Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for December, 2015

Cutting Love – 4th Quarterly

Posted by jembendell on December 14, 2015

Every 3 months I send an update. In my 4th I focus on listing some links for resources and events, before a few thoughts on “cutting love.” You can sign up to receive this Quarterly Bulletin.

First up, the culmination of a year’s efforts, today the UN publishes a paper I co-wrote on how Ewtonterprise Zones can contribute to the new Global Goals for sustainable development. These zones are popular with some governments, from India to the UK, but they aren’t without criticism, in terms of what they achieve. Now with changes in trade rules, Zones are going to have to come up with new ways of staying competitive. We argue that embracing social and environmental excellence is a clever response. I explained this in my article for the World Economic Forum. I was pleased to present the preliminary findings at the public forum of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva in October, and the report is launched this week in Nairobi at the ministerial. You can read it here (pdf). I’m grateful to Dr Tony Miller at UNCTAD and also for colleagues at the University of Cumbria for supporting me to do this work.

In September I stepped back from Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) so I can focus on my research and teaching as a Professor of Sustainability Leadership (as part time) as well as new role with an impact investing fund. I’m pleased Dr Caroline Rouncefield is the Acting Director and joins an Institute with 5 MBAs growing well (over 2000 international students), as well as co-delivery of an MSc in Strategic Policing and a new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development. One of the last projects I worked on was to initiate a partnership with the National Trust, to promote innovation in the heritage and conservation sectors, which was recently launched with some fanfare. Our Deputy Director Dr David Murphy will lead on the project for IFLAS.

Trimantium Capital are the Impact Investors that I’ve joined the board of. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, it is making waves for attracting hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund directed at financial services and health technology with a clear social and environmental purpose. As the Paris climate summit started, I shared what some of us impact investors are thinking about the future of fossil fuels, in a WEF article.

Looking ahead from the winter, at IFLAS we will turn our efforts towards to the IFLAS Spring School, for two weeks in both London and the Lake District. It kicks off our new MA, but can also be attended as a stand-alone course. Lots of mid-career execs do our courses and become co-conspirators on future projects. The Spring School will also involve a reunion of participants in the Leading Wellbeing Festival, on April 9th in Ambleside, which will also be the annual meeting of the Cumbria Environmental Network. If you are interested in the new MA or the Spring School, please fire off an email to iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

Some of the ideas behind the MA are contained in a co-authored paper just published by the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (JCC). I’m grateful to Richard Little at Impact International for having schooled me in critical leadership thinking these past 3 years. I also presented the paper at the International Leadership Association in October and will share some similar ideas at the ‘Lead in Asia’ conference in Bali on the 21st January.

The 2nd cohort of our Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) on Money and Society went well, with around 100 people completing all 4 assignments over the month. That means they can now progress to the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, with the 5 day residential happening in our London Docklands Campus in April (as part of that spring school I mentioned). This labour-of-love for me and course co-tutor Matthew Slater, this free course is “bloody brilliant” and “mind bending”. The next cohort starts on Feb 14th and runs for a month online. Read more and sign up here.

Since my last update I was pleased to receive an award for my past work on cross-sector collaboration for sustainable development. The award made the local news, and my paper on the future of such partnerships (think disruption and revolution) is available here.

That’s nothing compared to being made an honorary fellow of the University of Cumbria. In November, my friend Funmi Iyanda became the first African Woman to be recognised in this way by the University and gave a powerful speech in Carlisle Cathedral. Her talk really reflected our ‘transmodern’ times, where we purposefully and playfully mix old and new ideas from all corners of the world to discover ways of rethinking progress today. Read her super speech here on the IFLAS blog, which is now also home to a regular series of articles on leadership themes.

