Leading for Well-Being: It’s time to become leaders ourselves, to dream (and organize) bigger: to address climate change and inequality on a deeper, structural level

May 15, 2017

By L. Hunter Lovins, Spring 2017

It’s time to become leaders ourselves, to dream (and organize) bigger: to address climate change and inequality on a deeper, structural level. It’s time to re-think work and security and the value of life. To reject blind pursuit of growth. It is time to build an economy that provides well-being to all—people and species—rather than to just a few.  This is cold, hard realism. Building a more democratic society and a sustainable economy is not fiction; it is the only available reality. The great transition is the practical necessity.

Dramatic change often happens when a when a confluence of factors reaches a point of no return. Humanity is in a race with catastrophe, facing several tipping points. The first is the climate. Science shows our earth systems being disrupted at a rate much faster than foreseen. We are losing access to fresh water, forests, coral reefs, species—all at unsustainable rates. The world is overpopulated, and overpolluted. Biodiversity is in freefall, contributing to a biophysical tipping point that, quite simply, poses an existential risk for humanity.

This is not the whole story. Innovations and solutions can reverse destruction and decline. What’s been missing is the political will (and enough freedom from greed for the systems funneling wealth and resources to the top .01%) to apply them at scale.  We are trying to bring people together and collectively push for a shift toward a future that is both sustainable and desirable. When leadership fails us, we have no other option than to become leaders ourselves.

In a world beset with woes, people hunger for a sense of who they are, where they belong and what they believe in.

Sixty million refugees are on the move, climate chaos is upon us, and the global economy teeters. Demagogues call for the worst in us, and find fertile ground in a political alienation that allows a flight to easy answers and loss of liberty in pursuit of stability.

Our economic narrative extols competition, perfect markets and unfettered growth in a world in which the rugged individual is seen as the only legitimate economic actor. The result is huge inequality in which 62 individuals have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion. Too big to fail crushes local self-determination.

Humanity has exceeded the planetary boundaries, yet we fail to deliver the basic standard of living needed to ensure human dignity for all people. As many of 30% of young people fear that they don’t have a future, and teen suicide is at record numbers.

Millions of people reportedly hate their jobs. The annual Gallup Healthways survey of worker satisfaction warns that more people are more unhappy than at any time measured, driving a disengagement at work that is costing the U.S. $400 billion in lost productivity annually.

To compensate, as Dana Meadows put it, we seek to meet non-material needs with material things.

And we grow lonelier.

Pope Francis warned that, “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” He quotes the Earth Charter that challenges humanity, “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Perhaps it is having an impact. Leading business thinkers speak of humanistic management, of flourishing, of Conscious Capitalism, of Natural Capitalism, of Regenerative Capitalism, and the need for a Big Pivot. Biologists are exploring the “wood-wide web,” the notion that even nature is in communication and cooperation, as policy thinkers speak of better life initiatives of beyond GDP and happiness indexes.

There is a business case, a personal case and a global case for reframing these diverse conversations around the concepts of “well being.” Doing this will enhance corporate effectiveness, bring a more fruitful framing to policy, unite activist efforts that have seen themselves as isolated, enable use of a rich body of research and create a community of learning that offers the promise of delivering solutions to some of the worlds worst challenges.

Brilliant work is being done at the micro level of individual mindfulness, and at the macro level of seeking to reframe the global economic narrative, but neither will suffice without the other. All of our efforts, however important, have failed to deliver a coherent alternative to the status quo. People and organizations who care about these issues, and who see the connection have tended to work atomistically. Conversations have been fragmented or even adversarial.

Where do we go from here?

This spring, a consortium of organizations, scholars, faith leaders, business people, media experts, policy makers and others are converging to begin explore how all of their agendas are facets of the same seed crystal of a different narrative.

To drive impact, we need to find a coherence around a theory of change, and then a strategy of change. Who is going to do what, how and by when? Realistically, most of us will continue to work in our own organizations, and with our own framings and priorities, but to transform the dominant paradigm and economic system, we must find ways to co-create in a spirit of integration. Part of this is done at the individual level, as Dr. Chris Laszlo puts it, changing who leaders are not just what they are doing, but part of it is done collectively. As change agents we need to learn to celebrate our diversity within a common understanding and commitment to action.

