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An inclusive world


by Sundeep Waslekar


Once I read an interesting story. Someone met a little boy about 4 or 5 years old. He gave him a world map from a magazine, tore it into pieces and challenged him to put it together again. The boy did it in a few minutes. How did the little one know the location of Uruguay and Vietnam, Kenya and Kazakhstan? He said: “Behind the picture of the map there was a picture of a man. I put together the man and the world was together again”

This is indeed the challenge before us: to reaffirm the human spirit so that we can bring the world together again. The challenge is to create an inclusive world where you, me and everyone has a stake.

We live in a world of opportunity. We can walk in outer space. We can look into the inner core of an atom. For those of us who are included, the world is great.

Since we exclude large segments of population from our world of opportunity, we have also created a world at risk. There is fear in the East. There is terror in the West. There is riot in the North. There is Darfur in the South. And for 10 million children who die every year with empty mouths, the world is shame. It is a shame.

To perpetuate inclusion and justify exclusion, we play games. Until the last century the name of the game was war, genocide and fascism. Now it is terrorism and counter-terrorism. Some relate it to religion. Some say it has to do with foreign occupation. Some say the purpose is revolution. The fact of the matter is that it is about relative deprivation. For an unemployed young man in Colombia or Nepal it is not enough to know that there are more unfortunate people in Peru or Cambodia. If he feels that he is deprived as compared to others in his own capitals or earns less than what his parents used to earn, he enters the RED (relative economic deprivation) zone and prepares to take up arms.

We need weapons no longer, not even smart weapons. Mere callousness is enough. About 500 million children will be put to death in the next 50 years, without the food that is rotting in the granaries of many countries and suffering from diseases that can be treated. This is more than the number of killings in all the wars of the last 2000 years. Do we really want a world where callousness means confidence? Do we really want a world where exclusion means success? Do we really want a world where war means peace?

The evidence of our collective callousness is abundantly present in the first continent. I call Africa the first continent because it’s there that the humanity began. About 25000 years ago, there was a community near today’s Lake Edward. They knew fishing, cooking and counting. They made the first table of primary numbers. It was carved onto what is known as the Ishango bone. We can now see it in a museum in Brussels. About 2500 years ago, Africa introduced the blast furnace, which made today’s industrialisation possible. Somewhere along the line, Africa also invented the binary system, leading to the foundation of computer science.

Now about a dozen countries in the first continent are striving hard to speed up their economic growth. Unfortunately, all this growth is in pockets and highly inequitable. Therefore, in Africa as a whole, people earning below a dollar a day are likely to increase from 350 million now to over 400 million by 2015. It will take Africa another one hundred years to meet the Millennium Development Goals with this malaise.

Of course, Africa is not alone. South Asia, Central Asia and parts of Latin America also account for the global pool of the poor. On the other hand, the swelling number of economic successes from India, China, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brazil and many other countries prove one thing. It is possible to overcome poverty and despair. Hope has future.

What do we do now to instill concern in our heart in the place of callousness? What do we do now to generate prosperity where there is poverty? What do we do now to construct peace and deconstruct terror? It is easy to criticise. It is easy to be cynical. It is much more important to find a way forward.

When the Second World War ravaged a part of the world, we had the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. When colonialism ended, we had development to build infrastructure and address basic human needs of the post-colonial societies. We now need transformation to include the excluded in our world of opportunity. Development was about help. Transformation is about empowerment. Development was about survival. Transformation is about actualisation. Development was about the context of despair. Transformation is about the context of hope. Development was needed to provide life. Transformation is essential to provide meaning to life.

The framework of transformation can be as follows:

. Not just literacy, but capacity building

. Not just poverty alleviation, but productive employment

. Not just high income, but high esteem

. Not just governance, but participation

. Not just investments, but partnership.

In June 2005, Strategic Foresight Group and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament brought together a group of concerned leaders to recommend solutions to the world’s security problems. It was a rare meeting of leading minds from the Western and Islamic countries. In the committee room of the European Parliament, they outlined the parameters of global transformation.

With transformation, we can build an inclusive world, like a home in which every habitant has a stake. The foundation of this house must be sustainable childhood. Others have emphasised the role of malnutrition and primary school to achieve this goal. I would like to focus on secondary school education, simply because it is understated.

It’s at the secondary level that there are high drop out rates. The question is not merely of adequate supply. We need new kinds of secondary schools with an emphasis on technical and vocational skills to enable the students to participate successfully in the market. The objective of education cannot be confined to literacy. We must think in terms of employability and capacity-building.

Of course, employability does not mean that we should create robots and technicians. It is necessary to have a well-rounded education – including humanities. We also need education that will enable students to appreciate other faiths and cultures and extract the best, in order to improve their own societies.

The human civilisation has progressed whenever education has functioned as a vehicle of ideas across cultures. About a thousand years ago, scholars in Baghdad studied maths from India and philosophies from Greece. Half a millennium later, the Europeans developed technology based on the foundation of the Arab scientific inventions. In the 19th century, the Americans took a lead deriving from their knowledge obtained from Europe. Now we don’t have to wait for centuries for knowledge to travel. We can benefit here and now if we design our school systems to facilitate mutual appreciation.

If education can provide the foundation, productive employment will build the walls of our house of hope. There are currently 100 million unemployed young people in the age group of 15-25. About 100 million young people will join labour force every year in the next decade. At the current rate, at least 10 million of them will be drawn into the pool of the unemployed, making another 100 million or a total of 200 million by 2015.

We have shown the ability to turn desert into oasis. There is no limit to human enterprise. We have imagination to create new industries. We have millions of acres of land in rural areas that we can make productive. We can transform agriculture into food processing. We can convert molasses into energy. We need a master plan for productive employment in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The young men in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rwanda and Sudan, Peru and Colombia are young men after all. If they can wield a ploughshare with dignity, they won’t need swords at all.

