Towards a new global consciousness – Our individual and collective responsibility to influence and change the current mindset
While living in Lagos, Nigeria, I met a young man, Eric Obuh also known as Vocal Slender, who was made famous by the Part 1 of the BBC multipart documentary Welcome to Lagos. He captivated millions of viewers as he introduced the everyday reality of scavengers in Olusosun, the largest landfill in Lagos and one of the largest in the world, ushering viewers into the rubbish dump with the same gusto of a man showing off his kingdom. Slender, in broken English and enviable confidence and charisma, guided us through the complex structures of the world of dumpster dwelling,the workplace and home to more than 1,000 scavengers who sift the garbage looking for recyclable material. This community was self-policing complete with its unique socio-economic structure, an appointed leader and guiding rules and regulations to ensure justice and order and above all the peaceful coexistence of all.
In an incredibly challenging environment to live in and in the midst of abject poverty, the stench and the decay, the members of this unlikely community survived guided by its institutions built to uphold order. This documentary made me acutely aware of the deep significance and importance of structures. The more difficult the situation, the more important institutions can be to guide individuals and the collective along the path of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In other words, leadership matters.
In an increasingly complex world with deep and widening inequalities, where are we headed when the challenges we face grow but the resilience of our institutions and its leaders are on a downward trajectory? When trust across all institutions including government, civil-society and religious institutions is at an all-time low?
Last month, 80 individuals, comprised of Global Shapers, Young Global Leaders and Social Entrepreneurs, all Communities of the World Economic Forum; Civil society, government and business leaders, along with members of the clergy, met up in Rome and in the Vatican to discuss the topic of social and economic exclusion in a meeting titled: Towards a new Global Mindset: Overcoming social and economic exclusion.
A born sceptic, I was cautious about setting my hopes too high for how much could be achieved by a meeting and over the course of two days and with such a disparate group. Were we all there simply to meet the Pope? Were we there to network, curating the ‘right’ contacts to advance our careers? Were we there to feel better about ourselves? All of these scenarios crossed my mind, as I questioned even my own motive for engaging in such a lofty task of being part of questioning the current system and redesigning instead a sustainable world where all can live in dignity.
After the meeting, I am happy to say my scepticism did not hold on two fronts. First is to know that we speak in one language, clergy, youth, CEOs, we all agree that our leaders, and institutions have failed us—and we have failed each other. We agreed with one voice that we could not continue on this path of excess while 50% of the world is trapped in the poverty trap and 85 richest people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half. Secondly, we agreed, that the first thing we can change is ourselves, a belief we committed to. Guided by the words of Mother Theresa when asked if she would change one thing in the world, what would it be, and her response “myself”. Leadership starts with one person, and we can all indeed be the change we want to see in the world.
Reality is that one cannot do it alone, but it does start with one, even better, with one idea. The ultimate goal of the meeting of the various individuals in the Vatican was to bring together different individuals, from different walks of life to listen, to think and to define the change we wish for our world and chart our collective way forward armed with a new consciousness.
What is this new consciousness of which I speak? It is simple and starts with the following question: What is your talent and how are you using it? Are you contributing more to the world than you are taking? When last did you do something for someone other than yourself? No one is poor enough that they cannot help someone else, and no one is rich enough that they do not need a helping hand.
What can we do with a new mindset that moves beyond self-interest? In the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos, Pope Francis called for a “renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all” and an economy focused on the common good where “humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it”. This is a foundation of the change we would like to enact to the existing institutions, beginning with ourselves.
Institutions matter, leadership matters, you matter and it all begins with a new mindset and a new consciousness. The present presents the greatest opportunity of our generation to champion a future devoid of social and economic exclusion, breaking with the past and embracing human potential. We have no more excuses. There has never been greater opportunity to address social and economic exclusion than now, the challenges is stifling and destroying our very humanity.
In conclusion, I will borrow from the words of the participants collective the submission to Pope Francis at the end of the meeting that read, “from the many ideas and insights generated during this interactive meeting, the most important was the urgent need for a new global mind-set and awakening of consciousness, which leads to shared values and behaviours that put the human being at the heart of our economic, political and social systems….We accept personal responsibility and ownership for the condition of exclusion in the world. We recognise that this is a long-term, complex, multidimensional problem. We are prepared to struggle with this issue for the time that is required, so as to create transformations in ourselves, in our organizations, in our institutions and across communities.”
Crédits photo : Nicolas Raymond