The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: leadership

Mine, Yours, Ours

Photo credit: Sasin Tipchai

For all our talk concerning the ability for our communities to enjoy both prosperity and well-being we have proved remarkably one-sided in that approach by consistently allowing prosperity to become the benchmark for the welfare of our communities. Growth and all our rampant belief in its ability to provide a better future is quickly forcing us into a corner, where our desires are no longer affordable and our resources are rapidly dwindling in the process.

What else did we expect? In a world where wealth moves ever upward and the planet comes closer to living on life-support, the results of our mad dash to material nirvana are evident for all who wish to see and acknowledge them. As the New Yorker reminded us recently, we live in a world where only 2% of the world’s income is possessed by the bottom one-fifth of global population. If this practice persists, then it’s inevitable that something has to give. In most cases it’s the poor themselves. Looked at through another lens, the picture becomes even more revealing. A Credit Suisse report recently noted that the world’s 1% presently own more than half of the world’s wealth. That same report reminds us that while the growth of the world economy has doubled in the past quarter-century, the heavy cost for that expansion has been the 60% deterioration of the world’s ecosystems during that same period.

What has been the cause of this great global irony? In a word, inequality. It’s everywhere – between nations, between citizens, within nations, between communities in a fashion that keeps them endlessly competitive, and within those very same cities. It’s affecting everything and leaving us increasingly unsure an insecure in the process.

Is there another way, maybe a better one? Definitely – more than one in fact. But such innovations aren’t likely to find vast public support – at least for a time. Yet around the world communities are striving to find a balance between what we want and what the planet needs, and some have achieved success. They have built into the very sinews of their communities the idea of prosperity that needs to have sustainable lifestyles, individually and collectively.

Prosperity shouldn’t just be about money, economics, and luxury. Somehow we have to get into our minds that there is only so much in the way of resources to go around and that if an abundance of those resources deplete the planet or go to a minority of people at the expense of others, then “prosperity” might be the wrong word. Indeed, prosperity should be about shared living and not just success in isolated existence. Good health, adequate education, mutual respect, meaningful work, community responsibility and heightened citizenship – these, along with a healthy environmental ecosystem, need to be migrated into our very understanding of what prosperity really is and what it involves.

In a report by Professor Tim Jackson for the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission that I’ve be rereading while here in Britain this week, emerged a rather bold concept that could conceivably become the only way our planet and its people can survive. Jackson talks about “prosperity without growth” and, given our modern penchant for everything material, it forms a revolutionary statement. It makes sense of another of Jackson’s observations has merit: “the same old, same old, is not longer working.”

If he is correct – and many communities are banking on it – the only way we can survive while perhaps achieving prosperity at the same time is to build sharing economies. In other words, where we used to just collect and collect for our own individual pleasures or purposes, we can learn to share our resources with one another in any way that gives us meaningful and comfortable lives without impoverishing large portions of the human race or depleting the planet’s limited supply of natural resources.

Jackson, and others, favour the phrase “regenerative human culture” as a means for conveying their ideas. If in order to prosper we have to strip the planet at the same time, then eventually everything becomes a lose-lose scenario. But if we learn to collaborate and share the blessings we already have, then society can renew itself, spread the wealth, and heal the planet at the same time. It’s about using what we already have as opposed to inventing ever-new products for us to acquire. The website Global Transition to a New Economy has numerous revealing examples of such an economy action. The idea is simpler than its implementation, but the point is that it is doable. Prosperity for all is created by all of us through collaboration and not so much competition. The initiative SolidarityNYC put the challenge clearly:

Rather than isolating us from one another, shared economies foster relationships of mutual support and solidarity. In place of centralized structures of control, they move us towards shared responsibility and democratic decision-making. Instead of imposing a single global monoculture, they strengthen the diversity of local cultures and environments. Instead of prioritizing profit over all else, they encourage a commitment to shared humanity best expressed in social, economic, and environmental justice.

Share more while using less. Include others instead of retaining everything in isolation. Try being collaborative instead of competitive. All these are possible but not yet popular. There is much to learn from in our present economic practices, but they never were sufficient as long as they created winners and losers, poverty and wealth, environmental degradation and the a throwaway generation. Shared economies are more than an idea at present. In time they will become the only way ahead.

Davos: The Ever-Missing Gender Lens


THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM IN Davos, Switzerland last week captured a lot of attention, not all of it positive. Sessions were held in the growing fear that elite figures in finance, government, and the entertainment industry are no longer in control of the direction in which our planet is headed.

A clear sign of what’s wrong was obvious just in the makeup of the participants. Around 18% of them were women – that’s it. In 2002 that number was 9%, and in 2011 it was 16%. True, things are heading in the proper direction, but, seriously, this is trite and incremental stuff – hardly worthy of true leadership, especially on a global level.

What’s truly frustrating about this fundamental lack of progress at Davos is that a good portion of many of the meetings was about tackling poverty by supporting women’s efforts in developing nations. It was right there in front of them as Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, observed at Davos: “I don’t think the people who go to Davos deny that this is a major issue. They read the same reports about the value of investing in women in terms of education and employment as I do.”

