Air pollution kills seven million people on average each year! However an interesting anomaly has emerged in the past 12 months – dirty air makes COVID-19 more lethal but the pandemic has temporarily cleaned the skies! And along with these more pristine skies, typical respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung disease have fallen dramatically. 

But this is only one of many paradoxes spawned by the pandemic! Ivan Krastev, Chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, wrote “… for a period of seven weeks, capitalism was basically suspended .. and 2 billion people stayed at home. In that moment, the world appeared to be in sync.” The connectivity and empathy between people all having a similar and extraordinary experience stood in stark contrast to the growing “de-globalisation” with borders, industries and life-as-we-knew-it pretty much shutdown. 

Krastev goes on to make a compelling case for the limitations of national policies that left leaders ill-equipped to deal with such extreme uncertainty. Overwhelmed and unprepared governments resorted to familiar risk mitigation strategies and planned for worst case scenarios. Talk about the herd, with few exceptions, most governments copied each other’s strategies. Very few innovated and although Sweden courageously bucked the trend early on, the outcomes of their decisions are now proving to be tragic. 

On the geopolitical stage we saw the deficit of critical leadership capabilities on full display. We witnessed the USA lose its credibility, China attempt to change the narrative in an attempt to improve their image, and the EU realize the limits of economic nationalism.

But equally true were astonishing stories of leaders pivoting at speed, reinventing their businesses, transforming the way they work and successfully evolving their customer propositions. We saw big Pharma herald in a new era of fast-cycle vaccine development and COVID-19 inspired innovation. Across the board individually and collectively, it seems as if we are jumping S-curves at an unprecedented speed unlocking possibilities previously unimaginable.

One thing for sure is that lockdown gave us an unexpected and hopeful window into a greener, more vital way of life. Today, momentum is building to a post-COVID “green recovery”. Burgeoning commitments to green investments could generate more than $10 trillion in annual business opportunities globally and add 395 million jobs by 2030 (Patricia Scotland, Ibrahim Thiaw, Nov. 2020). Coincidentally this would also shift the needle on Sustainable Development Goals and ensure more equitable recovery with stronger pathways to prosperity for all. 

Now looking forward to a more “normal” future with the foresight of hindsight, we have some choices to make. We have an opportunity to “build back better” and pivot into a more promising, connected and regenerative future.  

“Build Back Better” – yes to that! But it begs a re-think of our ideas about leadership. What kind of leadership is required to build back better? Where do we start? What can be preserved from our current toolkit? What do we need to lose? What needs to be added?

As I ponder this dilemma and look for inspiration, the three foundational ethics of permaculture keep bubbling up. You may know these already but simply put they are:

  1. Care for the Earth.
  2. Care for People.
  3. Return surplus (fair share).

What if these three became the North Star for our future leaders?  

The intentional and conscious design of permaculture purposefully rooted in laws of nature, with its ethics, principles and frameworks offer an unparalleled opportunity to reimagine leadership. We need leaders capable of building and leading genuinely regenerative and anti-fragile ecosystems for all to thrive in. We need leaders who fundamentally reframe their line of inquiry from “what can I get from you or this situation” to “what does this person or situation have to give if I cooperate with them?” (Bill Mollison, one of the world’s most pre-eminent permaculture guru’s).

So this is a call to action! Build Back Better calls for a radical rethink of leadership. A small group is coalescing around this idea. We are committed to fixing the deficit of leadership across the globe, applying new ethics, tools and frameworks to shift the needle on the many big problems we face. 

We plan to bring a small and diverse group of Leadership Development and Permaculture practitioners together in an immersive, exploratory design thinking process. Our quest is to test the hypothesis that permaculture may offer a breakthrough way of thinking about leadership, seed some initial ideas, and develop early prototypes to experiment with.

This promises to be a timely and invigorating journey. We invite you to come along for the ride! Add your thoughts, ideas, connections and help us evolve our thinking. We will be posting more information as our first process unfolds.

– Glynnis Rengger, CEO of the Immersion Lab

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