beginning of this crisis, everybody has suffered some kind of loss, whether it’s a loss of opportunities, security, or worst of all, loss of loved ones. But this loss hasn’t been felt equally. For some, the pandemic has been very disorienting, whereas for others, it has been truly devastating. As some have said, we may be in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.

For example, you’re seeing some people enjoying the benefits of the rebounding global markets, but far too many people around the world are suffering from parallel pandemics of hunger, violence, and illiteracy. In fact, for the first time in 20 years, extreme poverty is back on the rise. This pandemic has shone a light on pre-existing cracks in our world order. It has really reinforced and exposed fissures along the lines of inequality. As I mentioned earlier, whether it’s racial, gender, or social injustice – all these are issues that we’ve failed to address in the past. And again, this is creating a very dangerous, destabilizing situation for all of us.

These problems are not biodegradable; they’re not going to go by themselves, so we need to be very serious about addressing these issues. There’s a great divergence happening in our world, whether it’s across geographies, income levels, or generations, and in an interconnected world, you cannot shield yourself from this anger.

I would like to point out, however, that this period has also shown some of our strengths as an international community. Even though there is room for improvement, I think the global effort to try to combat and cure this virus has probably been the most coordinated worldwide response to any crisis in human history.

If we take the development of vaccines, for example, I think it would have taken us years to get to this point had it not been for the coordination and collaboration of the medical community. That was a shining, undeniable example of how a crisis can fuel innovation, and how when we put our politics and national identities to a side and work towards a common goal, we can achieve so much for so many.

Moving forward, in a post-pandemic world, which spirit do we want to carry forward? Do we want to try, and likely fail, to go it alone? Or do we want to agree to make everybody’s wellbeing our new bottom line and really try to work to achieve that?

I think that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try to reimagine new socio-economic systems, to exercise bold and visionary leadership, and to create a new normal that provides opportunity for everyone.

I think we need a new north star to guide economic policy… new metrics that go beyond just measuring GDP, but actually look at environmental and social criteria. The private sector has a big role to play. I know some companies are already heading in that direction, but they really need to institutionalize the practice of aligning corporate success with social progress. Again, integrating financial metrics with relevant non-financial criteria – for example, measuring greenhouse effects, gender equity - whether in terms of compensation or representation. All those things are incredibly important.

Whatever “normal” we go back to, I know that we cannot go back to the “old normal” that left too many people behind. Because if we’ve learnt one thing from this crisis, it’s that we’re only as strong as the weakest among us. I don’t think we should lose this opportunity to really try to right a lot of the wrongs in our world. The last thing we need now is to just have these inequalities further deepened. Because, as I said before, this is going to be destabilizing for everyone.

BECKY ANDERSON: Queen Rania, you’re making some very, very valuable points. And as we close this out, it’s also good to hear your thoughts on how this can be an opportunity and one that may be an equalizer going forward.

Finally, I do want to ask you a question, not as Queen Rania, but as a loving wife and devoted mum, which I know you are. How has your life changed for yourself and for your family?

QUEEN RANIA: I think everyone during this time will have felt a little detached or isolated. You know, when our lives migrated online overnight, not even the most advanced networks could protect us from feeling a little bit disconnected. And I know that loneliness became a parallel pandemic of sorts for many people. In the UK, 50 percent of remote workers suffered from it, and a quarter of all adults during lockdowns.

When your emotional health takes a hit, so does your outlook on life. There have been studies that have shown a link between loneliness and populism, because lonely people are more likely to view the world as a hostile place, which makes them easy targets for exploitation by populists who want to pit us against one another.

I think it’s only natural for us to lean on our smart phones and devices in these isolating times, but I think our skyrocketing screen-times have been part of the problem. Youth are particularly vulnerable, because the unrelenting pressure from fast-paced media means that they’re more likely to be exposed to hate and bigotry.

Now, I’m not advocating that we should reject social media wholesale, because nothing is inherently totally good or bad. I think it’s just how we conduct ourselves. We need to be a bit more thoughtful about how we use these media. We need to be, not just disciplined, but even draconian in our efforts to avoid negative or counterproductive content.

I think this pandemic has given us perspective on the importance of cultivating close relationships, not just building networks of distant friends and followers. That has been part of the silver lining. I know that for many families, myself included, I really found it a blessing to have all my kids in one place. They’re at different stages in their lives – some in school, some in university, some working – so for the first time in a long time, we were able to be together in one place for an extended period of time and to have that quality time together.

I think this pandemic has reminded us of our common vulnerability, but it has also shown us that we are stronger and more resilient than we think. None of us are the same people we were this time last year. There’s been collective trauma, but I think there’s been a lot of collective growth. For me in particular, it’s also given me a little bit of a reprieve from being in the public space. You know, I’ve been doing this for close to 21 years, so just being at home for a while with my family despite all the pressures outside, that has been something that I would really consider a blessing.

BECKY ANDERSON: Well, thank you for spending some time away from the family with us today. It has been an absolute pleasure as ever to speak with you. Your Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, always a privilege.

QUEEN RANIA: Always a joy to speak to you, Becky.

BECKY ANDERSON: Thank you. And to the Warwick Economics Summit, congratulations once again on your 20th year. From me here at CNN Abu Dhabi, thank you for joining us. From both of us, it’s a very good day, take care, be well, and stay safe.