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Nathalie Jean-Baptiste: “Tackling wealth inequality is a marathon, not a sprint”

When wealth inequality expert Dr. Nathalie Jean-Baptiste joined the Julius Baer Foundation, she knew she was entering a marathon. The Foundation’s efforts to reduce the wealth gap would require time, courage, and out-of-the-box thinking, as well as partners from different socio-economic groups and cultures. The first projects have now launched, more are in the pipeline, and Nathalie’s motto remains the same: ‘Grit & Grace’.

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“There’s a beauty in the kind of generosity that does not require a reason or a context,” says the Julius Baer Foundation’s wealth inequality expert Nathalie Jean-Baptiste of the motto behind her social mobility work – ‘Grit & Grace’.

‘Grace’ encompasses the beauty she mentions. The ‘grit’ is in tackling statistics such as the fact that 64% of the global adult population has an annual salary less than 10,000 USD (Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report) while 0.1% of the world’s top earners will accumulate more wealth than the global middle-income group by 2050 if current trends continue (World Inequality Report 2018).

The Julius Baer Foundation is on a mission to tackle these inequalities, as well as the associated lack of social capital a person needs to gain access to networks and opportunities. Nathalie, who has a PhD and years of experience in urban studies, describes the efforts as a marathon. “It is not going to happen with timely donations or charity work,” says the Haiti-born researcher who joined the Foundation in early 2020, intrigued by its bold approach. “Tackling wealth inequality is a marathon, not a sprint.”

That a private Swiss bank is addressing wealth inequality, which is often the elephant in the room, is innovative and courageous.

Dr. Nathalie Jean-Baptiste

A courageous approach
If it’s not about donations or charity work, it very much is about sharing. The Foundation supports initiatives that go beyond poverty reduction to create mutually beneficial partnerships. “The Julius Baer Foundation is in the best position to facilitate voluntary exchange between different income groups and pioneer in addressing this challenge,” says Nathalie. “That a private Swiss bank is addressing something like this, which is often the elephant in the room, is innovative and courageous.”

There are five steps to the approach: after first exposing the problem, the Foundation identifies which partners are at the table. Next, it develops a rationale, defining what motivates different income groups to collaborate with each other. Fourth comes negotiation, with the Foundation facilitating a common approach. The final step is for the Foundation to act as a ‘possibility broker’ for a wealth redistribution strategy.

“We have the capacity to research and fund, and to bring different socio-economic groups into partnership with each other,” says Nathalie.

From Sao Paolo to Cape Town
In 2020, the Foundation added two projects in housing and education to its work. The first is FICA, an organisation in Sao Paolo, Brazil that intervenes to prevent abusive rents in corticos – buildings separated into very small rooms, sometimes for very large families. FICA is seeking to create a model whereby high-income investors’ capital crowdfunds the acquisition of these buildings, which can then be renovated to change the circuit of the rental market.

The second project is on the other side of the world, in Cape Town. Christel House is a public school that seeks to provide a good education to children from low-income families. The Julius Baer Foundation invited the school to participate in another challenge – engaging with a wealthy private school.

Making wealth inequality personal
Anyone interesting in supporting the Foundation’s efforts can attend events such as the Foundation Talks, which cover ongoing projects all over the world. The Foundation also hosts BEST PrACTtice Conferences that bring together different groups such as philanthropists, NGOs, practitioners, and scholars to share lessons learned and discuss practical solutions for the challenges ahead.

Philanthropic advice is available, too: there are advisors who can help individuals initiate their own charitable work. “It’s not a one size fits all approach,” highlights Nathalie.

Nathalie herself is driven by not wanting to stand by as the world unfolds. “When I see an opportunity to be part of a change, I grab it,” she affirms. “The Foundation has taken on a huge challenge and this is a chance to do more.”