This was the topic of conversation at the inaugural meeting of the LEWIS Think Tank, which brings together thought leaders from a range of sectors to share ideas around the big topics and challenges of the day.
The world’s population has grown from five billion to seven billion in the space of a single generation, and is expected to surpass eight billion by 2017.
The discussion around this daunting topic was kicked off with an introductory video and opening comments from Dr Gerry Power, UK MD of Intermedia, referencing some his latest research around communicating about aid. These highlighted how higher life expectancies, mass migrations, climate change, food shortages, healthcare and a host of other challenges are facing us in the years to come. By 2050 we’ll need 70 per cent more food than it does today and 70 per cent of us will live in urban areas and it’s clear that the international development community faces a historic challenge with millions if not billions of people lacking the basic needs to underpin their struggle out of poverty.
When we decided to start the Think Tank we were aiming to bring together a group of impassioned and informed individuals who could contribute different opinions and viewpoints – they did not disappoint. The discussion was wide ranging, from the diversity of interests (particularly between the northern and southern hemisphere) and the role of politics, faith and technology, through to the need for community, communication and education to help inform and empower, as well as listen. Innovation and technology were highlighted as key enablers to help solve some of these issues, and with more than three trillion dollars locked up in private equity, the question quickly moved on to how best to unlock that money through projects and innovations that are pragmatic and sustainable.
Everyone came at the topic from a different standpoint and all provided tremendous insight and food for thought. After nearly two hours of discussion, it was clear that we could have continued for another two hours and still have plenty to talk about. But despite the broad topic and the varied discussion points, a few core messages evolved from the evening’s discussion.
It is clear that there is a real sense of disillusionment, amongst the attendees and the wider population, and an overwhelming feeling that the status quo simply isn’t enough to meet even the current challenges, and certainly not those of the future. Many felt that most of us are passive consumers of international aid. Even in the midst of global economic upheaval, most of us in developed countries live a very privileged lifestyle. We assuage our guilt by throwing money at the problem, with very little understanding of where that money goes, or even the challenges that need to be overcome.
That said, there was a general consensus, that it’s the small things, but not necessarily the simple things, that make a difference. Much like voting, when looked at in isolation each contribution is relatively insignificant, but when considered with a sense of collective responsibility then each of those small actions quickly start to deliver real behavioural change and sustainable benefit.
Communications is a great leveller. When restricted and closed it can be used to distort and control, but when it is ubiquitous and open it can bring people and communities together, linking eight billion minds together to solve some of our biggest issues.
We may not have solved the world’s problems, but I think every one of the Think Tank members who attended left the evening with a greater sense of the world around us and how we as individuals can make a difference, even a small one.