Letter from the board of ebbf on the opening day of COP25
We are faced with a challenging new era in human history. It is a chaotic phase of transition in which collectively, we are confronted with the difficult reality of unprecedented global uncertainty and forces of fragmentation.
The planet itself is now telling us through accelerating signs of climate change that business as usual is leading us to disaster. Our youth are marching in the streets as they know too well that their future is in danger.
This time of transition and challenge represents a compelling invitation for us to act.
While the internal incoherence within the current economic system will lead to its collapse, sweeping away some obstacles to a new sustainable system, we are currently faced with the headwinds of an intransigent resistance to change.
IT IS TIME TO ACCELERATE A NEW ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SYSTEM
This is a time we must accelerate the forces of integration, building new economic and social systems able to lead the transformation towards a sustainable world, drawing on the abundant renewable sources of energy with which our planet is endowed. This calls for a fundamental reorganization of human society providing for collective prosperity that leaves no one behind, founded on principles of justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance.
“The aim is to learn about how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts and how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance.” (Letter from the Universal House of Justice 1st March 2017)
The urgency of a ten year window 2020–2030 is a powerful catalyst to push forward new ideas that were never thought possible or too daring in the past. How do we find the right questions and actions to allow each one of us and our organizations to address excessive carbon emissions, the unprecedented loss of biodiversity, and all the consequences we are already witnessing from climate change? While we do not have all the answers, we must now work to reinvent the economic system and the very purpose of business, striving for the common good and not just for a few.
WHAT ACTIONS CAN WE TAKE?
But where does one start to help the transition from the current negativity, polarization and unsustainable trends to more prosperous, just and sustainable organisations and economic systems?
What we have witnessed over the last thirty years of ebbf’s history of accompaniment and learning is the importance of three parallel actions:
1. Create a vision. Design with others the ideal world order, the scenario of the future to which we wish to transition.
At ebbf we believe future companies and economic systems should focus on putting a social purpose at the heart of the economy, providing the material means to enable every human being to prosper (in moderation) and to develop spiritually, not just to consume. The economic system would be altruistic and cooperative, with businesses at a human scale.
2. Understand in consultation with others the underlying conditions that sustain this old, unsustainable, world order and identify the new underlying conditions, the best foundations to help us build a prosperous, just and sustainable civilization.
“We should also remember that most people have no clear concept of the sort of world they wish to build, nor how to go about building it. Even those who are concerned to improve conditions are therefore reduced to combating every apparent evil that takes their attention.” (Universal House of Justice letter 10 November 1974)
For example the current measures of success, such as GDP growth, do not take into account sustainability, the wellbeing of people and planet. New indicators of success should be introduced in company accounting and economic systems. Definitions of success are usually framed as serving the (apparent) interests of each nation, corporation, local community or single individual. How can we build a more realistic global consciousness of the interdependence of our decisions and actions?
Most importantly what should be our understanding of human nature? For example:
“Uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious.” (Universal House of Justice letter October 1985)
We should be fostering an understanding of the true nature of humankind:
“strive to perceive the nobility in every human being — rich or poor, man or woman, old or young, city dweller or villager, worker or employer, irrespective of ethnicity or religion… Attend to the needs of young people and foster in them confidence in the future so that they may prepare themselves adequately for service to humankind. Take every opportunity to present to your fellow citizens, with utmost sincerity, your experience in combating prejudice and collaborate with them in creating bonds of love and fellowship, and so contribute to the progress of your nation and the prosperity of its people.” (Universal House of Justice Letter 28 July 2008)
3 Develop your and your colleagues’ capacities to engage in key discourses and to create unity. Learn to foster environments of trust where diverse stakeholders have the volition to come together, co-design a vision and create a shared understanding of the underlying assumptions that are key to unlocking the sustainable economic future we urgently need to implement.
WHAT IS THE FIRST STEP WE CAN TAKE?
The first step for each of us would be to adopt a new state of mind, one where a clear aim is set founded on strong underlying values. Then apply this vision in action to explore the way forward. Thirdly (and this may be new for many), follow actions with a period of shared reflection on the results. This reflection is not wasted time but a key moment to come together and understand and reconnect our actions with the purposes that will benefit us all.
We are at the cusp of a new era, we can be the ethical people building the future who will walk this shared path :
“The pathway to sustainability will be one of empowerment, collaboration and continual processes of questioning, learning and action in all regions of the world. It will be shaped by the experiences of women, men, children, the rich, the poor, the governors and the governed as each one is enabled to play their rightful role in the construction of a new society. As the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization recede, they will reveal the human capacities for justice, reciprocity and happiness.” (Bahá’í International Community, Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, 2010)
The ebbf governing board