There is much to learn from natural ecosystems for complex and transformative change in multi-stakeholder settings. An important feature of biological (including human) systems is that relationships, and the patterns in which they occur, are ordered in the form of networks with constant internal communication
Donella Meadows’ article: Leverage Points – Places to Intervene in a System is an inspiring reminder, a timeless contribution that I believe needs to be unearthed again if we look at the state of the world, humankind’s many attempts and mediocre results to take us on the road to sustainability. This is an article that makes you think – and hopefully act. You will recognize how many aspects of sustainability initiatives are stuck in regulatory approaches that – according to her – are very low on the list of effectiveness of leverage points. The second highest effective leverage point, she suggests, is the power to create a paradigm shift.
The world has changed. Collaboration is high on the Agenda 2030 and a cornerstone for implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One aspect is clear: multi-stakeholder collaboration between business, NGOs, government, the UN and communities will be essential to achieve the goals and they will be needed at a scale and quality that dwarfs current levels of collaboration.
What would you expect, if you read a book written by a 95 year old lady? If you are like me, you would expect that she looks back at her life. What if you read her book and, apart from a few analyses on what she had learned from life, she is actually looking forward, inspiring you to engage with a future full of possibilities?
Collective action for sustainability must be guided by a leadership paradigm that is inspirational, fosters commitment by various actors and acknowledges the role of collective contributions to decision-making.
I know many people who are determined to make the world a better place, by analysing the status quo, recommending and reminding of what needs to be done, or by pushing new agendas. But what startles me is how many of them tend to be locked in a strange paradigm – our habit of believing that it is events that change the world. Packed with key note speeches, panel discussions and so-called break-out sessions (breaking-out from what?) these publically noticeable events are built on the assumption that if the audience listens to new or convincing thoughts they get inspired and will do things differently.