Jim Claffey, NGO representative of the Congregation of the Mission at the United Nations, writes regularly about the intersection of the Vincentian charism and the global activities and priorities of the United Nations.

A 3-year-old screams, “It’s not fair,” when she thinks her brother gets something she doesn’t. Another child cries out the same when told it’s time for bed while an older sibling stays up.

They are calling for justice. Because there’s an instinct in us that things should be fair—not equal, perhaps, but at least fair. As Ms. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, says about social justice, “We know what that is. We learned it from our kids. It’s called fairness.”

Most people don’t think it’s fair that very wealthy people pay lower taxes than they do, or that corporations can simply raise prices or fire workers without good cause. Again, an innate sense of justice tells us when something is just wrong.

Even in the more undeveloped areas of the world, where futures seem pre-determined and fixed, with some exposure to the wider world everyone would want greater fairness, with opportunity for everyone, with material help when needed, with everyone’s dignity respected.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda of Peace and Prosperity for People and the Planet aims at getting humanity closer to that world. And the underlying promise is to leave no one behind.

Leave no one behind—progress for all—is only attainable if material progress is combined with spiritual or ethical values. Recent economic growth has clearly brought prosperity for many, but since much of that growth has come without a link to justice or equity, a few have disproportionately benefitted while many are left in precarious conditions. This is a spiritual issue. A spiritual failure.

Society will only be healthy and whole if values like community, the common good, and shared prosperity are intentionally pursued. It’s about fairness.

The UN agenda is inspired by Human Rights, a universal declaration affirming that all people have these rights, that rights belong to people not to governments, and that they must be respected.

The social teaching of the Church inspires others to seek justice and the common good and to challenge the status quo where everything is set up to favor the wealthy and well connected. Although not well known, the Social Doctrine builds on its roots in Scripture and is authentically pro-life because it defends and promotes life from womb to tomb—“I came that you might have life, and life in abundance.”

The Social Teaching fosters a mindset to seek and understand the root causes of injustice and to promote changes in the systems and structures that cause and keep people in poverty and misery. Professor Cornell West says it well: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

In the Vincentian tradition, we find Blessed Frederic Ozanam, principal founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a forerunner of Social Teaching with his calls for pensions and worker rights well before the earliest formulations of the doctrine. He tells us, “Go to the poor,” listen and learn, and complement charity with work for justice.

Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Catholic Social Teaching, and most of by all our shared charism to serve the poor, the Vincentian Family NGOs work to bring systemic change for people in poverty through our collaborative work at the UN doing political advocacy, a new level of charity. It involves navigating complicated concepts and constructs like Social Protection Floors, the Multi-Dimensional Polycrisis of Inequality, and Global Financial Architecture, but in the end it’s simply all about Fairness.