Arthur Dahl is one of the speakers from over 15 countries who will engage with the diverse global audience during this next ebbf annual conference 4-7th of May in Geneva (more info on the event here) . He offers this article to introduce our understanding of diversity, main theme of the event.
“Diversity refers to the variety of different thing in an assemblage. We may use the metaphore of a beautify garden with many different varieties of flowers, with different colours and shapes adding to the visual interest. But is that enough? If it was just the gardener who planted them all side by side or in some aesthetic arrangement, how long would that beauty last? Over time, would some die out and others take over?
Suppose that you put in the same community people of a wide variety of races, cultures, languages and classes, all of whom though that they were from the superior group. What would that diversity contribute to efforts to build a sense of community? Quarrels and boycotts, or worse?
Imagine a zoo, with all kinds of animals in separate cages, fascinating to admire perhaps, but far from being a harmonious ecosystem and totally dependent on the zoo keepers for their survival.
Systems science can help to explain these phenomena. What is important in a complex system is not just the number of different entities and their distinct qualities, but how they interact. Will they simply fight until one comes out the winner? Or do they have a common purpose, with an organization that is more than the sum of the parts?
Fortunately we have examples from the natural world that can illustrate what is necessary beyond diversity. They show that diversity is the dynamic driver for greater systems complexity, integration, efficiency and resilience. Through long processes of evolution, and both individual and group selection, interactions are selected for that enhance the interrelationships beneficial for all concerned. The greater the number of potential interactions among diverse entities, the greater the capacity of the system to evolve higher levels of complexity.
In a coral reef ecosystem, full of life in the biological desert that is the tropical sea, it is the increasing cooperation among the thousands of species expressed in mutual assistance and symbioses that make such high levels of productivity possible. Corals themselves are already a community of colonial animals living in symbiosis with tiny algae inside of their tissues, fertilized with their wastes and producing much of their food. Among the many kinds of fish, each has a special role in the community. Damsel fish cultivate seaweeds in their garden for food. Parrot fish bite off chunks of coral, creating bare areas where the larvae of other corals can settle, increasing coral diversity. Clown fish attract predatory fish as food for their anemone. Cleaner fish pick parasites off the skin, teeth and gills of big predatory fish at cleaning stations. Everything has its place and function, and together they create one of the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems.
Unlike the present economic paradigm, where increasing productivity means keeping only the individually most productive and discarding the rest, on the coral reef, the gaps between the most productive are filled by slightly less productive forms, on down to the only marginally productive, because the sum total of all of these is far more than the most productive by itself, not to mention variations in productivity and comparative advantage under different conditions. Different life forms perform different services, all contributing to the overall productivity, resilience and well-being of the community as a whole.
We need to look at human diversity, both individually and its various collective forms, in the same way. Every human being has some capacity to contribute to the material, social, intellectual and spiritual wealth of the society, if we can discover and cultivate those qualities and find the right place in society for them. Our tragedy at the moment is that this rich human diversity, unaccompanied by values of justice, cooperation and reciprocity, can produce the negative reactions and phenomena we see today.
The Institute for Studies of Global Prosperity has described the systems perspective on diversity this way: “Much like the human body, the interdependent body of humanity is composed of diverse elements whose well-being can only be achieved through integration and coordination. No cell or organ lives apart from the human body, and the well-being of each derives from the well-being of the whole. At the same time, it is the unity and interdependence of the body’s diverse cells and organs that permits the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each. The organic unity suggested by this analogy does not imply uniformity. On the contrary, the diversity of the component parts of an organic body permits the full realization of its collective capacity. Within human societies, diversity is a source of inspiration, creativity, productivity, resilience, innovation, and adaptation. Only when diverse segments of society are able to contribute appropriately to the governance of human affairs, within a framework characterized by unity and integration, will real prosperity and well-being be achieved. Such unity can only be achieved, however, as justice becomes the guiding principle of governance at all levels. An essential expression of justice is the desire to ensure that every individual and group has the opportunity to develop their full potential in order to contribute to the betterment of society. A concern for justice is thus an indispensable compass in collective decision making. In the design and implementation of plans, programs, and policies, justice is the sole means by which unity of thought and action can be achieved and sustained among diverse peoples.” (ISGP 2012)
Civilizations have always experienced rise and fall, and ours is no exception. But the decline of an old bankrupt system creates the opportunity to build a new one. Recent historical research by an avowed atheist has suggested that higher levels of ethnically-diverse civilization are catalysed by ethical values from religion, building trust among otherwise competing groups, increasing the level of altruism among leaders, and providing the foundation and energy for new levels of organization and efficiency (Turchin 2016).
Rethinking the economic system
This systems approach is beautifully illustrated in the recent message to the Bahá’í World from the Universal House of Justice, the supreme Bahá’í administrative body, dated 1 March 2017 (UHJ 2017), parts of which are summarized below. It starts by describing the social conditions today, in which the prolonged suffering of so many is evidence of deep-seated structural defects in society causing system failure. It makes the classic systems statement that the welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole.
