How are technological innovations shaping global futures? What could the next industrial revolution look like and who and what might bring it about? Have the eurocrisis and the rise of nationalist sentiments (and political parties) crushed the dream of European central governance? How can the emergence of a middle class in Africa contribute to stable and sustainable growth? Is the nationstate, generally speaking, losing its capacity to protect citizens from economic turbulence and what are the implications for global governance?
Many of the leading actors consumed by these and other questions gathered in Paris for the second Forum Nouveau Monde ("New World Forum") at the gleaming headquarters of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from October 7-8. It was my pleasure to participate in the Forum Nouveau Monde on behalf of the Young Diplomats of Canada.
Having engaged in a process of synthesis and reflection, I have identified some key ideas and even lessons that may prove valuable as we envision tomorrow.
1. Prepare for a confluence of change
We can take note of four key drivers of change: first, technology is creating what has been called the 'jobocalypse' due to unceasing automatization. Second, one can no longer overlook the impact of shifts in demographics on economic and political developments, particularly in Europe with its high migration and low birth rates. Third, climate change is impacting -- or should be impacting -- any discussions of global governance, which I define as the regulation and management of collective and cross-border problems. Finally, globalization, whatever that is, continues full steam ahead.
2. We still want the same things as always, and we all want them -- now and in fifty shades of grey
Yossi Vardi, Israeli entrepreneurship maven and angel investor, emphasized how young people are defining the global agenda and are demanding 'fifty shades of grey' where black and white simply are not cutting it. With respect to 'wanting the same things as always,' one must recall that a vast chunk of these wants involve public goods -- security within our borders, for instance -- for which the private sector has no economic incentive to provide. These dynamics have not changed and will not change, despite privatization occurring in a variety of 'public' arenas, from defence to health.
3. African leaders call for education reform -- and Africa is far from the only region in need of it
Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, Executive Governor of Nigeria's Kwara State, pulled no punches: education systems in Africa remain a "hangover from colonialism" and there is an urgent need for education reform in terms of context, quality, and adaptability for today's workforce. As noted by Magatte Wade, the Senagelse founder of Tiossan, a luxury organic skin care company, old educational structures persist because parents still want their children to be doctors and lawyers and have not advocated forcefully for a more practical, vocation-oriented curriculum. Wade suggests that Montessori-like schools -- which focus on cultivating autonomous critical thinking skills and fostering imagination -- would be welcome in Africa (and indeed in France, where education can be frustratingly top-down).
4. Be austere....but also build infrastructure
Lord Robert Skidelsky, a veteran British economist, is worried about the long-run impacts of government cost-saving measures. He suggested that for every euro saved, governments should put another into an European Union infrastructure fund. The result, he says, would be a rapidly shrinking deficit.
5. Is urbanization a great equalizer?
There is a lot we do not know about urbanization, which is concerning when one considers the droves of young people flocking to cities in Africa and elsewhere. Yet we do know that urbanization forces cultural and class collisions. As New York University's Reuben Abraham put it, urbanization in India is dismantling the caste system, as individuals cannot decide who sits next to them on the train. Time will reveal whether such encounters will yield enduring cultural change.
6. Innovation requires purpose-driven people who do not fear failure
Google offers a powerful illustration that companies wishing to foster innovation cannot retain command-and-control structures and expect motivated employees to wake up one morning and start initiating and innovating. Part of the problem is that the CEOs pondering over such things themselves lack a sense of purpose and drive. The key is to remain permanently in 'beta mode,' constantly integrating feedback and iterating.
7. No more generating value by sacrificing values
In today's volatile global economic playing field, there are few things onto which one can hold. Luckily we have a set of values and these values must guide our conduct. Similarly, as Lourenço Bustani put it, "shareholder profit does not have to mean stakeholder demise." He also decried as obsolete the notion that companies can supplement "bad karma projects" with "good karma projects." Millennials are learning to think holistically and to recognize the many diverse communities impacted by industrial and political development. My mentor Irwin Cotler often says that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable populations. Similarly, companies will be judged by how they engage with their most vulnerable stakeholders.
In considering the above lessons and the questions they raise, it is perhaps vital to remember that, to paraphrase Mr. Ahmed, we do not know what the future holds but we also do not hold the future. No global leader, despite his or her access to hard or soft power, can independently predict and manage socioeconomic progress. This was made particularly apparent during Prime Minister Valls' closing address to the Forum Neauveau Monde in which he expressed optimism that the latest technological developments -- digital, energy, genetics, nanotechnology -- will contribute to economic growth. Yet he, like essentially all politicians, lacks the power to compel, necessarily, French companies to embrace these innovations.
Valls' speech confirms that while a climate of uncertainty prevails, global governance actors must not lose sight of their integral role in transforming innovation into avenues for growth and sustained prosperity. The Forum Neauveau Monde -- by bringing together providers of private and public goods and those smack in the middle of the for-profit/non-profit precipice -- is also making an important contribution to encouraging cross-sector collaboration in facing tomorrow.
A version of this article appears at Young Diplomats of Canada's blog