A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook the other day. It’s called The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes and now has over 20 million hits on YouTube.
In it a 12-year-old schoolgirl, Severn Suzuki, addresses the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. She berates world leaders (and all adults) for leaving the world in such a poor state.
She implores: “If you don’t know how to fix it, at least stop breaking it.” Severn speaks with such passion, and such a genuine innocence, that it’s hard to watch the video without shedding a tear.
I don’t mind admitting I cried when I watched it – partly because it’s so moving, but also because I knew I would be going to this year’s Earth Summit, Rio+20. It struck me that 20 years on we had failed Severn, and all of her generation. The world is now in an even more perilous state than it was in 1992.
According to WWF, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, we passed the point of global sustainability somewhere towards the end of the 1980s.
Since then we have been living on borrowed time – using up more resources than the planet can replenish. The consequences of this are now well known – deforestation, overfishing, growing land and water shortages and of course global warming.
On the other hand, the world is now richer than ever before. I checked the figures recently and discovered that each year the world economy generates around US$10,000 per person. Just think about that for a second. Enough wealth is produced for each man, woman and child to receive US$10,000 per year. A single mother with four children in a slum in Nairobi could live on US$50,000. Why then are there still nearly 1 billion people in absolute poverty – on around US$1 a day?
So as a human race we face a dual dilemma – how to lift the world’s poor out of absolute poverty without harming the planet further.
I will be going to Rio+20, along with my colleague Claire Maxwell, to represent the Oasis School of Human Relations.
Oasis has been part of a global working group that will be presenting a report in Rio and a video to support it. Our central message is that we cannot go on as we have to date. This would only push us further and further away from sustainability, justice and equity.
For some time now Oasis has been working with business leaders and the organisations that train them, to develop new, innovative approaches to leadership development. We believe that new leaders are needed: people who value collaboration, who are in touch with themselves, with other people and with the planet.
We have been exploring an approach to leadership development which has come to be known as Whole Person Learning.
It is based on the notion that if we can bring more of our whole self, our real self to our life and learning, then we will make better, more conscious, more responsible decisions – and we will release personal potential we never realised we had.
The Whole Person Learning approach will be featured in the report presented in Rio and we will be pursuing a number of avenues to develop it further over the coming year. There is interest in the UK, in Germany, Pakistan, China, Brazil and Peru, to name but a few.
I do not know whether this approach will be enough to make the kinds of shifts that are needed for the coming decades. But I do know that without it the changes will be that much harder to achieve.
I think this might well be my part in living up to Severn’s expectations. If we all decided to play our part, what would yours be?