“This progress from one of the poorest countries of Europe to one of the most prosperous has not been an accident. It’s based on this idea that when there are so few of us—only 5.5 million people—everyone has to live up to their full potential,” he said. “When people are afraid, they focus on short-term selfish solutions,” Laitio said. “They also start looking for scapegoats….Our society is fundamentally dependent on people being able to trust the kindness of strangers.”

Tommi Laitio,  Helsinki’s executive director for culture and leisure, believes in libraries. Specifically, he believes that libraries are the key to cultivating citizens who – armed with knowledge – can face down the anxieties of the modern world with kindness, wisdom and collective spirit. Speaking at the CityLab DC Conference last month, he reflected on the recently opened Oodi Library: a landmark project, developed through a 10 year public consultation, ‘built to serve as kind of citizenship factory, a space for residents to learn about the world, the city and each other.’ 

Where other nations meet chaos with empty spending commitments, political disarray or committed denial, the Finns have embraced knowledge and inclusiveness as its balm. In its first month alone, Oodi’s sweeping, light filled space welcomed 420,000 Helsinki residents – two thirds of the population – and is now considered one of the most diverse places in the city.

In the world at large, citizenship is now more frequently treated as a political asset than an attribute. 

The 1990’s saw the institution – the legal tie between an individual and a state – transition from a monogamy to multiplicity. As it has revolutionised, so too has the nature of relationship it denotes. Today, for the most privileged, citizenship is a strategy of global and economic mobility. Tens of millions of people hold citizenship in more than one country. And as the singular national bond has eroded, as a recent study observed, ‘state membership is being redefined from exclusive and territorial to overlapping and portable… with far reaching implications for globalisation, economic inequality and national identity.’

‘Overlapping’ and ‘portable’ identities are the natural condition of a globalised world. But where does it leave citizenship: not as a tax or travel hack, but as a spirit of belonging, duty and reciprocity? What does it mean to be ‘good citizens’ when identity is no longer clear-cut and cultural expectations are no longer engrained?

In the UK, where austerity has culled over 300 libraries in the last four years, we have forgotten the meaning of citizenship. Our conflicted reality sees adopted citizens painstakingly schooled in myriad national details that very few native Britons would claim to know and British values hanging in every school that very few native Britons – including most candidates in the last General Election – could name. As the decades have eroded explicit and implicit community ties, and the behaviours they encouraged, leaders have grappled to fill the cavity – from David Cameron’ Big Society to The New Citizenship Project, which hopes to resurrect citizenship as an antidote to our consumer culture.  

But as Finland reminds us, civic spirit is not a project of one four year term or a brash manifesto promise. It’s a steady commitment to collective enlightenment, enacted through symbols of learning, kept free and open to all. 

‘As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”’

Truth is a precious thing. Not simply my truth or yours; my subjective testimony pitched against another’s. To find equilibrium, we rely on a sense of objective truth and those who represent it:  people who seek the facts of the day from the most informed, unbiased and expert sources, represent them honestly, and act upon them in the interests of the greater good.

Historians of truth will tell us that we are now in the era of ‘truth decay’: in the eye of a storm which has been building for a century, devastating one system of Truth after another – God, King and Country, Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism – as it worked its way through the years.  As we discern how it came to be that we can no longer tell what we know, it occurs to us that the the 20th Century’s biggest legacy is not its extraordinary technological leaps or the guts it ripped from generations or the multilateral institutions it birthed. It is the destruction of Fact, and the rise of a new world order: one where all truths are partial, all voices are credible, and all experience is valid. This has allowed a fairer discourse to take place – but it also created a world ripe for exploitation.  

Many leaders today have no truck with truth. Donald Trump lies so prolifically and frenetically it is almost impossible to track, though early estimates from the Washington Post found his first year in office to have peddled 2,140 false claims. But this project has been underway for some time. Bill Clinton, testifying about the Lewinsky affair, said the truth “depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”. Indeed, the modern political playbook comes straight from the 1960’s ‘Tobacco Strategy’ of pedalled doubt, contradiction and misdirection (‘“Doubt is our product,” read an infamous memo  by a 1969 tobacco industry executive, “since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.”).

