Understanding the causes of inequality is vital to providing policy solutions that can tackle them. Earlier this year, we spoke to Osama Rizvi, 2020 Shared Scholar from Pakistan studying MSc Global Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, about his passion to address inequality through inclusive economic policies and how it all starts with learning and creativity.

For a long time, I have been interested in political economy because it allows you to focus on why decisions are made and what their effects will be in. Situated between politics and economics, it is an area of study that gives a bigger picture analysis of the world and enables the researcher to identify how changes in one area of the globe can influence decision making in another. It also adheres to my personal philosophy of non-binary thinking as there is rarely a single reason for anything in the world. Though my previous studies were in Business Administration, I was fortunate during my first degree to meet my mentor, Professor Bilal Ilahi – a person who changed my life forever. He taught me about international relations, and opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of different fields of knowledge and domains of interest. It is only because of him that I am able to speak to you and be here in London.

Since then I have wanted to play a role in policy making and to do this, whether in a governmental or non-governmental setting, it’s crucial to have a broad understanding of the forces that shape the world, both economically and politically. For example, if you are working for a company that deals solely with production matters, it’s nevertheless important to be aware of wider economic factors that could influence the space in which that company operates, such as how the US Dollar is behaving.

Headshot of Osama Rizvi

Osama Rizvi, 2020 Commonwealth Shared Scholar

My development ambition for policy making revolves around inclusive economic policies that will raise the standard of living across the board, not just for particular groups. In Pakistan, there are often disparities between different groups, even when they live in the same locality, and my hope is that by pursuing inclusive economic policies these visible inequalities can be reduced and society as a whole can prosper more equitably. My research has focused on two broad areas – intergenerational justice and equality of opportunity – that I believe should underpin development in this area.

The importance of intergenerational justice rests on the fact that in Pakistan, if you are born into a low-income family where your parents have limited job prospects, and are forced into employment with low wages and poor working conditions, you are likely to face the same stark choice as them and take up similar work. This means that the same conditions of inequality are reproduced across generations and it becomes a vicious cycle. Instead, we should be aspiring to provide equality of opportunity because if employment opportunities in different sectors are accessible to everyone, no matter what their background, more people will have a chance of breaking the cycle of inequality and improving their lives through upward social mobility.

Of course, there are barriers to achieving inclusive economic policies in Pakistan, not least in navigating the country’s bureaucratic hierarchy, where vested interests in and conventional thinking about the established political-economic order would be hard to overcome. Additionally, there would be difficulties in gaining the resources to implement such policies. Ultimately though, the biggest challenge I foresee is in nurturing the kind of critical thinking about political economy that needs to happen in our education system. If we want to reimagine how societies can be structured, we need to inspire creativity through education and learning.

For me, discovering the importance of academic enquiry and keeping an open mind has been hugely motivating. Although I have personally experienced discrimination in terms of opportunities in the past, my family’s role and support in nurturing my intellectual curiosity and pluralistic values cannot be stressed enough. I feel that this mindset is of the utmost importance because it enables you to challenge your own views and productively critique the material conditions you see around you and consider how they could be improved for the better.

My scholarship experiences this year have also been important in helping me realise my ambitions for development. Though initially it was difficult settling into a new university system, with the help of my tutors, I was quickly able to adapt and get to grips with the study demands and make the most of student life at Goldsmiths. Aside from my academic skills, I hope that the network I have built up this year will help me to progress onto doctoral research and be in a good position to influence policy initiatives on the inclusive economy.

I feel particularly lucky to be studying in the UK at such an unprecedented time for action on climate change. The UK’s pledge to be net zero carbon by 2050 is exciting and I believe that the current discussions around energy transition are crucial to a sustainable global economy. Since commencing my scholarship, I have also had the chance to hear from business leaders, including Mr Fernando Hernandez, a business ambassador to Scotland with GlobalScot, about the issue of energy transition and this now happens to be one of my core areas of research; in my dissertation, I am currently exploring how the process of energy transition would be managed in the Global South. I hope to contribute to this positive change and support similar moves in my own country in the future.