If what we’ve written here resonates, contact us at [email protected]natcapsolutions.org (marie (at) catholicnetwork.us is also involved). Let’s craft a finer future.

Leading For Wellbeing

By Hunter Lovins – May 2017

The Regenerative Future Summit and the Leading for Well-Being Consortium are working on a regenerative path to an economy in service to life:  a world that works for 100% of humanity.  The doors have been thrown open to anyone who wants to participate, starting tomorrow.  The meeting will be 15 – 17 May 2017 in Boulder, Colorado.

Scholars who framed the concepts that now guide global sustainable business and development set the context. Bob Costanza, one of the team who established the Planetary Boundaries, teamed with John Fullerton, author of Regenerative Capitalism, and Kate Raworth, the renegade economist, whose new book, Doughnut Economics, shows how to ensure dignity and prosperity for all people.  Working groups tackled topics from transforming finance to accelerating the spread of electric car charging stations to regenerative agriculture. They set out pragmatic actions that communities and companies need to implement to create a world that works for 100% of humanity. They framed implementation strategies to transform:

  • Culture and Civil Society;
  • Business and Finance;
  • Consciousness and Education;
  • Energy and Agriculture;
  • Media and Politics.

Your input is welcome.  The Summit announced a narrative for an economy in service to life. Based in the discipline of Humanistic Management, it tells a new story of who we are as human beings. If you’ve had an economics class, or even been around more than a few years, you’ve been told that people are basically greedy. Despite the urgings of all of the world’s great religions, “neoliberalism,” the economic narrative that now runs the world, has convinced us that “greed is good.” The sole goal of the economy and business, it says, is to generate financial wealth. The freedom of the individual (person or corporation) is the primary societal value. Markets are perfect and all of us individualistically maximizing our own desires will somehow deliver a world that works.

Except that it didn’t. Today eight men have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion humans on earth. The middle class is sinking into poverty with mothers working two jobs to support their families, while proponents of austerity cut social services to give greater tax benefits to the richest one percent. Give money to the rich, they tell us, they’re rich, they’ll invest it and we’ll all be better off. If we just let the free market sort things out, all will be well.

Except that we aren’t. The rich call themselves “job creators.” But they invest not in new companies, but in financial instruments that benefit the big banks. So in 2016 the bonuses paid to Wall St. bankers, if shared among minimum wage earners, would have doubled the minimum wage. Just the bonuses.

The global economy rests on a knife-edge of unsustainable practices. We suffer:

  • Growing income inequity and persistent poverty
  • The prospect of biophysical collapse and loss of ecosystems and climate stability
  • Loss of jobs that pay a living wage and provide dignity
  • Rising levels of anger, fear, and intolerance
  • Domination of cultural values by advertisers and marketers
  • A growing thirst for meaning and connection.

The old narrative is based on an incomplete view of what it means to be human, assumptions that scientists now reject. Psychologists, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and others find that most people are not greedy, rugged individualists. We seek to meet our needs, but more, people seek goodness, connection, and caring. We desire to be rewarded for meaningful contributions with a decent living. We are not mostly motivated to acquire wealth.

These three days in May we are fighting back.  We are creating a new story:

True freedom and success depend on creating a world where individuals flourish and we all prosper. Governments serve us best when they recognize our individual dignity and enhance our interconnectedness. To thrive, businesses and society must pivot toward a new purpose: shared well-being on a healthy planet.

This new narratives balances our innate entrepreneurialism and individualism with fairness and with our desire to bond with others. There is a business case for this view: purpose-driven organizations that respect dignity enjoy greater productivity. More sustainable brands and ethical investments deliver higher profitability.

But there is also a personal case: this approach delivers a higher quality of life. Science now tells us that life itself is interconnected and mutualistic, not separate, and competitive. Implementing more regenerative practices drawn from natural systems principles is a better way to achieve true freedom and a world that works for everyone.

It isn’t a left wing or right wing exercise. As conservative commentator, David Brooks put it, the future of the U.S. (and many other countries) “…is not going to be found in protecting jobs that are long gone or in catering to the fears of aging whites. There is a raging need for a movement that embraces economic dynamism, global engagement and social support — that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.”

We’ll reach consensus on ways to meet the challenges facing us, distilling approaches to create a new narrative of an economy in service to life.  Enjoy a rare opportunity to interact with many of the world’s top experts and help build the Regenerative Future. Join us. Register at the Summit website.