As we move into a new decade, will we seize the moment to look at what society and our planet need to thrive?
As we transition from one decade to another I know I’m not alone in using this moment as a chance to reflect on what’s passed and to focus on my priorities for the coming year. There’s been a lot of talk about purpose in 2019 — much hugely positive but some far more cynical. I believe that far from going out of fashion, people and businesses will start 2020 with renewed vigour about translating words into actions and looking to drive meaningful impact. The next decade is a hugely critical one for driving action on climate change and on inequality and for harnessing the positive power of disruptive technology. We need to seize the opportunity to make a step change towards targeted, collaborative action at scale and move away from some of the fragmentation and polarisation that has defined the past few years.
2019 was a year where the actions of individuals catalysed some big reactions. As humans, we often respond with resilience, innovation and a sense of purpose in the face of an immediate crisis. The words and actions of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, for example, undoubtedly triggered many leaders, businesses and individuals to question and reevaluate their roles in facing up to climate change. The failure of the recent climate talks in Madrid to raise collective global ambition sadly showed that there is still a long way to go.
For systemic change to happen fast and at scale businesses need to use both their individual and combined platforms to lead the way in finding solutions. Mark Carney, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, is a good example of this — personally speaking out and harnessing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures to wake up the financial services industry and the wider economy to the massive risks tied to climate change. This demonstrates the impact that clear leadership by an individual can have in influencing big business into taking real steps on important problems facing society.
But arguably business can have even more impact if it doesn’t wait to be told but simply leads the charge itself. Business is in a unique position to effect positive change: through the innovation and solutions it creates, it can give us the products and services we need to thrive, providing worthwhile employment and harnessing finance for positive returns. I see the 2020s as a real chance for business to reposition to a positive, trusted position in society, understanding the issues in the systems and communities in which they operate and championing solutions that in turn drive positive business opportunities.
Businesses looking at how they differentiate themselves to drive longer term success can start by making sure that if they hold up a mirror to themselves they can answer a few simple questions: What would the world miss if you were not there? What differentiates you? Do you know what impacts you deliver and what can you do to step up the positives and eradicate or offset the negatives? And who do you need to work with to make the positive impacts bigger? This may seem a bit idealistic, but they’re questions leaders should ask themselves on a regular basis as they take important decisions about future strategy and commercial success.
Every industrial revolution so far has been driven by business innovation and I believe the next will be no different. As we face up to the urgency of the climate and nature emergency, and against a backdrop of rising inequality and extremism right across the globe, the stakes have never been higher.
But as we come to the end of 2019, I actually feel pretty optimistic that as individuals, businesses or indeed local or national governments, we’re all up for that challenge. I hope and believe the 2020s will be the decade that sees individuals, business and governments together step up actions to ensure we create a sustainable and just future for people and our planet. As you take a few days well deserved rest over Christmas, I wonder — do you agree with me, and what part do you commit to play?