The dominant forces of materialism are in fact a negation of the systems perspective, glorifying the individual at the expense of collective welfare. This is obvious in beliefs that:
– happiness comes from constant acquisition,
– the more one has the better, and
– worry for the environment is for another day.
These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement, which uses the language of justice and rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace. Entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed to cover up this reality. This enervating influence of materialism has seeped into every culture.
The message warns that:
– unless you strive to remain conscious of its effects, you may to one degree or another unwittingly adopt its ways of seeing the world;
– very young children absorb the norms of their surroundings;
– for junior youth, the call of materialism grows more insistent;
– adulthood brings a responsibility not to allow worldly pursuits to blind one’s eyes to injustice and privation.
Conscious of this state of affairs, we need to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull our attention away from service (the systems perspective) and towards the self, and to manage our material affairs in keeping with spiritual principles and what systems science says is needed for integration.
How anti-systemic it is for each group to think of its own well-being in isolation, to pursue economic gain without regard for the natural environment, and to allow avarice and self-interest to prevail at the expense of the common good. The extremes of wealth and poverty in the world are becoming ever more untenable, with unconscionable quantities of wealth being amassed, while income and opportunity are spread so unevenly, deepening the fractures that affect societies large and small. These are clear signs of systems failure. The message states that there is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples.
Behind this systems failure is a moral failure, since morals, in a systemic perspective, can be considered the principles on which social systems are founded and which create their evolutionary potential. There is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.
The vision of Baha’u’llah highlighted in the message challenges the materialistic assumptions that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity; that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition; and that the worth of an individual is chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others.
What, then, are the systems requirements for a new economic paradigm capable of meeting the material and social needs of all people, leaving no one behind as the UN 2030 Agenda calls for? Wealth must serve humanity and be used in accordance with spiritual principles. “No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.” (Baha’u’llah)
The message calls for the reorganization of human society. Collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance, qualities that are essential to integrated and productive human systems. Every choice we make—as employee or employer, producer or consumer, borrower or lender, benefactor or beneficiary—leaves a trace, and the moral duty to lead a coherent life demands that one’s economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals, that the purity of one’s aims be matched by the purity of one’s actions to fulfil those aims.
At this ebbf event in particular, we each need to consider how we can make our own individual and collective contributions to economic justice and social progress wherever we reside. We have the responsibility to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in our own surroundings.
Underlying this, we must acknowledge the spiritual reality of humanity, and the nobility inherent to every human being, one of ebbf’s core values. Economic life is an arena for the expression of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and other qualities of the spirit. The individual is not merely a self-interested economic unit, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources.
“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue, and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.” (Baha’u’llah)
“Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest.” (Baha’u’llah)
By consecrating oneself to the service of others, one finds meaning and purpose in life and contributes to the upliftment of society itself, a complete systems frame of reference.
In this way, we raise economics out of the slough of materialism, and recognize the higher purpose of economic activity. We can see that ordinary economic activities have the potential to add to human welfare and prosperity.
“Every person must have an occupation, a trade or a craft, so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha)
“Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts… in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha)
“Wealth is most commendable provided the entire population is wealthy.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha)
An important theme in the message is the need for learning based on practical action. We do not have a complete model of an alternative economic system, but only some spiritual principles that should be reflected in systems to emerge in the future. What we can do now is experiment, in our businesses, workplaces and communities, with alternatives to the present ways of doing things, and through action, reflection and consultation in a humble posture of learning, try to take some small steps towards a new vision of the economy.
I hope that, at the end of this event, you will go away with feelings of contentment and moderation, benevolence and fellow feeling, sacrifice and reliance on the divine will, as we work from the bottom up to transform the economy and society.”
ISGP. 2012. Reflections on Governance. Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, Bahá’í International Community. Bahá’í World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 21 July 2012. http://www.globalprosperity.org/documents/ISGP_Reflections_on_Governance.pdf
Turchin, Peter. 2016. Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth. Chaplin, Connecticut: Beresta Books.
UHJ. 2017. Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of the World, 1 March 2017. Bahá’í World Centre, Haifa.
The ebbf board recently met in Geneva, in one of its three annual physical consultations.
One of the questions on the table was how could ebbf with its global community find ways to address the complex times we are living. Turbulent transition moments that require new kinds of open dialogue, understanding and action.
We share with you some of the ideas that arose from that consultation.
You are additionally invited to a conversation with ebbf’s board on how we can act and what opportunities for dialogue we can create in our workplaces and economic systems, to contribute towards a prosperous, just and sustainable civilization – taking place this 7th of February
“Impressed by ebbf publications such as – In Search of A New Work Ethic – led this CFO to the observation and application of what motivates people in their workplaces”.