The World Food Program reminded the crowd that the global economy requires the leadership of women if it is to be righted. Almost 90% of each dollar is invested by women and girls in their families through purchasing books, medicine, and food. The number for their male counterparts is between 30 and 40 percent.

I suppose we would expect a development group to say such things, but what about the head of the World Economic Summit himself, Klaus Schwab. He stated forthrightly that:

“A world where women make up less than 20% of the global decision-makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential.”

Who’s to argue? And why would we wish to? But how do you square that observation with the fact that only 18% of Davos attendees are women? This has to be more than some kind of value statement; it must be an action plan, and if anyone should be able to guide us in this direction, it is supposed to be world leaders.

This week I composed a piece for the Huffington Post on the Davos Man. You can link to it here. Author David Rothkopf has asked the cheeky question: “What About Davos Woman?” He’s right. How can you gather the world’s elite in such a grand spectacle as Davos and call for more women’s leadership when you are willing to tolerate less than 20% women into the sessions? Clearly there is work to be done, but it’s difficult to have confidence in the supposed “best and the brightest” when they can’t make happen in their own sessions what they say needs to happen in the world in general.

“Leaders do not conform, says Israelmore Ayivor, author of Leaders’ Ladder, “they reform. If you conform, you are nurturing mediocrity. If you reform, you are breeding change.” If it’s change Davos is looking for, then conforming to historic gender patterns is hardly the way to get there.

It All Comes Down to Cities


FOLLOWING EXTENSIVE NEGOTIATIONS a deal emerged among 190 countries regarding climate change and the very future of the planet. Almost immediately opinions pro and con erupted in every venue imaginable. The average citizen can be forgiven for experiencing difficulty as to the truth of the summit’s success in Paris this past week.

Nevertheless, there are some aspects of the climate change response that have been clearly successful, with progressive track records that still spell hope on the file. I speak especially of cities. While the accomplishments on carbon emissions of a number of nations have been mixed, cities around the world opted to act long before the Paris summit. Following the dismal failure of the 2009 Copenhagen summit, municipal leaders took the initiative when others dropped the ball.

All this is important, since as much as a third of carbon budgets will be determined by decisions that municipalities themselves will make. That is no small thing and while sovereign nations now begin the process of deciphering how to meet the loose targets they committed to, many of their key cities have been moving along that path for years, and decades for some.

Increasingly it appears as though cities will be the staging areas for any great global response to climate change. Think of most great challenges before us – immigration, refugees, the renewal of capitalism, citizen engagement, political reform, and many more – and their chief field of operations will be in our civic centres. It makes sense, not only because of their population density but since they provide the majority of the on the ground services required by citizens.

But there’s more. Research from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate reveals that a group comprised of fewer than 500 cities will be responsible for some 60% of global economic growth and 50% of greenhouse gas emission increases in the next 15 years. Cities are already forming the front line in humanity’s struggle with climate change.

It’s now clear what is happening: for nations to develop an effective environmental response, they must undertake the process of following their cities. Again, that makes sense since city mayors have already undertaken over 10,000 climate change actions in recent years.

Yet there is another reason for civic action that is rarely mentioned. Between 2005 and 2013, cities have absorbed the vast majority of refugees. Recent research enforces this reality.

  • Manila (Philippines) presently houses 70,000 refugees.
  • New York city is attempting to support 60,000 – 22,000 of which are children.
  • Mexico City holds 20,000.
  • The cities of India are attempting to resettle some 23 million.
  • San Francisco hosts 10,000 refugees.
  • Rome is challenged by the 70,000 living within its boundaries.

At present, over 100 million people are homeless in our world, the majority of them in our cities. The United Nations estimates that 1.6 billion exist without adequate housing. These are huge numbers and they are increasing, mostly in our municipalities.

In other words, cities have a vested interest in taking the lead in climate change action for the simple reason that they will be absorbing the terrible consequences of failure. “Cities are the greatest creations of humanity,” says author Daniel Libeskind. They could also be the beach upon which we ultimately perish. More than the Paris summit, our hundreds of cities will determine whether we can submit ourselves to the natural order that sustains us.

A Tale of Two City Mayors


IN ALL THE RUSH AND EXCITEMENT ABOUT THE recent federal election and the ambitious agenda put forward by Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau, we tend to forget that there are already numerous examples of sweeping, at times breathtaking, agendas being put forward by some of this country’s mayors.

Naheed Nenshi (Calgary) and Don Iveson (Edmonton), have not only had enough of being neglected by the more senior political jurisdictions, they are actually setting out strong policy options whether or not Alberta or Ottawa are ready for them. Having already insisted that they would like to open discussions with their senior partners on the prospect of becoming charter cities, they are now experimenting with the idea of their respective cities becoming testing grounds for the concept of a basic income.

We’ll explore this concept in greater detail in our next post, but in its simplest form a basic income means giving every citizen a certain amount of funds to cover the various challenges they encounter in life. For years it had been broached and introduced as an innovative means whereby people of low-income can be elevated to a more secure economic level within Canadian society.

