Times for a profound shift

“It today takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year”.[1]

We must recognize that we are living in times for a profound shift in the context in which citizenship and leadership are being defined and exercised. If nothing is done the current degree of supply over-usage and the focus on short term results might require that the next generations will have to deal with severe scarcity of water, food energy and resources.

In the West the generation currently growing up is fighting the effects of misguided nutrition which is resulting in the highest ever recorded levels of obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. In the United States in 2010, over 63% of people (18% of US children) were overweight or obese. Profit maximization and ignorance are largely responsible for this trend.[2]

While the perceived wealth, resulting from the economic drive to succeed, is perhaps higher than in less developed countries, an ever rising proportion of this wealth is needed to pay for the sky-rocketing costs of keeping people healthy.  The obese workforce costs American business an estimated $73.1 billion per year.[3]

While the situation of the “rich world” is surely difficult, it does not compare to the dire situation faced by the world’s poor. These poor populations are caught in a continuum of struggle to survive. Even if some improvements have been made, the energy spent to ensure food and shelter for their families prevents them from seeing past the daily struggle. Without significant change there is little hope that these 2 bill people living on less than 2 USD a day, will ever escape from the cycle of poverty.

As Muhammad Yunus puts is: “If you go out into the real world, you cannot miss seeing that the poor are poor not because they are untrained or illiterate but because they cannot retain the returns of their labor. They have no control over capital, and it is the ability to control capital that gives people the power to rise out of poverty.” [4]

The increasing scarcity of resources (financial, natural and human), the emergence of “super wicked problems” (food and water shortage, climate change, youth unemployment, etc.), the imminent demographic and societal shifts and the developments around new technologies are making our world increasingly global, more interdependent and complex.

So while the lives of the rich and of the poor appear increasingly separate, they are in fact intertwined and moving closer together. This is the reality the next generations will be facing.

Some of the reasons underlying this shift include ubiquitous communication, international travel, open borders, free movement of labour and the changes in cultural understanding due to the emergence of digital natives.

This heightened degree of interdependence, better described by “systemic connectivity” implies that an individual’s decisions are less and less exclusively subject to the person’s own choices. In this interconnected world one’s own decisions have become more and more subject to other people’s choices as well.

Under the assumption that our decisions are impacted not only by our own choices but by the choices of our eco-system as well, isn’t this the right time that we adjust our individual approach to collaboration, issues management and leadership?

In a world of competing priorities and systemic connectivity, what should we focus on to sustainably mitigate societal threats such as unemployment (in particular of youth), poverty and hunger? How can we create a society in which individuals are encouraged to self-reflect? How can the mechanisms of society be channelled to achieve a collective understanding that each one of us has a stake in other individuals? How can we identify the first little steps that we all can take to making a difference for others? How can the collective energy of the group be converted into real action to create a stronger sense of mutual cohesion and interdependence?

Written by Carsten Sudhoff

[1] footprintnetwork.org

[2] “The kind of food we eat is the kind that is most profitable”, HBO documentary “The Weight of our nation”, http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/

[3] HBO documentary “The Weight of our nation”, http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/


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