Doubt also afflicts the institutions we rely on for interpretation. In the name of ‘balance’, the embattled BBC – struggling, as this piece explores, to play its proper part in this fragmenting backdrop – has given considerable airtime to climate change deniers, Brexit-boom predictors and Russian puppets, wedged in to 2-minutes soundbites without scrutiny or challenge.

Without agreed facts, woven into a shared sense of truth, there can be no community, no co-operation, no leadership and no progress – and we are all, as Arendt foresaw, the sitting ducks of calamity. So where to turn?

When blinded by the glare of our immediate vicinity, sight is restored by refocusing our gaze on a distant horizon.  Long term thinking helps us see a different kind of truth: not the fraught facts of the day but the shape of tomorrow. There are a growing number of institutions to help us in this effort.

One is The Long Now Foundation, established to be ‘a very long-term cultural institution’. In redefining the present moment from today to millenia, it offers us ‘a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture’ and hopes to ‘help make long-term thinking more common’. Its work recognises that only by looking past the present moment can we take meaningful action and envision alternative futures. It is no coincidence that many of its Long Now Seminars (all freely available as podcasts) engage the great novelists of our time, whose work provides a lens on life’s deeper truths. See The Long Now’s illuminating conversation with Ian McEwan on the nuanced implications of AI.

In Ibsen’s little performed play Rosmersholm – little performed because it was considered too radical for 1886 Sweden-Norway – two idealistic lovers contend with lost faith against the backdrop of a democracy hijacked by those who would twist populist rhetoric to tragic ends. Its recent revival on London stages this summer and the critical acclaim it received is no coincidence – mirroring back to us as it does our own sorry circumstance with the edifying distance of time and the catharis of tragic form. When things seem bleak, it helps to recall, our problems are rarely as unique or surprising as we assume them to be, and human folly is not just an invention of our own era’s making.

But such reminders from history are also a rebuke. Once again, we appear to have neglected to do the proper work of history – to ponder what has been, so that it may not be again. A timely intervention this weekend then from Simon Schama, whose FT Long Read Who really speaks for the people? echoes the major lessons of this stark Scandinavian tragedian and urges our attention to be both wider in scope and keener in vision. 

First: democracy untwined from adequate education quickly slides into demagoguery. It suits us to forget that the Enlightenment world in which liberal democracy was shaped unthinkingly assumed that the pursuit of knowledge would always be a pre-condition of civic participation. Today that pre-condition is barely an after-thought and our education systems are crumbling.

Second: language is the most important tool in the demagogue’s arsenal. As Benjamin Constant observed in 1815, people have always been prone to ‘get drunk on certain words’; and ‘provided they repeat these words, the reality matters little to them’. 

For Simon Schama – a man whose own vocabulary should put all of ours to shame – the war of words currently being deployed with such knowing effect at the highest levels of government is part of a bigger act of iconoclasm.

In ‘casting political argument, as promised in the next British general election, as “people versus parliament”, the “will of the people” versus “the elite” or, in the US, the fiat of the president against “Washington”’ he writes, these leaders are laying bare the true spirit of populism: to destroy the ‘traditional restraining institutions they unapologetically hold in contempt’; to ‘shift the locus of popular sovereignty from representative institutions to an instinctive communion between charismatic leader and masses of citizens, orchestrated in rallies of the infuriated, brought together in the shouty echo-chambers of social media, and rehearsed in adulatory talk shows on radio and television.’

If education is the bedrock of functional democracy, Institutions are the structures on which it is built and sustained. The supreme court, parliament, the US constitution – the things thrown into such ready contempt in recent weeks – embody the rule of law without which we have no freedom, no protection, no equity, no justice and no progress.

Confronting us is the choice between two versions of democracy and the two worlds they determine: ‘the direct, populist version in which the leader’s version of the popular will is paramount, or representative constitutionalism in which the executive is restrained by legislative vigilance, critically scrutinised by free media and held accountable by an independent judiciary charged with upholding the universally applicable rule of law.’

