The world is (also) doing well
It feels strange and naïve to say the world is doing well in this time of doom predictions, climate change, shifting world powers and autocratic leaders. The world is sick in many ways ...
But in many others, we’re doing well and even better than ever. Both aspects are not mutually exclusive. This is one of the lessons Hans Rosling, scientist and statistician, teaches in his recently published book Factfulness. It’s the finale in a lifelong plea to severely adjust our ideas about the world. I really enjoy his nuanced view and love to share a few reflections. Just like it’s important to look both ways during this time and also to take the positive encouraging developments seriously. Everything that’s given attention will grow.
To a broader audience, Rosling was known as an excellent TED host, as the scientist that theatrically changed some dry numbers into telling statistics about the evolution of communities, countries and continents. He based his numbers on the most current data of, among others, the WHO and the UN. Detailed information can be found at www.gapminder.org.
We have never been this well off, Rosling states. Only we don’t see it clearly through the thick mist of quick, sensational negative news that lacks any kind of referential framework. Yes, there are enormous issues and threats of global proportions. But at the same time, we’re doing better than ever. And this contradiction can perfectly exist at the same time.
In the West, we’re collectively stuck in a worldview that is based on outdated information that taught us that there’s a well-defined gap between the rich developed countries and the poor underdeveloped countries. Poor versus rich. Unschooled versus schooled. Sick versus healthy. But this gap hasn’t been a gap for many years. We must adopt a more nuanced way of thinking about each of these themes. Most of the 195 countries in the world are at an intermediate phase, on their way to the same level of wealth, health and prosperity as we know here.
We’re collectively stuck in a worldview that’s based on outdated information.
And we can certainly expect that the larger part of the world’s population will be at that level during this century. Today, already 80% of one-year-old children is vaccinated against childhood disease, reducing infant mortality (4% in 2016 versus 44% in 1800); 90% of all girls of elementary school age can enjoy education (versus 65% in 1965); extreme poverty is almost a thing of the past (9% in 2016 versus 50% in 1966); and due to all the things mentioned above, the number of births in most of the growing countries has been reduced to around two children per woman.
Near the end of the century, we will live with 11 billion people (it won’t be more) that are mostly highly educated, prosperous and healthy. They will all have the ambitions we know today: their own laptop, holidays to faraway countries, a modern kitchen and laundry machine, spare time to visit restaurants, festivals or the beach. We can’t stop this evolution. Even if at the same time, the important question comes up on whether this prosperity leads to more happiness and purpose. And there’s possibly an even bigger question about the state of the earth itself. What if we gather the same number of data about indicators that measure the health of the ecological system? What will those facts tell us?
In either case, the big challenge of this century is to improve our quality of life within the capacity of the natural resources. ‘Earth overshoot day’ should never be before December 31st, not even when 11 billion people live at the same high level of prosperity.
Experimentation and progress are everywhere, but because we don’t see the cohesion, this seems like a drop in the ocean.
In all domains of human activity – such as mobility, agriculture, economy, culture, urban development, households – methods must be devised to realise these goals in a sustainable way. The global scale on which we act today and the connectivity of our lives offer opportunities to do this at an accelerated pace. Worldwide, networks are growing of people and organisations that research and give shape to a sustainable, regenerative future. There are already numerous small and large innovative ideas, inspiring visions and new practices that truly formulate an answer. Experimentation and progress are everywhere, but because we don’t see the cohesion, this seems like a drop in the ocean. Drawdown ( www.drawdown.org ) provides a solution to this. The organisation maps substantial solutions – connecting the dots! – and communicates about them. At their site, they offer an overview of 100 large ‘areas in progress’ where we can make a difference in reaching the drawdown after which the concentration of greenhouse gases decreases annually. It’s impressive and encouraging to see how in each of these areas great progress is being made and how even small individual choices really matter.
The transition movement Nederland Kantelt (www.nederlandkantelt.nl) also combines and stimulates initiatives in several sectors and strives to actively involve millions of Dutch people in the transition to a sustainable society.
This shift can also be seen in companies. The purely profit-driven entrepreneurship that only cares about shareholders can’t be combined with a sustainability approach. Many companies have therefore been engaging for years to operate from a People, Planet, Profit philosophy and succeeded to link a realisation of profits to a societal contribution. An exponentially growing number of companies goes even further and makes great efforts to make the entire company and production process one hundred percent sustainable. The outdoor sports suppliers Patagonia and Vaude are shining examples of this. And even though examples and counter-examples of ‘green washing’ can be brought up, the fact remains that purpose-driven entrepreneurship is rapidly taking over.
This evolution is asking a lot of organisations and their leaders, stimulated in this by the need of employees to contribute meaningfully to existing challenges. But also the increased complexity, the speed with which everything changes and the tsunami of information ask for a completely different way of collaborating. Structures, models and management visions that worked well the previous century (or centuries) don’t prove suitable to navigate this context. The demand for an ‘upgrade’ of organisational models – structure, leadership, agility, impact – is strongly increasing. In many places people are experimenting with network structures, self-management and flat organisational structures and this knowledge is quickly being shared. Both failures and best practices, traps and improvements. It can be expected that the so-called ‘new organising’ will become a full-fledged alternative in the short term and will catch on at a large scale. The numerous success stories from, among others, Buurtzorg Nederland, Semco Brazil, Bol.com, Favi or Spotify already have an infectious effect on many entrepreneurs.
I’d like to further focus on this in an upcoming article. Here, I will finish with some references to remarkable and, to me, inspiring developments.
- Kate Raworth, Doughnut economics – a well-constructed alternative for the current economic model https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut
- Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations – a clarification of the evolution of organisational models and vision on leadership. http://www.reinventingorganizations.com
- Paul Mason, Postcapitalism – proposals for an upgrade of capitalism. We have the chance to create a more socially just and sustainable global economy. Moving beyond capitalism is no longer a utopian dream.
- Thomas Rau, Material matters – alternatives for our society of overexploitation and another view on possession: “sharing is the new having”. http://www.rau.eu/2016/11/material-matters
- Demain – beautiful documentary about all silent forerunners and sustainable alternatives. https://www.demain-lefilm.com/en/film
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