If I Ran the World… David Bent

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A Bubbling Wave of Change

David Bent director of sustainable business at Forum for the Future, tells Salt how he would change the world if he was in charge.

So, how I would change the world?  By creating as many vehicles for acting and learning as possible, so many people can do things better, and do better things. Some of these would meet specific challenges, like the Community Energy Coalition or The Roundtable on Palm Oil. Some would be about sectors, like the Sustainable Shipping Initiative or Tea 2030. Others would cut across sectors, like the Principles for Responsible Investment or the Net Positive Project. Crucially, some would need to be the connective tissue across many areas, discerning the big picture and catalysing in the right direction. That’s what Forum for the Future tries to do.

And, how will this happen? Firstly, by lots of people looking around themselves for areas of high change potential, and then having the confidence and skills to try for transformation. Secondly, by creating a way for those people to share their experiences. Thirdly, by having a shared understanding on where we want to go and how to get there. Fourthly, by ongoing efforts to improve the shared vision and journey.

We’ve had a couple of decades of believing that individual freedoms come from using markets to solve problems, but now leading businesses are realising that unfettered markets undermine long-term prosperity, because issues like climate change and inequality cannot be addressed. Because business success ultimately depends on society’s success, it is in the enlightened self-interest of business and investors to create institutions that guide markets. That’s why the sustainability field has so many collaborations. In effect, these collaborations are regulating and shaping markets in ways that used to be done by governments.

The best of these collaborations are founded on different beliefs: that humankind is part of nature, not separate to it; that our world is not mechanical, but made up of feedback loops so that it is path-dependent, sensitive to context, emergent and episodic. And, that people are not primarily driven by greed, and should be empowered with the capabilities they need to flourish in their own way, without impairing others.

We can nurture existing initiatives that are in the right direction. We can start new projects and organisations that help people act on areas of high change potential, learn from experience and share those insights. Crucially, if we can connect all these efforts in the right way – for learning, not for control or consensus – then there can be an overall coherence that reinforces individual efforts.

If we get all of this right we can create a bubbling wave of change, where each area of high change potential is transformed. If we can do that – no small if – then we can surf the waves of learning and action toward a sustainable future.

Forum for the Future is an independent non-profit working globally with business, government and other organisations to solve the world’s complex sustainability challenges.

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