Furthermore, Schama reminds us, the tipping point between these worlds is well etched in history – if we care to look. When institutional ‘checks and balances’ are eroded, terror becomes entirely feasible. But he ends with hope. The pillars of democracy – the free press, the elected legislature and the independent judiciary – are clinging on and fighting back: from the courageous stance of The New York Times and the Washington Post to the unflinching judgements of the Supreme Court on prorogation. 

In enlightened business, we have the opportunity to add another pillar. In the vacuum that confronts us, there has never been a greater moment of opportunity or obligation for corporate leaders to step forward as citizens of an interdependent world, ready to hold power to account and strive for better. 

“But the tide is beginning to change. In August, the Business Roundtable, the influential US business group, amended its two decade-old declaration that “corporations exist principally to serve their shareholders”. The Roundtable said: “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders” — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and — last in the list — shareholders.”

Another month, another big gesture on the road to purposeful business – and this time from more reticent quarters.

Despite the roundtable pronouncement, and recent purpose-converts like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, whose open letter ‘A sense of purpose’ last year made waves, the US remains a divided front. As with all things American, ideological lines cut deep – never more so than when they concern the wallet. Ask any fund where their nervousness lies when it comes to taking an explicit social mandate, and they will say – while many international clients are increasingly open-minded – their US clients remain deeply sceptical of any discussion of profit and purpose. The Council of Institutional Investors, a US lobby group of which BlackRock is incidentally non-voting associate member, believes “accountability to everyone means accountability to no one”. The schisms runs deeper, with many noting that BlackRock’s own portfolio managers may not yet have got the memo. 

But for enlightened businesses that understand the vast, mutual and sustainable benefits of socially-beneficial business, rapid change is possible. In 2016, Danone CEO Emmanuelle Faber led a revolution to non-GMO products in under 2 years to improve soil health and biodiversity – a shift initially deemed ‘impossible’, and then feasible only in 10 years. Their non-GMO products have now increased their US marketshare from 30 to 40 per cent and they are now one of the major global corporations on track to become a B-Corp. 

Danish wind-energy company Ørsted divested its oil and gas products while performing another ‘impossible’ feat: cutting the cost of off-shore wind by over 60% while building three oceanic wind farms and acquiring a leading US company. It’s now the world’s largest offshore wind company, net profits have increased by $3 billion, and global growth is booming. 

While many commentators put the purpose-pivot down to corporate opportunism and ‘purpose-washing’ to sate the appetites of conscientious consumers, these interpretations miss the tectonic shift in the role of business in a society increasingly bereft of political leadership.

As Sarah Kaplan of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management argues: “Companies are increasingly a positive force for society and, as people see their governments let them down, [they] see companies replacing that role.” Precedent, not just recent proof, should also give hope. As Kaplan notes, “the idea that shareholder value is the only way”, she says, “is just a consensus”. Post-war, in a time of great need, fragility and change, the consensus was that business must play a leading role in rebuilding society. Now, facing new dangers, we must find our way back. 

Time Partners has been a leading voice in the movement to build more ethical businesses and to measure economic, social and environmental impact. In recent years we have created the External Rate of Return, which allows businesses to measure and harness their impact in a truly holistic way. We are thrilled that many organisations have now adopted our methodology, including the BBC.

More than 250 million people are undernourished in Africa, making them vulnerable to disease, deficiencies, and prone to developmental stunting that inhibits their full potential. The long-term economic costs of this are staggering: this must change. With the effects of climate change expected to further negatively impact global food production in the next decades, it will be vital for everyone to work together.” 

There is no perhaps no better illustration for the broken system of aid than food imported from one world to another. Literal sustenance, moved at great fiscal, environmental and ultimately human cost, to feed the 820 million people and rising who still go hungry – without ever planting a truly nourishing seed. According to the OECD, in 2017 official aid to Africa totalled $29 billion.

Such has been the western approach to global malnutrition that stunts huge swathes of human potential, and remains – despite good progress on the Sustainable Development Goals – a growing challenge across sub-Saharan Africa. Zero hunger by 2030 looks to be an increasingly tall order.

Until now, it has not been in our interest to imagine better alternatives.

But as the World Economic Forum on Africa reminds us this week, this desperate issue is not as far from home as we prefer to believe. Globally, the complex interdependencies that constitute modern food supply systems are at breaking point – deemed unsustainable, by every academic study, from an environmental, nutritional and resource perspective. The reality is that most nations, Britain included, don’t have anywhere near the capability they need to feed themselves without reliance on global co-operation.