This is an idea that has been around for decades and has supporters from all sides of the political spectrum. And though it has slowly progressed in awareness, the point of this post is that two key mayors are taking on the political establishment in support of this idea, not for ideological reasons, but because they are attempting to bring relief to their marginalized citizens when the prevailing system doesn’t work – just what mayors are supposed to do.

Nenshi is just doing his job, but he is accomplishing it with daring. Speaking at the National Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa in May, he called for a “brave step” in fighting poverty by supporting the basic income. It is for this kind of leadership that Nenshi was awarded the World Mayor prize in 2014 – not just because he is smart and innovative, but because he displays courage in tackling the status quo.

He has found an equally audacious counterpart in the province’s capital a few miles north. Edmonton’s Don Iveson hit the ground running on the poverty file from the moment he became mayor in 2013, not just ceding responsibility for new solutions to others, but by leading the charge himself. Saying he wanted to greatly reduce the city’s poverty in one generation, he immediately began bridge building with the city’s business community and with other interested partners. “We have to think inter-generationally,” he says, “to get it right for the future, not just for the politically expedient short-term.” Then his boldness came to the fore in a few words: “I’d rather do the right thing and lose the next election than do the wrong thing and win.”

These are interested days in the fabric of Canadian life, a time where poverty is becoming increasingly worrisome for Canadians. Yet the file is so complex that it’s difficult to know how to begin reducing it. Just having the will to change is not enough in this case; there must be leadership of the kind that forays out into all political, corporate, and civil society jurisdictions and calls everyone to begin walking into the future together rather than as mere disparate parts. Good will is a terrific beginning, but fair-minded determination inspired by bold leaders of spirit is what it will take if we are to succeed. Two mayors have opted to lead instead of delegate or bemoan the lack of attentiveness from senior political jurisdictions. In seeing their respective cities worthy of their very best, they are in the process of becoming exemplary leaders themselves.

Election 2015: Do What You’re Afraid to Do


HIS AIDES STRONGLY ENCOURAGED HIM to beg off from the engagement. It was believed that rioting was about to break out across the country, and here in Indianapolis human anger would pour out onto the streets. It was rainy and cold, and so dark that the Life magazine photographer couldn’t shoot what came to be an epic scene. His speechwriter had cobbled together some hasty notes for his boss but they were tucked away, unused.

When Robert Kennedy climbed aboard the flatbed truck that evening, he asked the mayor of the city, “Do they know?” he asked, nodding at the crowd. “To some extent,” came the reply. “We thought we’d leave that up to you.”

It was then that Bobby Kennedy, candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1968, approached the microphone and delivered the devastating news. “I am only going to talk to you for a minute or so because I have some very bad news for all of you … Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis.”

People let out audible screams, sinking to their knees in horror. From the fringes of the mostly black crowd, some men pumped their fists, crying out, “Black Power!” Hundreds burst into tears and shock.

What followed was one of the great speeches in American history – impromptu and transparently sincere. Kennedy reminded those before him that both blacks and whites wanted a country better than what they had, but that violence over King’s death could ruin that dream. He asked them to consider quietly returning home, praying for King’s family, and for the country. He closed off with a clarion call for understanding mixed with justice:

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

As stirring as Kennedy’s words were, they were transcended by their very effect on his audience. In 119 cities that night the predicted riots broke out, leaving 46 dead, 2500 injured, and destruction unmatched since the Civil War 100 years earlier. Only one city escaped the violence – Indianapolis. Kennedy had taken himself to the epicenter of the moments and delivered on people’s better aspirations instead of their crippling fears.

In so many dimensions, this is what leadership is supposed to be about – raising hopes and justice above prejudice and the status quo. Kennedy’s aides had pressed him hard to cancel but he understood that if the people before him that night – the nation too – required anything, it was a human being touched to the very depths of the soul.

It is this kind of principled leadership that our present federal election campaign is calling for. It’s not merely struggling over how many refugees to accept, but how to lead the world in bringing peaceable security for the vulnerable everywhere. It’s not just about parts-per-million of CO2 vented into the air, but the courage to bring our collective lifestyle in line with our planet’s vulnerabilities. It’s hardly about bemoaning the growing gap between the rich and poor, but courage necessary to close that gap. And it’s not about minor parliamentary reforms in an age of democratic deficit, but the placing of people at the centre of all political calculations and policies. It’s not enough to tinker; we must transform, and that will take leadership of the highest order.

Political calculations that night in Indianapolis concluded that Kennedy should cancel, not merely for his own safety, but because the optics looks awful. But in his calendar that day he had written down a phrase by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Kennedy tossed prevailing political wisdom out the window and called his nation to something far higher than mere partisan politics could provide or inspire.

We require this kind of fortitude from our leaders in the midst of a vital election campaign. Speak truth to us because we have the power to select. Lift us higher. Help us to take on our greatest challenges with comprehensive policies instead of cheapening us with smaller expectations. We have been running low on the high-octane fuel required for democracy these days and we require better than we’re presently getting. Make us what we collectively can be instead of what we merely individually desire. Help us to stand up for ideals again instead of falling for convenient promises. Speak to us of a just and compassionate nation. Make us collectively meaningful again. Do what you’ve been afraid to do.

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