It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
~ Charles Dickens (1859)
There is one viable form of leadership for our times. INSEAD’s Professor Petriglieri gives it voice when he describes ‘an individual who is willing, able and entrusted to embody, and help to realise, a story of possibility’. Consistent, lived values. Steady – and steadfast – action. Unflinching, clear-eyed belief in the power of the individual and the spirit of the collective. And a recognition, above all, that the future is neither sunny uplands or dystopian realism to be pitched and purchased. The future is what we collectively make it; how able or not we each are to muster our resources in pursuit of something better. It is radically uncertain, and radically co-dependent, and these are radically uncomfortable notions for most of us.
They are also patently true, which is why celebrated social activist Marshall Ganz – whose genius is mobilising people to achieve the impossible – defines leadership as nothing more or less than the act of “accepting responsibility to enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty”.
This type of leadership is quietly at work all around us, and Time was delighted, at our festive gathering this week, to welcome so many of our advisors, whose dedication to tackling global challenges with bold thinking positions them as the foremost change makers in their fields.
As we emerge from a general election where fiction, fact and media literacy has never loomed larger, two laudable organisations to highlight.
From the wonderful Future Crunch, on a mission ‘to change future of the human race by changing the stories we tell about ourselves’, we find a steady and fortifying stream of human endeavour the news forgot to mention. According to its roundup of 2019: Malaria deaths have fallen by 95% in Southeast Asia; diabetes in US adults has fallen by a third since 2009; children’s lives have improved in 173 out of 176 countries. These, and the hundreds of stories they’ve shared, are not tickets to complacency but tools of hope. By highlighting the change makers under the radar and reframing our view of what’s possible, they convert inspiration into action – with donations from readers in 2019 funding remarkable initiatives like The Glia Project, which creates high quality, low cost, 3D printed medical devices for people in conflict zones, neatly circumventing blockades and saving lives.
Others are intervening closer to home. As we take stock of the fragrant fictions and shabby critical skills leaving our democracy in tatters, The Economist Educational Foundation is already working quietly to rebuild it. Its inspiring approach blends trademark journalistic expertise with rigorous academia and teaching know-how to develop young people’s news literacy and teachers’ skills – arming them with the confidence to validate information, engage in debate, and shape the agenda. Their results, which see participating students 150% more skilled in reasoning, open-mindedness, scepticism, curiosity and storytelling, are the ticket back to a functioning country.
A school programme can be funded for just £1000, and they need sponsorship to reach students all around the nation. Worthy of pause for anyone who feels action that delivers significant long-term outcomes is preferable to the paralysis, dismay or ennui of recent months.