On 26 June 2012 I gave the following presentation at the UN Public Service Forum in New York City. The title is "Innovative Leadership to Engage Citizens in Self Governance and Development."
I. Our Time
We live in what is likely the most turbulent and transformative time in human history. The very future of life on Earth is at stake. In my case, my four year old grandson, Phoenix, and my two year old granddaughter, Mariela, remind me again and again of my care and passion for a positive future of life on this planet. We face multiple crises any one of which could be definitive. However, for us a whole system transition is underway – this is a transformation in the interconnected web of social, economic, political, cultural and environmental forces and factors.
Climate chaos due to an economy based on fossil fuels is changing our planetary ecology irrevocably endangering life support systems. We see ample evidence that temperatures are rising and that coastal cities and islands will be submerged. Droughts, desertification and massive storms will increase. Food production will collapse. We are in the midst of a massive die-back of species. Oceans are becoming sick. Water scarcity is a cause for international conflicts. Mass migrations will take place as people search for a livable environment.
Fiscal and economic systems are careening out of control with austerity policies causing great harm to countless people. Money has become divorced from the care of people and nature. Profit for a tiny few has become a higher value than justice or equality for the vast majority.
Democratic governance systems have been captured by corporations and wealthy individuals overwhelming the voices of the majority of citizens. Oligarchy and the plutocracy of the military-industrial complex are fighting to maintain their control of our societies and resources.
Fundamentalisms of all sorts are at war with an empirical, scientific worldview and the principles of inclusiveness and respect for differences of opinion. The rights of women – 50% of humanity – are being violated and pushed back in alarming ways. Culture wars continue to erode human rights.
HIV/AIDS and other new and old diseases are rampant causing widespread suffering. Health care systems have become too costly or are non-existent. Public education is being threatened and denigrated.
This is a time to “do or die.” Either we do what is necessary to survive or we may die as a species along with many other species.
II. Empathic Civilization
Empathy has always been a deep part of the human psyche, with mirror neurons in the brain as the physical corollary, and is now being called forth for survival’s sake, as the driving force for a new civilization of mutuality and care. Every day it is proven again and again that people care about each other including those who are far away and from different nations, cultures, religions and races. Human beings are fundamentally empathic because we are deeply interconnected one with another and recognize ourselves in each other. We each want happiness and health and we feel each other’s suffering and joy. We are a big family of brothers and sisters which includes other life forms as well. Seven billion human beings now are present on this planet with their unique intelligence, creativity, compassion and understanding in order to take us through this dangerous transition. This is the moment of citizens to the rescue.
The new civilization will be based on a social contract of the interdependence of people with each other and with natural systems. Renewable energy of sun, wind, water, geo-thermal and algae will sustain our social and economic life. The protection of natural systems of soil, water, plants and animals will be embodied in collective law and individual behavior. Governance systems will be based on the needs and voice of all the people not just the economic, political and cultural elites. Accountability, transparency and responsiveness will be present at all levels of government.
Fiscal systems will be designed to provide equity to all people. Global and local economies will be concerned about the rights and well-being of workers and the environment. Health care and education will be universal rights in policy and practice. Cultural diversity will flourish and people will delight in their differences and enjoy learning from each other’s knowledge and wisdom. Consumption and production will be replaced as the highest good of society by mutual learning, care, artistic expression and other forms of creativity.
This new civilization will be the flowering of the planetary and human project. Or as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it, “the task before us now, if we would not perish, is to shake off our ancient prejudices and to build the Earth.” Is this a vision of utopia? I would submit that we have a radical choice to make – either to move toward a sustainable and humanizing world or a world of endless dystopia of chaos and suffering.
III. Citizen Engagement
Citizens everywhere have organized as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) in order to engage in self-governance and development. Civil society as a whole is now seen clearly as one of the three governance actors, the other two being government and the private sector. The environmental movement, the women’s movement and the human rights movement are the direct voices of citizens to create a sustainable and human world. To empower these citizen movements, new and effective institutional and leadership capacities are needed.
We see around the world NGOs and CBOs collaborating with local authorities and local businesses to improve the living environment in low income settlements. We see NGOs and CBOs improving sanitation systems and waste management, providing clean drinking water and starting clinics and community schools. We see NGOs and CBOs speaking out for the rights of the poor, minorities, women, youth and the elderly. We see NGOs giving voice on behalf of other species, the oceans, air and soil. People everywhere are waking up to their interconnectedness through social media, mass media and travel and know their rights and their power to direct the course of history.
Knowledgeable, engaged citizens – of communities, nations and the globe – are the keys to confronting the overwhelming challenges facing us and creating a new empathic civilization of sustainable human development.
IV. Innovative Leadership
Traditionally, change processes have focused exclusively on institutional arrangements, policies and systems. This collective-exterior leadership is critical but is not sufficient. Change must also happen within the culture itself – the collective interior – by changing collective values and norms through motivating, transformative stories, rites and symbols. Change must happen in individual values and behavior – the individual interior and individual exterior dimensions - changing mindsets and perspectives as well as relational and interpersonal behavior. This is integral leadership – working to change collective institutions and culture and individual mindsets and behavior. In addition to having the right legal frameworks in place, we must have the right individual and collective values and behaviors moving our societies toward a more sustainable and human future.
The facilitative leader sees her/himself as a guide who enables groups of people to think, analyze, plan and act together through participatory, interactive processes. The facilitative leader asks questions of people that allow them to journey together in a structured manner toward productive outcomes. Facilitation of citizen participation is essential to motivate and call forth the creativity and energy of all the people to respond to the massive challenges facing us today. Facilitation can be learned as a new type of leadership that does not control outcomes but provides participatory processes that allow citizens to create the policies and services that are most important to them.
Facilitation requires skill and patience, an ability to listen deeply and willingness to allow citizens to chart pathways of good governance and effective development. The facilitative leader has the skill to lead productive discussions, analytical and problem solving workshops, strategic planning exercises and whole system design processes. The facilitative leader asks people to articulate their hoped for vision of the future, the factors that could enable or inhibit reaching that vision, the strategic directions that would carry them toward their vision taking into account the inhibiting and enhancing factors and the implementation action plan and timeline that they will commit to in the day to day.
Government and NGOs must provide a multitude of opportunities of facilitated citizen dialogue and decision making through forums, workshops, conferences, online chat rooms, websites and social media.
The creative leader is a social artist who awakens and enlivens peoples’ capacities in the dimensions of the sensory/physical, psychological/ historical, mythic/symbolic and unitive/spiritual. The creative leader provides processes by which people can access their own creativity, intuition, motivation, courage, vision and genius in solving problems and designing new systems. The leader as social artist enables citizens to deepen their capacities of body, mind and spirit in order to release their full potential as human beings. The creative leader makes use of individual and group processes, both face to face and online, that stimulate the best thinking, doing and being in others that is possible.
The integral, facilitative and creative leader helps turn challenges into opportunities for sustainable human development. Government and NGO officials who learn and practice these skills find themselves becoming true civil servants – the servants of the people – that they have pledged to be as elected or appointed leaders.
Related to the concept of Gross National Happiness, happiness will not be our goal but our way of being as we catalyze well-being for ourselves and all others. A sense of hope will carry us through this tumultuous time of crisis and danger and the lure of a possible-future will draw us toward it – a new empathic civilization of sustainable human development. Innovative leaders within government and throughout our societies are needed to help humanity through this great transition. If not us, who? If not now, when?
(Note: Photo above of the Bill T. Jones Dance Company)
(Note: Photo above of the Bill T. Jones Dance Company)