By Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar
How might we prepare global residents for the future of work? Past waves of globalization offer lessons on what it will take to more effectively weather the transition. As leaders consider how to shape a new architecture for Globalization 4.0 (the theme of the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Annual Meeting), we must prioritize the goal of addressing persistent inequalities – particularly those based on race, income, gender, and place. This is the moonshot of our generation.
Growing up in the 1990s with the global proliferation of American consumer goods and the start of the digital revolution, globalization seemed inevitable. Creative disruption threatened every industry, blue-collar and white-collar jobs alike. But the interconnectedness of our world accelerated by globalization was also thrilling. Millennials grew up expecting change, knowing that because it’s impossible to unwrite the past, we must accept the uncertainty of change.
It’s time to be unapologetic about the emergent nature of our ever-changing world. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings, so here are three prescriptions for leaders to embrace as we prepare for the future:
1. Take a systems approach
Communities and countries can’t pretend to build walls around themselves. Let’s face it: our world is interconnected, and our fates are linked. The reality of climate change makes this crystal-clear. To combat nationalism and nativism in favor of globalism and humanism, we must remember the African proverb that if you want to go fast, you can go alone, but if you want to go far, we must go together.
Leaders working towards large-scale social change are taking a systems view on a range of issues from Built for Zero (to end homelessness) to Campaign Zero (to end police violence). In my hometown of Chicago, hospitals are working alongside residents to reduce health disparities through West Side United.
If you take the long view, we’re living in the best possible time to be alive, according to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. While we should be optimistic, society still seems more polarized than ever, with people talking past one another, arguing to win instead of arguing to learn. Speaking on this topic at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, I shared strategies to help others and ourselves take a systems view and slow down our thinking to address the root causes before moving to action.
2. Disrupt the accrual of power and privilege
Our current systems are perfectly designed to get the results we’re getting, and the market alone will not generate the best outcomes for those most burdened – particularly people of color, women and other minority populations. To disrupt the accrual of power and privilege, we need to create new systems that intentionally reverse structural inequities. We must embrace John A. Powell’s targeted universalism and work with community partners to create systems that work for those most burdened.
This is the crux of my work to coach hundreds of cross-sector leaders toiling to build a brighter future for every child in 70 regions across the United States. The community partnerships in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network concurrently work to change everyday practices and behaviors, while advancing policies to transform the patchwork of systems that young people encounter across healthcare, education, housing, public safety, food security and more.
3. Leverage the power of networks
Systems thinker Donella Meadows ranked the power to create self-organizing systems as one of the most powerful leverage points to transform systems. As leaders consider ways to make globalization work for the greatest number of people, supporting networks that make thinking visible will be key. From professional learning communities among educators to Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Networks in the maternal and child health sector, groups of leaders and practitioners are increasingly coming together to share ideas, lessons, and promising practices – and these networks need to get better about moving from sharing knowledge to transferring learning into action.
One network of which I’m proud to be a part is the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum spanning nearly 400 city-based hubs in 171 countries. Global Shapers self-organize to create local projects to improve the state of our communities – and share ideas and innovations with Shapers around the world to accelerate impact on a global scale. This movement is a positive example of what can happen when the power of globalization is harnessed for good.
As leaders around the world work to future-proof globalization, combat nativism and tribalism and find solutions to global risks like pernicious inequalities, let’s find ways to work together to build better, stronger systems where everyone has the potential to succeed.
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