Since the first days of the 21st Century people around the world have felt ‘something different’. Initially the world seemed ours to embrace, control and command. It was safe to live somewhat asleep, rhythmically and confidently moving from day to day – one’s own day to day. Worldview was limited, self-focused, through selective glasses…some with rosier tints than others.
And then the clock stopped. 9/11. Even today, years on, saying it stops one’s heart for a moment. Instantly the world as we knew it, as we chose to know it, was redefined. We were forced to open our eyes to the world around us, forced to see how we were in fact all connected. We were forced to wake up.
From that moment, consciously or unconsciously, people started to widen their view of the world – looking into the world, not just at it.
And looking more closely at themselves. Values, belief systems, hopes, fears, wishes, dreams and legacy become more clearly defined, more loudly shared. A vividness occurred.
Over the past decade as peace, unity and stability of nations have been openly challenged, and as Mother nature has unleashed her fury in ways unimaginable, people from all corners of the world have started to look for ways to make sense of it all, ways to connect the dots. Borders have dissolved as nations have united in the quest for peace. And as a series of natural disasters from tsunamis to hurricanes to earthquakes swept away hundreds of thousands from their lives, the world began to reach out with a showing of kindness and generosity never seen before. The eyes of the world had moved beyond the ‘me’ to the greater ‘we’.
Our ability to live ‘asleep’ is gone forever.
This awakening of social consciousness has become the signature of the 21st Century. Wherever one is in the world, the issues affecting the world are being adopted as issues which effect individuals. Social networking and citizen reporting has dramatically broadened and deepened the ability to leave one's world and enter that of another. As a result now, like better before, the world is awake to the implications of its actions, and therefore the responsibility of the individual.
The Messages are clear: Climate Change; The War on Terror; Poverty Alleviation; Active Democracy and now Global Economic Crisis – these vital forces are shaping our security and wellbeing today and in the future as societies. They have become the basis for the global agenda. What was once socio-political theory is now practical focus.
Interestingly this shift of understanding was first unlocked at a mass scale through some of the world’s most unlikely Messengers. Individuals traditionally associated with pop culture – musicians, celebrities, artists, public speakers and business leaders – became the bridge between political rhetoric and real action, unlocking social movements determined to bring an end to the issues and ailments threatening the health of western society and the world at large.
And, equally deserving of credit, the dramatic interest and growth in activity in travel and tourism across the world has resulted in a profound growth and appreciation for other places, other cultures, other belief systems and, importantly, the dreams and needs of others.
So where has this brought us? And where to now?
There is no question that the first decade of the 21st century has been one of intense awakening. And with this awakening has come a growing commitment towards action.
A social consciousness has emerged, causing people to think, deeply and purposefully, about their choices and actions and how these impact the world which they will leave behind. Pride in, and responsibility for, global citizenship has become a mass consideration in daily life and lifestyle, no longer a niche campaign.
With all this goodness of spirit and intention, the challenge now becomes how and where to channel all of this positive, productive, purposeful energy. How do we move societies towards ‘living’ their belief systems.
And when there is an immediate need by nations, regions, people in crisis, how can one single individual make a difference to the future health, stability and happiness of others?
For all the rising goodwill and generosity present around the globe, willingness to opening one’s heart and wallet diminishes dramatically due to the difficulty in identifying which issues of today, and tomorrow, are:
• Priority, most in need of support
• Easy to support
• Able to make the greatest impact
• Able to go beyond simply sending money, offering a more participative role
• Able to show the difference made
• Safe to support, free of risk of loss and/or wastage of funds and energies
• Able to go beyond once-off ‘charity’ and actually improve the lives of others, sustainably
Human nature takes over, questions regarding validity and enduring value emerge.
And, the deep compassion in our hearts over one issue is either forgotten or replaced with another worthy cause. Today’s need fades as tomorrow’s news unfolds.
But we cannot let these questions and concerns defuse and destroy efforts to collectively create a stronger, more secure, more just world for all. Especially when it means actions which can help lift others out of poverty, anonymity, and catastrophe.
Instead we must recognise and respect these concerns, using them as the framework for turning appeals for support into social action.
So how do we make the desire to ‘do good’ actually do good?
The lessons for tomorrow can be found in the actions of today.
Looking closely at the efforts and effect of global initiatives past and present focused on creating positive, sustainable impact for people of the world, here is a list of reminders to ensure that good intentions can indeed be turned into meaningful, sustainable global impact:
1. MAKE IT PERSONAL: put a face to the issue. Enable people to understand the individuals behind the need – where they live, what their lives should be, how one individual can change one life for the better. Turn appeals for help into a hand to be held. A wonderful example of this is CNN’s “Impact Your World” initiative CNN.COM/IMPACT which offers global viewers the opportunity to directly assist people and places in need which have been profiled on the global news network.