Thankfully, more imagination comes from less complacent quarters. Innovative African partnerships are tackling malnourishment from birth to adulthood – and, with successful for-profit models, a host of other issues.

Africa Improved Foods (AIF) spans sectors and the public-private divide to feed the people of Rwanda while providing countless jobs, raising food production standards nationally and generating economic growth. With an investment of $70 (partnering with CDC, DSM, the Government of Rwanda and IFC) poured into best-in-class technology, it now supplies nutritious meals to over 2 million Rwandan children, produced by local talent and sourced from 25,000 local farmers (mostly women), supported with stable income and education to improve post-harvest practices that develop the local maize value chain.   

With its keen focus on the crucial first 1000 days of life that determine so much of what comes after, AIF is tackling deprivation at the root to unlock national potential. An independent study conducted by the University of Chicago estimates that between 2016 and 2031, ‘AIF will generate $756 million worth of discounted net incremental value for the people of Rwanda: $532 million of this is attributable to the projected reduction in malnutrition rates.’ In addition, ‘the study estimated a further $228m value creation for the East Africa region by improving its net forex position (producing locally what was previously imported) and by purchases of other raw materials from countries in the region (especially Uganda, DRC, and Kenya)’.

After two years of successful operations, attention is now turning to an Africa-wide roll out.

Food for thought indeed.   

“If migration is the driver of the populism that defines the current political scene, it is demography — specifically the radically different demographic profiles of north and south — that creates both its demand and supply.”

Migration is as old as time, but today – unprecedented in its scale and volatility – it is one of the great forces of change reshaping our world.

As an incisive FT essay chronicles this week, many theories abound in the study of migration, and the populist backlash it unleashes (cultural norms trump economic status, and it is the speed of change to communities – unnoticed and unmanaged– that most fuels populist sentiment). But until now, scant attention has ever been paid to demographics – the true driver of this global mega trend in our modern context.

One camp emphasises continuity. Peter Gatrell’s The Unsettling of Europe: The Great Migration, 1945 to the Present reminds us to locate ourselves within the bigger context – specifically considering the lasting impact of the post-WW2 “unsettling” that saw 10 million Germans alone cross into newly drawn borders.

In urging us to remember that the world has long coped with human relocation on a mass scale (and perhaps can do so again), this view offers a reassuring balm to increasingly hysterical public debate – but ultimately blinds its advocates to the greater risks at play.

The other, more radical perspective – which I have long advocated – roots itself in our unique demographic moment to predict unprecedented change, as recently explored in Stephen Smith’sThe Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent.

As the FT notes: ‘What Gatrell’s selected backdrop overlooks is that, for the first time, the vast movement of peoples is not within Europe but from outside and the driving force is not politics or war but the shifting of vast demographic tectonic plates’.

Only now beginning to emerge from the most explosive population growth since the dawn of time, we are waking up to a dramatically lopsided world. As Africa (‘the last great repository of population dynamism) grapples to cope with its ‘youth bulge’ – the largest youth cohort to come of age in history – old Western powers are shrinking into the frailty of age and general decline. Today, as the article notes, ‘there are nearly eight times as many under-10s in Nigeria versus the UK, despite the latter having been a land of mass immigration for the best part of two decades.’

As they hunt on new shores for the security and prosperity their nation states cannot provide, Africa’s young people present the old west with a looming crisis – but also, in their promise of entrepreneurialism, innovation and labour, opportunity.  

Smith is no fatalist: though the draw of Europe is strong, he refuses to view the patterns of migration as inevitable. Africa need not lose its best minds to the West and Europe need not helplessly descend into race wars and demagoguery. With the right interventions, the right co-operation and the right policy, African states could yet reclaim their pull factor and autonomy while western nations, confronting their demographic reality,  could yet learn to manage migration as a sustainable solution.

Christiana Figueres is the force behind the historic 2015 Paris Agreement and convener of Mission 2020, which seeks to bend the global curve on greenhouse emissions by 2020. She is also a self-declared “stubborn optimist”, which she credits as the root of her astounding success on a path that has led so many to failure. 

