Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Tällberg New Leaders Program

with 4 comments

The midnight sun over Tällberg, with Lake Siljan in the distance.

The midnight sun over Tällberg, with Lake Siljan in the distance.

STOCKHOLM — “Damn you if you don’t put what you learn here to good use.” It was with that somber admonition that Bo Ekman welcomed me and 21 of my peers to the Tällberg Foundation’s New Leaders Programme (NLP). Ekman is the 73 year-old founder and chairman of the Tällberg Forum, an annual gathering that draws some 600 scientists, activists, entrepreneurs, artists and world leaders to a village in central Sweden every June to discuss the world’s problems. The former head of strategy at Volvo is a bit fatalistic about humanity’s odds for redemption in the face of the converging economic and ecological crises.

IMG_0279During the three days leading up to this year’s Tällberg Forum, June 22-25, I had the immense privilege to attend the NLP, an intensive workshop designed to give “people in early positions of responsibility an opportunity to think through their wider role in society… to improve the sensitivities and skills that will make them more effective leaders in their organisation and in society.” It was a chance for my cohort to meet some of our elders, reflect on our own paths as leaders, and build personal connections with peers and mentors to help ease our entry into the larger Tällberg Forum community that would descend on the town several days later.

Whether it was youthful naiveté or a necessary coping mechanism in the face of overwhelmingly bad odds, I’m not sure. But our group was decidedly more sanguine, even audaciously hopeful, about the future than Mr. Ekman.

This year’s NLP class was an impressively diverse group of 22 young activists and social entrepreneurs in our 20s and 30s. There was a journalist from Bangladesh, a Chinese student environmental leader, a socially-responsible investment adviser from South Africa, a Mexican entrepreneur, a Saudi princess, a foundation director from Berlin, a Tanzanian political consultant, a Zimbabwean sustainability consultant living in Sweden, an Indian-American clean-tech investor based in Toronto, and a New York-based management consultant who was born in Sudan and raised in a Kenyan refugee camp, among others.

Tom Cummings

Tom Cummings

The program was designed and facilitated by Rebecca Oliver of the Tallberg Foundation and Tom Cummings of Brussels-based Executive Leadership Partners. Following Cummings’ “Leadership Landscapes” model, the program shifted focus from the personal level to the organizational to the global and back, alternately giving participants opportunities to meditate on our personal stories, values, hopes and dreams; our roles as leaders in our families, organizations, communities, fields/industries, and the wider world; and to engage in a dizzying array of presentations and conversations with experts and leaders in sustainability, diplomacy, health, human rights, business, and science.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the entire program. That would take far too long to write. Instead, I’ll focus on a few highlights.

The “Oh Shit” Briefing

The opening afternoon of the NLP was a bit like boot camp, where they first try to break you down, so they can build you back up even stronger and more effective. After a brief ice-breaker and a welcome from the facilitators, we were treated to a mind-blowingly depressing briefing on the converging global crises from Carl Mossfeldt, VP of the Tällberg Foundation and a former financial industry executive. “I can proudly say that I designed the risk models that led to the failure of two banks,” he related with a wry smile.

Mossfeldt went on to explain how Phase I of globalization was characterized by economic growth leading to localized ecosystem crises. Now we’re in Phase II, in which localized ecosystem crises have started to interact with each other, leading to global system crises. Global systems are reaching tipping points – “planetary boundaries” – beyond which change begins to snowball so fast it’s impossible to predict accurately what the effects will be. In response to these ecosystem crises, social systems are breaking down – for example, the hollowing out of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; or the crisis in Darfur, which is linked to desertification, which is driving northern Sudanese Muslims to migrate south, causing land disputes with the villagers of Darfur. One economist even argues that the current economic meltdown can be traced to the 5 hurricanes that hit South Florida and the Gulf Coast earlier this decade. Billions of dollars in insurance claims, the argument goes, destabilized the industry, which in turn destabilized the mortgage business, causing the chain-reaction that brought Wall Street to its knees.

Meanwhile, looking at climate change, the gap between what scientists know about the severity of the crisis and what the public and governments know is widening. “The tools we have available to address these crises are not working,” Mossfeldt says. “The questions we’ve been asking are not working. So what are the questions we should be asking ourselves now?”

Against that uplifting backdrop, Tom and Rebecca invited us to peel ourselves out of our seats and spend the next few days pondering that question, and to imagine our own roles in the answers. “Your life probably has plans for you,” said Tom Cummings.

