There is a never-ending discussion on who is accountable for the problems we face in the world. The interesting part is that only in very rare cases do people blame themselves. At the collective level, we constantly see corporations blame governments, governments blame corporations and civil society organisations simply blame both. However, at the individual level these dynamics are even more complex; and from my perspective, today more than ever the individual has become the main entity that in the long run can drive positive change.
Here are my reflections about how the potential power of individuals is being currently unlocked and will become a great driver in the years to come:
Not all is about collective actors in the current power dynamics
Until the end of World War II, analysis in the field of International Relations focused exclusively on states and power relations. After then, this vision started changing progressively and new transnational actors gained strength and impact, such as international and civil society organisations.
Nevertheless, in the last few years, the analysis has gone even deeper to its smallest level, the individual. This is not rocket science at all but the result of new power dynamics thanks to globalisation. Sixty years ago, an individual without power could not change the status quo to any extent. In the 21st century we live a completely different scenario where an individual has the ability to shock the world behind his computer. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been impacted by phenomena like the WikiLeaks at the beginning of this decade or even a couple of weeks ago by the so-called Panama Papers.
All actors are key–and the private sector plays a pivotal role
One of the things that getting deeper into the sustainability field made me realise, is that one cannot minimise the level of influence or every single actor, no matter if they acting from this individual or collective capacity–and most importantly from a public or private spectrum.
The public policy world tends to place the private sector in a marginal place because they are outside what is defined as public. However, this sector plays a fundamental role in the global economy and basically they own global value chains. The food we eat and the clothes we wear are inevitability the outcome of global trade and a single individual can be at the same time employee, competitor as well as in my previous blog, consumer or citizen.
Individual values vs collective values–Who wins in the end?
Every entity is composed of individuals, and the fact that entities have legal personality somehow sets different value schemes that permeate the individual values and vice versa. In that sense, every action an individual executes on behalf of an entity is the result of these value dynamics.
The problem comes when people dismiss this and justify that it is normal to act within two or more ethical frameworks. Unfortunately, this pitfall benefits no one other than free riders. If an individual is looking for maximisation, no matter the entity values, maximisation will guide all actions. On the other hand, if an entity as a whole is looking for maximisation and the individual is not consistent with his own values, maximisation will prevail.
Empathy is key–We are all part of the problem but also part of the solution
Although it might seem common sense, the principle of empathy is seldom applied to address the world’s main problems. And the lack of this basic principle often leads to obvious misunderstandings simply because ‘I’ do not understand what it means to be in someone else’s shoes.
Of course, it gets even more complex when the discussion goes beyond individuals and other collective actors enter the game, so any potential flash of empathy gets completely diluted and the easiest shortcut is to blame others instead of understanding why they are acting in that way.
However, the breaking point is to understand that we are all part of the problem but at the same time we are all part of the solution. And this applies to all levels, so there is no excuse to continue living in the same way because ‘someone is screwing it already’. Every individual has today more than ever the unique opportunity to be a change driver, and every single action matters. There is no secret formula to ‘apply’ sustainability. We simply should ask ourselves: Why do we care about the future? Who do we care more for? The answers to these two questions are very helpful to build our very personal path.
This is right at the beginning of this #InsideValue journey, where the obvious and mainstream is unpacked with the hope we all learn together how to make a better world. It is not about blaming the others and thinking we are not wrong. We are all part of the problem and also part of the solution!