Douglas Henck has forty five years of experience working with multinational corporations. His field was Insurance. His first position was as an Actuary then as a Financial Officer. From here he moved into Strategic Management and worked in over ten countries in Asia and holding responsibility for tens of thousands of people.
His fascination in the world of work was – and remains even six years into his retirement – the question of motivation.
Questions such as: “Where does it come from?” and “Why do people go to work and work hard?”. were met by the repetition of philosophy, all of which pointed Douglas Henck in the direction of social good.
Again and again, he saw that people really do “want to feel that they are part of making a difference”. He decided that becoming the facilitator of ‘making a difference’ would be the focus of his leadership.
In our contemporary society, engaging in service is often seen as a pastime activity, as an add-on when one has satisfied all other needs. However, we view service as in reality an over-arching principle and as a general attitude which should be employed in every action, including in our work/professional pursuits.
In this spirit, the ebbf board offers the below thoughts.
WHAT IS YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE WITH SELFLESS SERVICE IN YOUR WORKPLACE AND/OR IN THE NEW ECONOMIC SYSTEMS WE ASPIRE TO CONTRIBUTE TO?
#BuildingCapacity as a concept, action, service, discovery ... here's what we learnt with Sjoerd Luteyn
#BuildingCapacity may sound like a simple concept – but what is it? Is it actually any different from capitalising on skill development or talent management? The final pre-learning developed into a stunning interaction between participants from three continents as an exploration with Sjoerd Luteyn (who also will be at ebbf’s #BuildingCapacity International Learning Event 6-9 October Bucharest to continue deepening our dialogue on ‘Capacity Building in Organisations’).
#BuildingCapacity in a Collaborative Culture - what traits are required and what are the results? with Valerie Davis
Here at ebbf, we are fortunate to have access to Valerie Davis who shared the findings of her PhD research, studying the specific ways in which leaders apply collaborative leadership and the consequences of that mindset in their companies. Earlier this year, she was awarded a Doctorate from Fielding Graduate University for her contributions to research in Human Development and she will be one of the speakers at ebbf’s next international event taking place in a few weeks.
Launch of ebbf Research Group for Collaborative Leaders
During this ebbf online leaning session participants from Romania, Italy, Switzerland, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and United States explored the role of collaborative leaders.
It was a two-fold opportunity, firstly to hear Valerie Davis share her expertise in creating the space for leaders to gain a critical perspective on their goals, vision and effectiveness and secondly to begin the very exciting process of launching a Research
In one of the series of pre-event learning session Nabil Elias, Business Faculty Emeritus from the University of North Carolina gave a beautifully tempered presentation on Accompaniment as a powerful tool for #CapacityBuilding. Participants joining the call came from Italy, Croatia, Romania, England, Portugal, Scotland and the USA. Below are some of what we learnt in that interactive online session.
What is Accompaniment?
Accompaniment envisions at least two friends, with different levels of experience in a specific area of action, learning together. What Nabil Elias described as taking “a posture of collective learning” that endows #BuildingCapacity with new meaning.
Whether talking about #BuildingCapacity in Non-Profit Organisations wanting to achieve their service mission or in For-Profit Businesses setting out to meet demand and build operational capacity, it is Accompaniment which is the foundation of all successful #BuildingCapacity.
What makes Accompaniment different to Training and Mentoring?
Introducing ebbf's new knowledge centre dedicated to Capacity Building and Accompaniment, by Nabil Elias
A new ebbf knowledge centre has just been added with a new paper that collects new thinking on the concepts of Capacity Building and Accompaniment. In this document Nabil Elias offers how Capacity building involves empowering individuals to participate in a purposeful collective effort. Accompaniment invites and supports individuals into expandable teams that humbly traverse uncharted paths of learning and serving together. Corporations and not-for-profit organizations alike can apply this process to transform the organization and its trajectory towards solving complex issues.
You can read there initial replies to questions such as “who are the partners in Capacity Building and Accompaniment?” , “How Does Capacity Building Apply in Business Organizations?”.
It will never be as good as one of these face to face meaningful conversations we enjoy at ebbf’s international learning events (if interested to attend, click here to book still a few places available) but all the same ebbf is offering the opportunity to join online explorations of the themes we will cover in the next international event.
Interested to hear what we learnt in one of the online explorations of what building capacity means and of what it takes to create the right culture to allow capacity building in a company?
Washington - global views on local Brexit and on wider together vs divided debates. by Augusto Lopez-Claros
ebbf member Augusto Lopez-Claros offers some fresh global views to a local issue with much wider consequences.
“Why would Brexit be a blunder of historic proportions?