“Optimism” she argues, “is not the result of success, it is the starting point of success.” Our current government, who insist on the power of positivity, would likely agree. But in the business of belief, what is the difference between success and failure?

Those closest to her work, and Christiana herself, know the answer lies in one word: mutuality. For Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, this was a fundamental change of approach. “This whole thing was revived in Cancun, really, by you and Patricia Espinosa. And it was a very different dynamic – it was very consensual, very bridge building.”

Christiana does not practice blind hope. She practices bridge building. In the decarbonised economy, she envisions a future that’s better for all, not just the few. In its capacity to radically reset the dial on equality, innovation and accessibility, she sees abundance, not restriction. In her pragmatic inclusiveness, she breaks down moral battle lines that stymy dialogue and progress. By embracing daunting realities and diverse perspectives, she lays down the roots of resilience. In her refusal to wallow in historic blame, she turns our collective gaze to the future. 

This is not political bombast that fixes itself blindly on the sunny uplands, regardless of circumstance. It is not a method by which to silence critique, ignore truths, or drown out debate. This is leadership for today’s world, built on empathy that can bridge division and build common ground. It is the underpinning of all change and all hope, and it is a vanishing skillset among our political leaders, whose blinkered bluster rejects every lesson of change Christiana imparts. 

But our sources of hope rarely come from our elected officials. More often, they come from the edge; from the self-appointed change makers who, like Christiana, know instinctively what it is to become a bridge between people, worlds and futures.

Consider Dr Pauli Murray: the long-overlooked pioneer of the civil rights and gender equality movements, who set about forging the legal precedents that would be their foundations 20 years before they began in earnest. Descendent of slaves, slave owners and abolitionists; transgender; peerless in her intellect; trailblazing lawyer; first female Episcopal priest – she embodied possibility where others saw deadlock. In demonstrating the logic of justice that must apply equally to all, she made resistance indefensible. In breaking every limitation placed on her as a condition of her birth, she created the platforms to liberate others.

Murray’s legacy, and those of so many others, continue to strengthen today’s most important movements. Read more about Ashoka’s change makers, developing a new generation of social leaders with empathy and impact at their heart. 

“Never before have we seen such a technology as transformational as blockchain — whether its being used to send immediate foreign aid via crypto, or to generate IDs for refugees — it has the power to change the way the developing parts of the world work while enabling more developed nations to efficiently share resources. The United Nations focuses largely on taking a decentralized perspective to the way the world works — and to adopt blockchain technology across systems would serve the best match.” – Janet C. Salazar, permanent representative to the United Nations.

To turn the tide on global poverty, women need to win investment and hold the purse strings. That’s the conclusion of hard data and lived experience, which shows time and again that women in developing economies are overwhelmingly more likely to invest capital into their community and family wellbeing, create sustainable businesses, and return loans without default. This creates a virtuous cycle: children in families receiving investment are more likely to stay in school and receive healthcare, reaping generational benefits.

For several years, the answer has been microfinance. Brain child of Muhammad Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his work, microfinance empowers the poorest communities on earth with small but significant loans. These loans may come from an external investor, or from within the communities themselves. To ensure our charity Build Africa developed a sustainable education solution in Uganda, we worked with the local community to help them establish Village Savings and Loans Associations, building a small pot of funds – managed by the female gatekeepers – to provide the financial safety-nets and entrepreneurial capital that would make long-term education of their children a feasible and attractive solution. The charity has now helped create 3000 VSLAs.

For the two billion adults and 800 million young people who remain ‘unbanked’, without access to even the most basic financial services, this capital is transformational. For women – without assets to barter or permission to earn – it’s life-changing. Scaled up, it’s a global game changer. Just a 15% increase in the proportion of women accessing microfinance could reduce gender equality by half in the average developing nation (Gender Inequality Index). 

But huge challenges remain, and they go well beyond sub-Saharan Africa. Availability of finance doesn’t automatically empower women, who still battle cultural norms that keep them bound to hard domestic labour, subsistence farming, water carrying and child rearing. And new crises of dislocation are emerging.  Millions of displaced women, forced to flee home without documentation or access to bank accounts, remain deeply vulnerable to exploitation even when they reach safety.