We need new instruments to be able to create new industries and new employment on a large scale. We need to promote entrepreneurship and self-employment. For instance, the private sector can promote venture capital funds especially designed for micro enterprises. There is already experience of 3000 micro-finance companies that can be used. As these funds are likely to carry higher risk, multilateral development banks and governments can subsidise the promoters in public-private partnership.

Along similar lines, there is scope for social capital for capacity-building, employment generation and entrepreneurship development. In one of the poorest parts of Western India, fishermen build community trusts where they contribute a share of their income to a common pool. It is then used for financing health and education of the needy and also to provide seed capital for young fishermen to purchase new boats and nets. The common pool thus enables one person after another to be free from debt and get into business.

While we build the walls of this house, we must also think of the ceiling. My friends in the Arab world, your ancestors are the founders of modern thought. At the beginning of 9th century, they had among them Al Khwarizmi, the founder of modern algebra. One of your ancestors was Al Kindi who wrote 250 books on philosophy, physics, medicine and metallurgy. Ibn Haiyan founded chemistry. Ibn Haytham discovered the science of optics and also explored momentum and gravity of the earth 600 years before Galileo. Al Biruni determined the earth’s circumference. And Ibn Sina? There has never been a man like him. I doubt if there ever will be a man like Ibn Sina who wrote 450 books on medicine and philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. Of course, you did not have only scientists amongst you. You have produced some of the greatest literature from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Rubaiyat.

Can we have the House of Wisdom in every city and every town, which was a regular feature of the region one thousand years ago? Can we have blooming research in science, technology, philosophy and literature to reach new frontiers in every field of human endeavour? Can we have a modern Ibn Sina and Al Kindi?

We need a deliberate strategy to build and spread thousands of state of the art research facilities all over the Middle East. If the region reclaims its scientific and literary heritage and recreates the golden era that it experienced exactly a millennium ago, it can once again emerge as a new leader of thought for the entire world. It will boost the esteem of young people in the region. It will provide them with aspiration. It will replace the context of despair with the context of hope. The big question is whether the leaders of the Middle East are willing to make the mental shift that is necessary.

Our new global house must have doors and windows. The windows tell us the difference between darkness and light. We need fresh air of reforms at all levels. At the national level, we need governance that is transparent, accountable and participatory. At the global level, we need governance that makes occupation and manipulation impossible. We need political systems that make inclusion a reality. We need a context where an individual can freely think and act. We need an atmosphere where every child can dream. We need openness so that every man and woman can actualise his or her full potential.

Finally, we need a house where all the adults share their responsibilities in the interests of the common good. Currently, we tend to depend on the industrial G-8 for many things. We need a new way of thought that makes global transformation a common responsibility of all. If the price of oil hovers around $60, all oil exporting countries, including those in the Middle East, Norway and Russia, will collect surplus reserves in the excess of $2500 billion by the end of this decade. Even if the price comes down to $50, they will hold $1500-2000 billion in their treasuries. We need a new energy G-8 that deliberates on the problems of the world and allocates real funds for transformation. The two G-8 collectives can then join hands from time to time, along with another group of 8 countries that are important emerging economies. These could be India, China, Malaysia, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and South Africa. Together the three groups of 8 can create a new G-24.

All of us in the Middle East, Asia and Africa go to the industrial G-8 with requests for decisions. The time has come for the most successful among us to set up a new partnership of equals to formulate strategies to prevent the death of 500 million children in the next 50 years, to reorient education and create employment for 100 million young people, to establish thousands of Houses of Wisdom to create and spread new scientific innovations initially in the Middle East and later on in other parts of the world, and to improve the capacity of governments to deliver public goods in an accountable manner.

Of course, there are issues of occupation and fears of terrorism. It will only be possible to address them effectively at a new table, which represents new realities and new aspirations. It will be only possible if the new players come to the new table with a commitment to give and shape, and not with the intention to ask and follow.

The most urgent need is for a group of leaders to come together informally and form a moral compass. These must be leaders of certain standing, leading important governments or constituencies, so that others will listen to them. They can then explore solutions to the most serious problems of poverty, occupation, terrorism. The informal processes can slowly pave the way for a formal one involving the main players.

This idea of global transformation to create an inclusive world may look like one Utopia. It may look like a dream too unrealistic. But is it more realistic to believe that the world will survive the next 50 years on the bodies of 500 million children? Is it more realistic to expect that the world will survive the anguish of millions of unemployed youth?

We need an inclusive world not merely because of the fear of our survival. We need it because hope is feasible. We need it because dreaming is good and aspirations are essential. We need it because every citizen of the earth can become a participant. We need it because the tomorrow is ours. We need it because the impossible is often possible.

I was once on an aircraft that almost crashed. I was once at a hospital when the world’s best doctors told me that my son would survive for no more than an hour. I was once at a secret place negotiating with terrorists when a dozen of them were talking with the guns pointed at my head. On the aircraft, I joined a spontaneous small team that helped the wounded and the shocked. At the hospital, I mobilised knowledge resources from around the world. The result is that my son is now a healthy little child – as naughty as a kid should be. And the terrorists I met that night have actually given up guns.

These little experiences have taught me a few big lessons. It is possible to turn death into life. It is possible to convert violence into peace. It is possible to transform darkness into light. It is possible to change despair into hope. It is possible to end exclusion. It is possible to create an inclusive world.

All we need to do is to construct our common global home where you, me and everyone has a stake. All we need to do is to reaffirm the human spirit. We can then bring the world together again.

Prof. Sundeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group delivered a keynote address at a special benefit event for Nelson Mandela Foundation at Dubai on 16 December 2005. This is an edited text of the speech.

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