"The future has an ancient heart." -Carol Levi
Last month, I was in Amsterdam for the International Broadcaster's Association Conference, a gathering of 55,000 people. While many of the fourteen different exhibit halls were filled with equipment vendors, several featured the latest in virtual reality and augmented reality. Though much of the focus at this conference was on sports and entertainment, I could see the impact for the new modes of learning through these emerging technologies. How might these technologies help us to have more compassion, more effective human relationships, more connection to master the very things the technology cannot do? How will we navigate the future of self-driving cars, AI capable robots who replace people in jobs and a more human world in the midst of all of this digital potential? As I turned all of these questions over in my mind, I went to downtown Amsterdam to meet a woman who works with University of South Africa and ended up providing a context and guide for parsing these very issues.
Godelieve Spaas is a true global leader, pioneering in the world of new technologies while reaching back to our early, indigenous days to find wisdom which can inform, inspire and center our efforts as we redefine our purpose, passion and priorities. I had the good fortune to be able to interview Godelieve, who will be one of the speakers at the 2017 GlobalMindED Conference in Denver June 21-23. When you meet leaders like Godelieve, you see the potential of our creative, connected and collaborative world to take on some of the greatest challenges with ownership, commitment and competence.
Q. What inspired you to work around the world to observe a new standard for how we can learn, develop entrepreneurs and global leaders?
Doing a PhD at the University of South Africa led me all over the world to collect stories of social entrepreneurs. African organizations taught me that the Western way of keeping disciplines, worlds and organizations apart is just one way of looking at things. Ubuntu, a South African vision on humanity, emphasizes the relatedness of people and organizations, with each other, their heritage, community and nature. My work in Asia awakened the importance of reflection, of allowing stillness to show us what is emerging. My work in Europe showed me the importance of making clear and ethical choices before you begin and the evaluation of outcomes and impact after and while realizing your aims. Somehow each continent unveiled the importance of different parts of me in my work and life. Since I was a kid I navigated between cultures (being Belgium living in the Netherlands), between disciplines (being a dancer, scientist and entrepreneur) and between being a woman in a men's world. Working around the world healed me. It taught me how to intertwine different worldviews, different knowledge systems and sectors into interdependent solutions and visions. I think that the leaders of the future are the ones that are able to reach out, to bring together the right people and organizations across cultures and regions to co-create ways of working and living that generate wellbeing for many in a sustainable way.
Q. What has to be present in the ecosystem of the school, the university, the budding business and the established business environment in order to connect competence with conscience?
In my PhD research I discovered that social entrepreneurial organizing is rooted in three basic tenets that enable them to connect competence with conscience:
The first one is using less, generating more by developing creative strategies for approaching material resources (including quality of earth, air and water) in a sustainable way. They aim to replace exploitation and appropriation of nature by sustainable practices based on a sense of reciprocity and cooperation. The second one is unleashing abundant resources like knowledge, ideas and expression, which are free and guarantee a wholesome connection with others and the environment. And the third one is co-create wellbeing for and with many by enabling people to enjoy a sustainable form of happiness by sharing and experimenting with abundant resources. The entrepreneurs I researched all developed a so-called organizing field. A mesh work of organizations and people learning, working and innovating together for a shared purpose, that increases wellbeing by co-creating it in an inclusive way, so not only for many but also with many.
Q. How can impact, inclusivity and multiple perspectives take us forward in the most practical terms?
Most important is to realize that the three aspects you mention go together. The only way to have a positive multiple impact on nature and people is by including both in an interdependent creation process towards a vital natural and socially just environment. Let me give you an example: Enviu, a Dutch company, developed a way of working they call the economy of the crowd. Enviu generates new businesses that contribute to increasing of both ecological sustainability and quality of life. They developed and operate, for example, an electric Tuk Tuk in India and, in Europe, a dance floor that transforms the energy of people dancing into electricity. Each idea for a new company is discussed in the Enviu community, a virtually connected group of nearly 30.000 people all over the world that give their time and ideas to support Enviu. If the community likes an idea it comes to life by the support they give. Together with people from the community the idea develops in succession into an elaborated concept and business. Once the company is realized, the community members become the best ambassadors these new enterprises can wish for. They act like co-owners and will add the best of themselves to make it grow. The reason people and organizations are willing to spend their time and energy in Enviu is because they feel included in a movement of sustainable renewal, and feel recognized in their talents and their aim to make a difference.
Q. How can we transform adults and create a culture for young people to grow up with this expansive mindset?
In one sentence the answer would be: We need to open up. Open our minds and hearts for others, others ideas, cultures and knowledge systems such as the indigenous and artistic. We need to follow up on the idea that we are obliged and able to co-create a world based on ecological integrity and social fairness.
To do so we have to broaden our perception of our day-to-day reality. We need to have the courage and creativity to rethink the meaning of things that seem to be a given. Like our economic system, for example. We need to design new ways of acting and learn step-by-step which ones are effective and which ones aren't. We need to start learning together with young people instead of teaching them what we already know. Learning as a process of co-developing knowledge replaces teaching transferring proven knowledge only.
As you think of Godelieve's insights, consider: what is your own "mesh" work? How can you evaluate your effectiveness by the different ways you approach challenges and the various people you open up to as participants in that process? How can your "mesh" work become a standard part of your daily work? How can you let your conscience guide you to become the most generous leader possible through your competence, your willingness to help others and your expansive thought process? While technology is opening up all kinds of doors for the planet, we can step back in time to our primal roots of discovery, creativity and conscious connection with ourselves and others. With this basic foundation, we can use technology for the tool that it is while realizing that the most important relationship of all is with our own evolved self and the very best in others with whom we meet, live, work and improve the world. Let's create a world where all of us live respectfully and inclusively, "not just for many but with many."