In October I was pleased to host Professor James Wilsdon’s at our Lancaster Campus to discuss the future of how we are going to be assessed as academics. James is the chair of the Campaign for Social Science. As the University sector has been blasted by austerity measures over the past years and will continue be, James does important work reminding everyone why it’s good that we do what we do and how to do it better. Britain has an incredible heritage of intellectual leadership of international importance, based on the country’s love of learning and its institutions of research and education. Sadly we have now become the most expensive place in the world to get a degree, while many Universities cash in on their heritage in the form of sponsored buildings and uninspiring pack-em-in courses.

Unfortunately just the week after the celebrations in the Cathedral, a large part of Carlisle went underwater due to a storm that damaged many towns, villages and roads in Cumbria. The increased frequency and intensity of extremes of weather is in line with predictions from climate models. The events in Cumbria made climate change that much more personal, as explained in a first hand account by IFLAS Advisory Board member Becky Willis. The beginning of climate chaos is already upon us, with weird weather fuelled by a raised global ambient temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, along with seas warmer by 0.7 agrees and higher by 8 cm, on worldwide averages. The most concerning thing is the extremes, with the north-pole being about 5 degrees warmer than hundred years ago. After the floods people have begun to ask why the investment in flood defences and watershed management wasn’t increased in line with the known growing threat from a disturbed climate. The answer, again, is austerity. The floods are a reminder that you can’t ignore nature because of your politics.

Looking across the country, the cuts in government spending can be seen as cuts in a nation’s commitment to its shared assets. Whether it is flood defences, education or care for the disabled, all the things being cut are the things that reflect a country’s capacity to love itself: to care for its towns, its people, its culture and its future. When a government is cutting back on love, people must fill the void, as has been the case in Cumbria, with a wonderful community spirit emerging. If you want to help support people who have been flooded, please see the Cumbria Foundation or Spirit of Cumbria.

Although an agreement in Paris is important, the key is implementation. To make changes quickly, finance and trade ministers will need to shift incentives, hence the reason for my WEF blog. Ultimately we will need to redesign of our monetary systems, to allow us to thrive without requiring exponential economic growth, as I explain in the free intro to my last book.  A COP21 climate agreement is a piece of the puzzle; but the puzzle is already burning. We will have to live with the weather that’s coming and that calls for us to go deeper in our discussions and planning, as I described for Open Democracy earlier this year.

If any of these topics interest you, then do engage in the Sustainable Leaders linked in group, or see my latest musings at www.jembendell.com

I hope you have a good holiday wherever you are,
Jem Bendell

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Explaining UK Parliament on Syria: Or, what did Stella say?

Posted by jembendell on December 3, 2015

The UK’s Parliament just voted to attack Daesh targets in Syria, which will involve bombing densely populated cities, and with no expressed plan for how this will enable decent people to retake control. The Kurdish forces arent anywhere near, the UK says it wont collaborate with the Syrian government, and the rebel groups are disparate and many allied officially or informally with Daesh.  Maybe the secret plan is to secretly collaborate with Russia and the Syrian government, as that would be too awkward for the Government to admit given that they wanted to bomb the government army just a couple of years ago. So it’s a bit of a mess.

Instead of the recent focus on airstrikes, Britain would have been best to make a concerted effort to show solidarity with the victims of terrorism in France and elsewhere by:

a) allying with other states on cutting funds and arms to Daesh
b) delivering better coordination of intelligence and policing across the EU
c) making amends for helping cause the rise of Daesh by accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees asap

So what happened?

Could it be that tabloid-regulated politicians, lacking context on commercial drivers of militarism, with a racist lesser-level of concern for the lives of Middle Eastern civilians, voted to be treated nicer on telly?

Well, we can only understand the politicians in the UK through understanding the role of mass media in the UK. The media has constantly sought to keep a focus on superficial and reactionary debate, relegating thoughtful analysis to a few columnists who have niche followings.

