media release

SFU Public Square Community Summit tackles inequality

Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level and The Inner Level, headlines keynote event April 2

March 04, 2020

Ian Bryce, University Communications and Marketing, 236-880-2187,

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Simon Fraser University’s Public Square will bring renowned public health researcher and author Richard Wilkinson to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as the flagship event of the 2020 Community Summit: Overcoming Inequality: What Will It Take?

Wilkinson will draw on his decades of research into the health and social harms of income inequality, and discuss how improved equality benefits everyone in society.

“Inequality erodes social cohesion, fuels distrust, undermines our democracy and worsens our health outcomes,” says Janet Webber, executive director of SFU Public Square. “For this year’s summit, we’re bringing together thought-leaders, academics, government, industries and communities across Metro Vancouver to discuss how this impacts all of society and how we can identify and implement real solutions.”

Overcoming Inequality is SFU Public Square’s eighth annual Community Summit running from April 1 to 9, 2020.

The SFU Public Square Community Summit annually addresses a distinct issue affecting society, convening the academy and community to exchange knowledge, deliberate and to co-create solutions.

Tickets to Overcoming Inequality and other Community Summit events are available through SFU Public Square’s website.



Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research on the social determinants of health and on the societal effects of income inequality. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is a professor emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and honorary professor at University College London and the University of York.  

Wilkinson’s books and papers have drawn attention to the tendency for societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor to have a higher prevalence of a wide range of health and social problems. The Spirit Level co-written by Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, is a best seller available in 24 languages that has influenced politicians on both the left and the right, winning the 2011 Political Studies Association Publication of the Year Award and chosen as one of the Top Ten Books of the Decade by the New Statesman. In their new 2019 book, The Inner Level Wilkinson and Pickett move from the study of inequalities on societies, to how it affects us individually, and how material inequities have powerful psychological effects.   

Wilkinson is also the co-founder of The Equality Trust, which seeks to promote public understanding of the effects of inequality.



Numerous reports and studies have forecasts and statistics regarding inequality in Canada and around the world:

  • In 2019, the world’s billionaires, only 2,153 people, had more wealth than 4.6 billion people. (Oxfam)
  • Canada has the fifth highest level of income inequality among G7 countries (the United States has the highest). (Pew Research Centre)
  • While Canada has seen strong income growth among the richest, there has been a long run of stagnation of middle-class incomes and an erosion of real incomes for people on social assistance. (The Age of Increasing Inequality, Lars Osberg)
  • Canada’s wealthiest 87 families have 4,448 times more wealth than the average Canadian family, and they collectively own the same amount as the lowest-earning 12 million Canadians. (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
  • Canada’s wealth division is firmly entrenched along racial and gender lines. (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
  • A recent international study found that economic inequality enhances the “wish for a strong leader.” (Association for Psychological Science)



Community Summit

  • Each year, the SFU Public Square Community Summit addresses a distinct issue affecting society, convenes people for knowledge exchange, and enables solution finding.
  • Overcoming Inequality: What Will It Take? is the eighth annual Community Summit, this year’s event that will encourage a shared understanding of inequalities among diverse groups, so they can co-create solutions for a more equitable, just and prosperous society for all.
  • Former Community Summit topics have addressed: social isolation and belonging in urban centres; the economic future of British Columbia; innovation in the economy, environment, health and education; city building; Canada’s foreign policy and cultural role in the world; the future of work; and, confronting disinformation.
  • Keynote lecturers at past Community Summits include Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil; urban theorist Richard Florida; former U.S. Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter; CNN host Van Jones; Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie; The Atlantic senior editor David Frum; former US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich; and former co-director of Planning for the City of Vancouver Larry Beasley.
  • Vancity Credit Union has partnered with Public Square on the Community Summit since 2012 to encourage civic discourse and engagement on important issues that impact communities.


SFU Public Square

  • Launched in February 2012.
  • Part of SFU’s Strategic Vision to become Canada’s leading engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.
  • Works to build an informed, empowered, connected and engaged citizenry by fostering reciprocity, trust and knowledge exchange among SFU’s communities and enhancing the community engagement capacity of SFU and its partners.
  • Involved in over 70 public events per year.
  • Keynote lecturers at past SFU Public Square events include Edward Snowden, Naomi Klein, and Wab Kinew.
  • Current programs include SFU City Conversations, SFU President’s Faculty Lecture Series, Metro Conversations and the SFU Vancouver Speaker Series.





As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.