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3 takeaways from the 2023 Democracy Forum

Recently, the Obama Foundation brought together young leaders, democracy experts, policymakers, and tech leaders at the 2023 Obama Foundation Democracy Forum. During the Forum, President Obama spoke at length about actions we can take to build a strong economy that fosters inclusivity, innovation, and sustainable expansion as changes in our global workforce naturally occur. 

Below are some highlights from President Obama’s remarks – you can read his full speech here (Opens in a new tab).


Brian Deese speaks on a panel alongside Mary Kay Henry, Chiedo Nwankwor, and Betsey Stevenson. All speakers are a range of light to deep skin tones and they sit on a stage. A screen behind them reads, “Obama Foundation Democracy Forum.”

“...We need to take advantage of this changing mood to push for stronger labor laws, both at the national level and the state levels. And we should support international movements to create unions in other economies.” 

— President Obama

Newer technologies hold incredible opportunities for economic and social growth, but we must demand a certain level of accountability and trust from those that utilize them with and for our communities. In his speech, President Obama discussed the historical erosion of trust that occurs in democratic institutions when capitalism and growth are centered around the few versus the many:

“...More and more people came to believe that their government wasn’t looking out for them, and that politics was a zero-sum game. And as anger and frustration rose, so did anti-immigrant sentiment, so did right wing populism, so did a strident nationalism that has all too often led to the promotion by politicians of anti-democratic ideas and has often led to international conflict.”

— President Obama

As the global economy expands and becomes more complex, it is critical that we demand fairer and more transparent policies around economic growth and technological development. There are many ways to do this, as President Obama pointed out, namely government accountability: 

“…At the macro level, that starts with us making sure our governments, those in charge of managing the economy, support fiscal and monetary policies that encourage full employment. For decades, economists told us we couldn’t go below a natural unemployment rate — they estimated it might be around 5%-5.5% — without sparking inflation. But as it turns out, there’s nothing natural about a steady unemployment rate that leaves millions of people out of work, and that is twice as high, in some cases, in African-American communities or in rural communities.”


A Black woman with a deep skin tone stands in front of a board and writes on a sticker. She is wearing glasses and has curly brown locs. Her sticker reads, “collective resisting.”

“Reforming our economy really does require not just better policies, but a shift in our mindset.” 

— President Obama

In his speech, President Obama discussed the importance of building an economic structure rooted in inclusive capitalism. The theory: as our global economy moves towards a more capitalist structure, actors — governmental agencies, corporations, and those with vast amounts of wealth — have the power to create and implement strategies that combat income and social inequities: 

“Corporations are perfectly capable of operating efficiently and profitably while considering the impact they have on their workers, and on their communities, and on the planet and on our democracy….that broader view may actually improve their bottom line, because in today’s interconnected world, the best companies have to consider long-term strategies that will help them retain talent or recruit talent from an increasingly diverse workforce.”

— President Obama

We have the power to invent and invest in systems that counter the excess of capitalism, harness technology, and increase global cooperation. This includes expanding opportunities for labor across multiple industries; building local, domestic, and global programs that create a sustainable labor infrastructure; and providing a safety net for our global workforce. Still the door is open for new opportunities to re-envision our global economy: 

“...The question isn’t how to stop these advances from happening completely, it’s how to make sure they’re subject to public debate, and consider public safety and welfare concerns, and that the benefits of these new technologies flow to everyone, and that they’re accessible not just in the places where they’re invented or the companies that make them, but also in other countries and in poor communities.”

— President Obama


President Obama stands behind a podium at the 2023 Obama Foundation Democracy Forum. He is looking left and away from the audience in front of him. He is wearing a black suit. Two clear teleprompters are on the side of him.

Creating inclusive economic opportunities for all communities is essential, but that will only occur with full global cooperation and participation. In the final point of his speech, President Obama unpacked the importance of a cohesive economic system that realistically addresses the complexities of a multi-layered, multi-pronged, multi-cultural economy: 

“Building a trade regime that helps everyone and not just some, and that can garner political support will require new models of cooperation. We’re going to have to create trade deals where wealthy countries are willing to open up to the poorest countries, even if those poor countries don’t completely reciprocate.”

— President Obama

Additionally, President Obama stressed the value of building a sustainable economic framework – one that addresses pressing issues like global labor rights and environmental sustainability. 

The good news is we are already beginning to do this work. In his speech, President Obama cited a number initiatives that actively support global cooperation and growth:  

“Despite all the challenges internationally, we’re starting to see some examples of strategic cooperation on this issue. For instance, two years ago, more than 130 countries agreed to a global minimum tax as a way to stop this race to the bottom track. Countries are supposed to share information, mutually enforce their tax standards. And it’s still early. Getting every country to actually enforce the agreement is going to be hard, but it’s a start. And we should build on this approach.”

— President Obama


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