What those plans are, I’m still not sure. But I came out of my week at Tällberg with a much clearer picture of the direction I’m headed, and a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I’m here on Earth at this point in history to help shepherd humanity through these crises. And my role in that process is to be a facilitator and community builder, using social technologies – both face-to-face and online – to help build stronger, more interdependent, more resilient communities that can weather the storms that are already engulfing us. The planet will still be here in 500 years, but will we?

As architect and social philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Dancing With the Stars

Me and Gro
Me and Gro

I have to pinch myself when I realize that Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister and head of the UN commission on environment and development, actually spent nearly 3 hours with me and my peers in an intimate, wide-ranging conversation on everything from her upbringing in a prominent political family to tips for maintaining personal energy and balance (“always get enough sleep”) to the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen. We need a funding mechanism to pay for mitigation and adaptation to climate change that is automatic, Brundtland said. Perhaps 2-4% of all revenue from the global CO2 cap-and-trade system should go into a fund administered by the UN. “I don’t trust parliaments,” she says. If it’s not an automatic mechanism in the new climate treaty, then she fears governments will inevitably renege on their financial commitments to the fund.

My classmate Graham Sinclair and I even had the chance to explain Twitter and Facebook and discuss with Brundtland the merits of engaging in social media.

Other superstars we got to spend some quality time with included: Anders Wijkman, Sweden’s outgoing member of the European Parliament; Jan Eliasson, former UN special envoy to Darfur; Christine Loh, CEO of Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange; and Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

My Mentor: John Elkington

John Elkington and me

John Elkington and me

Each of us was also paired up with a mentor – an experienced sustainability leader who had been to Tällberg numerous times before, who could show us the ropes, introduce us to others and help us navigate the crazy gathering that was ahead of us.

My mentor was John Elkington, the British author who coined the term “triple bottom line” – i.e. people, planet, and profit – in 1994, which he elaborated on in his 1997 book Cannibals With Forks: Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. A true guru of green business, he is now the director of Volans Ventures, a London and Singapore-based company that is “part think-tank, part consultancy, part broker and part incubator,” focusing on scaling social innovation. Volans recently published The Phoenix Economy: 50 Pioneers in the Business of Social Innovation.

I’m not sure ours was truly a mentor/mentee relationship. It felt more like meeting a colleague. John is incredibly approachable, and despite his lengthy resume, comes across as virtually ego-less — just as interested, if not more so, in learning about what others are doing, than he is in talking about himself. Meeting John was truly a highlight of the trip. I look forward to collaborating with him in some capacity in the future.

More to Come…

There were many other highlights of the NLP, several of which deserve their own posts. Check back soon for more…

Written by leifutne

July 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm

4 Responses

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  1. “Localized ecosystem crises have started to interact with each other, leading to global system crises. Global systems are reaching tipping points – “planetary boundaries” – beyond which change begins to snowball so fast it’s impossible to predict accurately what the effects will be. In response to these ecosystem crises, social systems are breaking down”

    SO INTERESTING!!!!

    Architect and social philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

    I love this. Going to have to tweet this up.

    You got to hang out with Mr Triple Bottom Line myself. Awesomeo

    So happy to hear you had a blast. So inspiring dude.

    Edward Harran

    August 17, 2009 at 1:22 am

  2. […] Tällberg New Leaders Program « Foglio’s Field Notes Aug 17th, 2009 by admin. As architect and social philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. via leifutne.wordpress.com […]

  3. It’s time to constitute the “Invisible College”. The Baby Boomers are too old to change. It’s up to the Gen. X. Y. and Millennials to learn the skills of cooperation and collaboration that will pull us (mankind) through the 21st Century.

    My doctoral work is about creating an emergent model of sustainable entrepreneurship education based on a worldwide network of learning communities i.e., the Invisible College.

    Mark Pomerantz, Seattle University

    Mark Pomerantz

    September 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm

  4. Thanks for the comment, Mark. Your “Invisible College” concept is intriguing. I agree that the bulk of the work that needs to be done will fall on the shoulders of Gens X, Y and M.

    However, I’m not ready write off the Boomers yet. They still hold the vast majority of wealth and power. And many of them get the need to cooperate and collaborate more effectively. They just don’t know how. Most people under 35 grew up online and understand collaboration, cooperation, crowd-sourcing, etc. intuitively. To them it’s just how the world works. But to most Boomers it’s like learning a while new language.

    If we’re going to successfully turn the corner on climate change, global poverty, terrorism, war, and economic collapse, we need all hands on deck. And most Boomers will be with us for another couple of decades at least. So I think it’s well worth our time for those of us who understand the new language and tools of cooperation and collaboration (Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.) to compassionately teach all the Boomers we know how to get in the game.

    leifutne

    October 1, 2009 at 10:39 am


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