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Forecast2020 in Brief: Global Activism & Unrest

First published 13th January 2020 as part of Forecast2020
by Tom Warneke
Global | Operating in Foreign Environments | Understanding Your World

In 2019, demonstrations broke out everywhere. From Lebanon to Spain to Chile, Iraq, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Delhi, Sydney and Bolivia. All are different — with different causes, methods, and goals but there are some commonalities that connect them.

It’s clear than 2019 was the year in which we saw people organising and mobilising around their grievances. No sitting back, no bubbling discontent but active displays of voice.

Issues large and small now find voice not just on rolling news and social media but in the streets, in the AGM, in the employee lunch room. Discontent and angst in Delhi have been taking lessons from Hong Kong who in tern share with Venezuela. They’re connected and trading knowledge, tactics and progress.

In line with the activation of people power is the rise of the need for businesses to truly reflect on purpose and mission and what they’re doing to impact the world, economics and politics around them. No longer are businesses able to hide behind boilerplate CSR and be okay. Businesses are now stages for geo-political views, social uprising and economic shifts.

But the protests we’ve seen in 2019 are different: they’re dynamic and nimble, they’re passionate and widespread while also being amorphous and often leaderless. One could liken this to the new terrorism dichotomy we’re seeing — once organisations with a typical corporate structure, we’re now seeing cells independent of one another — more adaptable and secure should the head of the organisation be cut off. This same approach applies to the protests — decentralised leadership ensures long term sustainability of a movement.

At the end of the day, it seems many people around the world have simply had enough. Combustible sentiment around politics, living conductions, inequality and corruption as well as less opportunities for the youth are all getting people to the streets. Add this to the distrust of global economic markets following the global financial crisis, the constant and terrifying effects we’re seeing of the climate crisis and a growth in connectivity and social media and you’ve got a ripe harvest for protest.

No longer are people protesting only about major issues but about things that affect they’re day to day — fare increases in Santiago, the #MeToo movement, Bushfires and the Climate Crisis, tax increases in Lebanon or #BlackLivesMatter in the United States — grievances become hashtags become million person marches with the world watching.

Activists all work or study somewhere. This means the everyday people out on the streets all could impact business, government and educational institution. More than half of all millennials in the workplace would leave if they didn’t see their employer working to improve the world around them and the communities they exist in.

For these reasons, many businesses have chosen to involve themselves in the missions and activism taking place. The best example of this is the likes of Patagonia or Lush who actively support environmental causes and are active in the climate emergency movement. Increasingly, this is driven by the employees and their passions, their voices and what they’re getting active about. Business in 2020 would do well to hear and follow the voices of their people. One thing is for certain — these waves of protests and activism are here to stay. It’s on the streets, it’s in your company or your classroom.

Lastly, reputationally, business will be challenged to publicly pick a side on many issues. Often this may put companies at odds with governments or special interest groups. It’s key that you understand the issues, risks but also benefits around aligning yourself on issues.

Deciding what matters most to your company, your people and the communities and nations in which you operate will be key in 2020 both to avoid experiencing the penalties and repercussions of issues deafness but also to reap the benefits of engagement and socio-political correctness. Everyone wants to be on the right side of history, 2020 will be a key time in defining this.

At ComplexGlobal, we’re continuing to follow all of these protests as well as the countries they belong to and the people and governments involved. Using InCountry, our global intelligence and risk platform, we regularly publish insight, intelligence and advice to keep our clients safe and operational, no matter where they are.

For more insight and analysis on this event as well as a global understanding of the issues that affect you, explore our wide range of analysis, intelligence and commentary at



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