Since the vast majority of the problems which humanity faces today are global in nature, the world needs more, not less international cooperation. Major planetary issues are being neglected—we are failing massively and risking being overwhelmed by a broad range of problems the solutions to which require effective “problem solving” mechanisms and institutions. The list of inherently global issues that are insoluble outside a framework of global collective action involving most nations of the world is long and includes: climate change, biodiversity loss, the depletion of tropical forests and fisheries, nuclear proliferation, widening income disparities, a flawed global financial architecture, illegal drugs, the rise of terrorism and the still high levels of poverty and deprivation afflicting much of the developing world, to name a few.
Against this background, those who argue that the United Kingdom would be better off outside the EU do not seem to understand the extent to which economic integration has been a key driver of prosperity during the past half a century and the extent to which membership in a body such as the EU is a way to magnify a country’s voice and influence, as we rise to the challenge of helping resolve the above global problems.
Is EU membership beneficial?
EU membership has been highly beneficial to the United Kingdom. It has contributed to a huge increase in trade and to gains in productivity and economic output. It has given its politicians the opportunity to influence and shape EU policies in areas that have had a major impact in the world, such as the enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe that took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union and that did so much to transform these countries’ institutions and policies. Because the EU is the world’s largest trading bloc, it has huge clout when it comes to opening other countries’ markets and, as a member, the United Kingdom has greatly benefited from these efforts. Furthermore, contrary to the assertions of supporters of Brexit, the United Kingdom has not been prevented by EU membership from carving out approaches to particular issues that better suited its own preferences and interests. So, it has a very flexible labor market, which has contributed to lower levels of unemployment than in the rest of the EU, it has a friendly business environment that tends to be less overregulated than the rest of the EU (Denmark and the UK have the highest rankings in the EU in the World Bank’s Doing Business report), and it has maintained its own currency,.
Over the past several decades there have been massive shifts in the structure of the global economy. High economic growth rates in countries like China, India and other parts of the developing world have drastically reduced the relative size of countries like the United Kingdom. Because political power and influence are highly correlated with economic size, the United Kingdom, as an active member of the EU, has managed to maintain a degree of influence in global affairs that has gone well beyond its actual (and relatively declining) economic size.
It is highly irresponsible to argue that outside the EU the United Kingdom will be anything other than a minor power in a world of emerging economic and political powerhouses. This process will be accelerated if, as is widely expected, Scotland opts to stay in the EU by claiming independence. The EU will remain, for the foreseeable future, the United Kingdom’s most important trade partner. But because trade with the EU is far more important to the United Kingdom than trade with the United Kingdom is for the EU, it will be the case that the EU will largely dictate the terms of access to its enlarged market. That access, by virtue of Brexit, will, of course, be less preferential than for full EU members. Indeed, negotiating the terms of separation and the features of the UK’s new relationship with the EU is likely to create a long period of uncertainty for the economy, with exporters in the country asking themselves: how long?, on what terms? and not having ready answers to such vital questions. It is also naïve to think that, outside the EU, London will retain its unique position as one of the world’s two largest financial centers (together with New York). To the extent that finance has been an engine of economic growth over the past several decades, leaving the EU will have a permanently contractionary effect on the UK economy.
Indeed, all that the United Kingdom can hope for is an eventual relation with the EU that is similar to that which Norway has and which involves, ironically, largely accepting the bulk of EU laws, without having a say in their formulation, including, of course, the free movement of people.
One final word on migration.
The sooner we find creative ways to live in a multinational, multiethnic world, the better. It is not only large income disparities that create incentives for people to move. There are other forces at work that are likely to remain with us for some time to come and that could turn migration into one of the main development challenges of our time.
One of them is the shrinking of our planet fueled by rapid changes in technology and globalization. Our societies are far more mobile today than used to be the case. The real cost of travel has fallen precipitously in recent decades and people feel far less rooted to their place of birth than in the past. More and more people, particularly the young, feel like global citizens, very much at ease with the concept that
“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
More importantly, we live in a world in which we face a broad range of global problems for which we do not seem to have the adequate institutions to find workable solutions. And the sense of insecurity that these problems feed can often act as a powerful additional incentive for people to want to move, to seek opportunities and a better life elsewhere, since many of these global problems have had and will continue to have a disproportionately larger impact on the developing world. Furthermore, in coming decades, with rising sea levels linked to global warming, we are likely to have to deal with the problem of “environmental refugees”; potentially dozens of millions of people who will have to be resettled in other parts of the world.
So, to those who argue that by leaving the EU Great Britain will be able to turn itself into Little England, isolated from the rest of the world: dream on. It is not going to happen. Migration has been, over the past several hundred years, one of the most powerful engines of economic growth, innovation and prosperity. All we can hope to do is to manage it in a way that enhances its benefits and smooths out its at times destabilizing effects.
So, where will all of this end?
One possible scenario: Britain will spend three years trying to get out and the next three trying to get back in, when it fully realizes the magnitude and ramifications of its blunder.”