2. MAKE IT SHARED: enable people to feel part of a larger community working to make a difference, able to tap into a greater sense of meaning and impact, not a single blip on the radar which goes unnoticed and can have little real impact.
3. MAKE IT INSPIRING: provoke involvement through pride and positive inspiration, not burden and guilt. Enable people to feel they are doing the right thing because they are lead by a set of values right for today’s caring world, not because they are trying to make things right so they won’t feel bad. Al Gore, the world’s Messenger on Climate Change, has succeeded in turning a global crises into a global culture of environmental consciousness and care.
4. MAKE IT EASY: the ‘how to help’ needs to be clear and easy for people to participate. Keep the need and the method for support simple. Turn a grand issue into a simple gesture which can be made by individuals…with grand impact.
5. MAKE IT PERMANENT: ensure that the issue, the reason for the appeal, can be positioned as a long-term solution, not a bandage. Inspire people to participate in the building of lives, the building of livelihoods, the building of tomorrow through their actions today. “Habitat for Humanity” represents one of the world’s most successful, most visible and most celebrated efforts to literally and philosophically help people rebuild lives.
6. MAKE IT TOUCHABLE: allow people to turn their daily actions into impact, linking consumer activity to vehicles for impact through, for example,
• regular consumer purchase decisions,
• corporate social investment initiatives directly tied to business results,
• foundations which channel goodwill directly to programmes for tangible good.
Credibility comes through visibility. Without question one of the shining examples of initiatives of this nature is “Product (RED)” www.joinred.com , imagined, inspired and implemented by BONO, one of our generation’s greatest Messengers of the moral responsibility to create a healthier, more secure and more responsible world.
7. MAKE IT INVOLVING: programmes seeking to (re)build lives for a more better tomorrow offer a wonderful opportunity for people to become personally involved as participants in the (re)building. Making it possible for people to give of resources beyond money, giving instead of their time, energy and/or expertise, can dramatically accelerate the desired impact…all in a way which touches the lives of all involved in ways never imagined. A number of travel companies have become focused on voluntourism (ie www.godifferently.com, www.responsibletravel.com) , enabling travellers to visit parts of the world with a desire to experience in a way which directly and meaningfully helps the local communities which they visit with emphasis on those needing post-disaster recovery, ie Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina.
8. MAKE IT MAKE SENSE: meaningful connection to what is important to those wishing to help and give is vital. Tap directly into what is important to people within their life worlds and at a practical level.
• Make it make sense for the common man by tapping into social interests and activity, synchronizing goodwill with regular lifestyle habits and behaviours.
• Make it make sense as a means of business through logical, active participation in initiatives which stimulate both consumer activity and corporate responsibility.
Anita Roddick, founder and guardian angel of “The Body Shop”, was the first to institutionalize conscious consumerism, successfully weaving together global issues with consumer purchasing power.
9. MAKE THE CONNECTIONS: the most effective initiatives are those which manage to transcend ‘ownership’ and ego. Magnification of impact comes through magnification of involvement. By bringing in other parties to help drive the initiative through their roles as Messengers or Mechanics will dramatically increase the ability of an initiative to be:
• exposed to the widest audiences possible
• known of,
• appreciated as trustworthy, truthful and accountable,
• inspiring of action.
“Product (RED)” once again provides an example of a cooperative effort uniting various products, organisations and Brands around one shared cause and identity.
10. MAKE IT MARKETABLE: the fact remains that today’s world is driven by media – marketing, advertising, PR, social networks, charismatic messaging. Whatever the cause, whatever the goals, the Message must be able to be marketed through effective Messengers – individuals, images, icons – to gain the awareness and appeal to not only attract attention but retain interest and social appeal. The global campaign “One” www.one.org focused on elimination of poverty has utilised star power to attract consumer interest and appeal. Similar to “Product (RED)”, “One” has made active caring for the global community fashionable…and even sexy.
The 21st Century has brought with it a social consciousness which has dissolved global boundaries, uniting people of the world across world that share common values and hope for the future. The lens has shifted from ‘me’ to ‘we’ as people are reminded every day that our world is more than just about ‘me, for me, today’. And the definition of wealth has evolved to include the degree to which we can give back from what we have achieved and acquired.
We are awake.
As we move forward as a global community working to create a healthier world at social, economic, political and spiritual levels, we must ensure our efforts truly ‘work’ as results-orientated initiatives focusing on the highest level and farthest reaching impact possible. There is no time to sleep.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2009