Some politicians feel these types of critiques of their thought processes to be churlish and and not respectful of the depth of their thinking. Yet it is not cynical, it is scientific. There is masses of research from social pyschology, linguistics and critical sociology that shows how dominant discourses are shaped through mass media and act on us at a subtle level so that we think we are coming up with our own ideas and feel good about ourselves. We create explanations and narratives to personally cope and progress within dominant narratives in our society. That is why education must always involve attempts at creating critical consciousness, so that more of us become aware of the way dominant duscourses, combined with interest in one’s self esteem, shape our perceptions of issues.

So of course some politicians have an emotionally difficult time convincing themselves of ethical reasons for being able to look good on telly and tabloid. An apparently quite decent chap, Tim Farron looked particularly sweaty, as if different bits of his soul had been squabbling all night. Yet it does appear many politicians have voted suitably in line their own career strategies. For Conservative MPs that’s easy, just stay within the herd of the Tory mainstream. In the case of Labour, some career trajectories require it to return to a wishy washy party of right wing foreign and economic policy with some slightly lefty social initiatives to get the party activists engaged and Guardian readers onside. Why respond to how the majority of one’s constituents and party members are against something when you can switch the focus onto a few abusive people? I wonder if Stella and Chukka’s future autobiographies could copy paste Blair’s autobiography description of the anti-war electorate as a “demonic rabble”. A greater critical consciousness amongst MPs might help them to realise what thought processes they are going through. Sadly most I meet want to talk about “narrative” as if what is right and true is what can be explained quickly to a journalist. Yet the question of narrative should come second, once you have worked out your views.

Some MPs have claimed that they were swayed by last minute oratory (as if they were neutral on fighting fascism before 930pm on December 2nd 2015). It’s not a claim that stacks up if you look at their pre-debate focus on how to make any bombing as caring as possible and suggests once again that MPs play loose with the truth if they spot a handy narrative like “Hilary moved me” (not Clinton folks, we have our own ‘warmongering’ Hilary too :-)). It was quite depressing to see skills of oratory and rhetoric used in a mendacious way in Parliament today. Everything that Hilary Benn said could have led to a conclusion to do something helpful rather than counterproductive bombing without a credible plan. That MPs who voted for the Iraq invasion of 2003 and still havent apologised profusely and slopped off to the back benches, were able to step forward to influence views on Syria shows once again how remiss the mass media has been in holding rulers to account.

What is worse, they still get to pretend to know and respect international law! The UN Charter forbids military action against or within other member states unless invited by that member state, in this case by the Syrian government, or unless an explict resolution is passed mentioning chapter 7 of the Charter. The resolution 2249 says “take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter” .. Yes, the UN Charter! None of the Security Council members mentioned military action in their comments on the resolution. I learned about this stuff as I was working at the UN in 2002 and 2003, when these matters were high on the agenda. So, as the Syrian government didnt request it, MPs voted for an illegal bombing. We know from the past 14 years that the Foreign Office plays fast and loose with international law… but MPs shoudnt’ be so gullible, unless they want to be.

What is heartening is that despite propagandist mass media, the majority of Brits were against this action for the reason that to sacrifice civilians without having a coherent plan for how to achieve stability in Syria is an unethical judgement to make and likely counterproductive in our efforts against terrorism at home and abroad. Fortunately the lives of British service men and women arent likely to be endangered if good coordination is achieved with the other counties involved, but there is still a risk.

The other glimmer is that hundreds of MP voted against the suck-a-bomb-and-see plan, including the leader of the opposition. They are not cowed by the tabloids. Now the push from them and the public needs to be towards A, B, and C above, and to prepare against the racist hysteria and anti-democratic agenda that will be promoted when the next Daesh murders occur in the UK. We might also press for any strikes to be focused on oil exports, rather than in the cities.

A broader challenge is how to transform British media, as for all the talk of “strong leadership” from MPs and the media in the UK, we just witnessed how many of our politicians arent able to lead themselves, let alone others. So I remain convinced that those of us who mobilise critical social theory in our research, education and training, in all walks of life from politicians to business managers to the police, have important work to do.

 

 

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