Enter blockchain: the ‘frontier technology’ revolutionising empowerment finance and blazing a trail through even the dustiest institutional mindsets. As a ‘distributed database of immutable digital records that can be accessed from anywhere’, blockchain allows users to build and maintain permanent, secure records and directly transfer digital assets – empowering women to verify identity, prove asset ownership, and receive deposits transferred directly into their hands. As climate-related migration accelerates in coming years, these attributes hold huge promise for a world on the move.

To tackle lower rates of female digital literacy, innovative partnerships are springing up to. A venture between UN Women and the World Food Programme could soon see ‘a Syrian woman scan her eye to request cash back at WFP-contracted supermarkets. This will link to her account on the blockchain, and the amount of the cash distribution is automatically sent to Building Blocks. The fact that UN Women and WFP validate each other’s transaction through a common blockchain network, results in improved security and accountability. There are also opportunities for cost and risk reduction, as well as increased harmonization of aid efforts.’

‘Here’s how this often unfolds: seeking comparable, aggregate measures of impact, investors identify “what” measures they need and ask their investees to provide them. Investees typically don’t have access to these data, so they instead share sales or employment figures. The impact investor then converts these into “lives impacted” numbers and makes approximations of impact—such as increases in income or CO2 averted—based on desk research.’

For many years, In the world of charity, it’s been easy to do ‘good’. Without investor scrutiny, the industry, together with national and multilateral approaches to aid, has evaded effective measurement – resulting in trillions being spent with remarkably little commensurate long-term improvement. 

The answer, for many, is impact investing – applying investor acumen to the great challenges of our time to deliver social as well as financial returns. Shifting values have thrown weight behind this once-fringe industry, which now comprises around $500 billion managed by a multitude of emerging organisations worldwide – yet still only a fraction of the $5-7 trillion of such funds needed to achieve the SDGs.  When it comes to measurement, impact investing should be the site of our most important innovation. To create social returns, investment must be effectively targeted at social issues, and rewards based on outcomes. And yet it remains a world of confusion – with more than 150 different systems of measurement, all of which measure differently, preventing transparent, comparable outcomes being established. As nearly all systems focus on limiting damage rather than amplifying good, it also remains an area of huge lost opportunity.

To address this need, I’ve been working for several years on the External Rate of Return: the most holistic measurement of impact to date, which offers a way to positively maximise, and not just manage, the ripples every organisation leaves in its wake. To have effective measurement, we also need the right data – and it’s this, above all else, which so often remains elusive.

A quick glance at this rapid growth industry – embraced by genuine moral leaders and dubious virtue signallers alike – shows a worrying replication to the charity sector’s slapdash approach. According the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) 2019 Impact Survey, a stunning 98% of impact investors are meeting or exceeding impact expectations. As impact innovator Sacha Dichter drily notes, ‘Put another way, just 5 of the 266 impact investors surveyed were brave enough to say that they were under-performing on impact (or, maybe only five have clear enough impact goals and data to make it possible to under-perform).’ Dichter reinforces the key issue: the wrong data, in an industry that’s highly context specific. The experiences of a solar panel owner in Tanzania, for example, will be very different to an owner in India. So impact is extrapolated, not lived; and the people who could shed light remain unheard.

To fix this issue, Dichter created 60 Decibels. 60 Decibels is the volume of human conversation, and this is exactly what this organisation harnesses to deliver meaningful, cost-efficient, dynamic data that illuminates the real difference a product or service makes to people’s lives. Its Lean Data model uses the ubiquity of mobile (now 5 billion-strong) to converse directly with people in developing economies, using a set of simple measures and questions that focus on NPS score, impact on quality of life, access to good alternatives, and challenges experienced. The results are qualitative differences rarely considered, like the impact of financial stability, not just gains, and the cumulative benefits of mental wellbeing. It also reveals that energy interventions have by far the most positive impact for consumers’ quality of life, above agriculture and education. Its brief whitepaper makes for fascinating reading and offers inspiring for change makers everywhere. 

