Earlier this year I took part in a roundtable with some of the brightest minds from across the world of science, business and government. This was for the British Science Association’s thought-leadership programme, For Thought.
My role was to give a provocation to kick off the discussion, highlighting the transformation that is needed by government, scientists, engineers, and industry in order to meet our looming issues around resilience and how that transformation needs to happen in harmony.
The resulting report has three very solid recommendations: to set up an accountable Delivery Board to achieve Net Zero, to share research and innovation, and the third, that I’m focusing on here, and which is increasingly at the forefront of my own thoughts: How can we put future generations at the heart of institutional and systems decision-making?
The report calls for intergenerational equality and longer-term thinking into the decisions that leaders make, and it calls for the UK Government to legislate for a Future Generations Act to require public bodies, businesses and science and research institutions to think about the long-term impact of their decisions and enable them to work with people, communities and stakeholders to address persistent societal challenges, such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.
It also advocates for the creation of Future Generation Advisory Boards in businesses and science and research institutions, to undertake impact assessments and listen to the voices of younger generations to build long-term economic, social, and environmental value into the decisions they make for new products and services.
These recommendations align closely with our own belief in the need to engage with future generations and bring them into decision making. In 2020, The Resilience Shift conducted research into the nature of Resilient Leadership and followed senior leaders in real-time during the course of the pandemic, learning from their emerging insights along the way. Leadership matters, particularly in a major crisis. Yet the pandemic has made it transparently clear that the conventional models of leadership are, at best, not fully fit for purpose. Standing back after the project had come to an end, and looking past its many leadership insights, it struck us that, along the way, three profound, transformative questions had become visible, suggesting a significant shift away from current practice, and holding out the tantalizing prospect of a more satisfying and resilient future.
One of these ‘big questions’ was focused on youth. We asked, What might be missing from our senior leadership that youth could supply, and from the aspiring leaders of the future that experienced leaders could provide?
Younger members of the project team often remarked on how frank and vulnerable some of the senior leaders were being – something of which they had no experience in their own careers. Senior leaders seldom reveal their own inner doubts, and yet for these young professionals – aspiring leaders themselves – the opportunity to witness top leaders opening up in this way was surprising and empowering. Our conclusion was that we must create a bridge of transparency constructed between, on the one side, the deep experience of senior leaders in the public and private sectors, and on the other side the vision, ambition and energy of the young.
At the end of 2020, we also celebrated the first anniversary of the International Coalition for Sustainable Leadership and one of the invited speakers was Meredith Unger of Student Energy, a global network of 50,000 young and early career future leaders. Her inspiring message, captured in this short video, stressed how building globally diverse inter-generational coalitions is key to addressing the energy and climate challenge.
In 2021 we have acted on these two inspiring insights by bringing together Student Energy with our strategic business network partners Resilience First to create Youth Advisory Councils, to directly bring together senior leaders and the voices of youth that are clamouring so loudly to be heard. Our first business piloting this approach will be WSP the global consultancy and partners with us and others on the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure.
I’m therefore delighted to see this same conclusion and action being taken by the eminent thinkers who contributed to the For Thought report which is published today.