I welcome this development, which sits firmly within the scope of my own External Returns guidelines that I published with Dr Robyn Klingler-Vidra and Mr Martim Jacinto Facada in 2016. It is currently being developed with King’s College London into a fully functioning platform (summary here).

In the brief moments when it has been possible this week for the British press to consider anything other than ballots and political psychodrama, some might have noticed David Miliband, turning our sights to much bigger problems than Brexit. 

There are now 70.8m forcibly displaced people worldwide. Half of them are children. Less than 1% are resettled in western nations. In his capacity as CEO of the International Rescue Committee, Mr Miliband argues we have now entered the Age of Impunity: ‘a time when governments and non-state actors can commit crimes, including war crimes, and get away with it. Use chemical weapons and kill their own people. Shell a coach-load of children and avoid an independent investigation. Commit ethnic cleansing and avoid justice. Besiege communities, break international humanitarian law, and escape accountability.’

The causes of impunity are complex and many, but we see their effects daily. Intra-state conflicts rage three times longer than they did a century ago and life chances for civilians in a war zone have declined in the last decade. On one side of the scales we have the ’new arrogance of power’ expressed by the world’s growing autocracies; on the other, the steady decay of our multilateral institutions – neither equipped nor prepared to meet either inter or (increasingly) intra-state conflict, and liberal western democracies, by turns consumed by in-fighting, increasingly isolationist, or too embroiled in lucrative arms dealsto kick up much fuss. Delivering the Fulbright Lecture this week, Mr Miliband noted that the USA now ranks near Saudi Arabia and Russia as a nation perceived to use its global influence for ill. 

In a world of meaningless rhetoric, Miliband brings clarity, insight and moral courage. In various speeches this year, he has called for reformto the broken system of aid. In April he gave a damning assessment of the UN’s current failings: short-termism; failing to tackle gender-based violence; silence in the face of clear governmental abuses. ‘Where we say that we aim to be the voice of the voiceless, we are too often constrained in what we are willing to say.’ 

These are big, systemic, cultural failings. But they are not immune to pragmatism. Miliband’s call is this: ‘let’s fix what’s within our control, or we will be consumed by that which is beyond our control.’ Miliband’s practical fixes include establishing accountability metrics (targets for outcomes – not inputs or outputs, ‘children reached’ or similar obfuscations) – and reminds us that even SDG targets offer no clear lens on the situation, failing as they do to include displaced populations or crisis-affected communities.

In the world of business, there is much that remains in our control. Sweeping change can be enacted without multilateral agreement. Leaders can decide to value differently, measure differently, play a different role in the world. These are things we canfix. So let’s fix them. 

In 1992 I co-founded the UK’s third independent international advisory firm. I did this just as the City was entering its fastest period of growth, fueled by the Big Bang of ’86. I did this because I knew then, as I know now, that systems will burn when independence is eroded from their structures; that the only advice is independent advice; and that independent advice can never come from the ones pushing the products.

These days, as the FT’s special report notes, the boutique model has exploded, and now commands up to 35% of all M&A fees. When it comes to advice, big is no longer beautiful. Partly, this is circumstantial: as heavy regulation and scrutiny renders City life less fun than it used to be, experienced hands are leaving in their droves to seek more amenable conditions. But boutiques deliver on other fronts too. They’re about mutuality. They operate on partnership, small trusted teams, and real skin the game – qualities that yield value for everyone. For this reason, between many other ventures, I’ve always returned to the boutique market – co-founding Time Partners a few years ago to be a home of independent advice for entrepreneurs , venture capital and families worldwide.

Though boutique banking might be booming, in today’s world, independent thought and advice is our scarcest resource. Our chances of accruing either are vanishingly small.

Consider the cognitive burden on every individual to grasp the complexities of today’s world. In the first place, we must be lucky enough to possess critical skills (either innate or taught). We must be able to vet and select our sources of knowledge and consult them daily. We must be able to trust those who mediate our facts to do it with integrity. We must have the will or the interest to seek opinions beyond those of our peers, and to consult with open ears those that would counter everything we believe to be true.  We must do all this every day, in whatever time we have, in the full knowledge that what we know, and the opinion we’ve formed, may only last as long as the 24-hour news cycle. 

Consider all of this, and then consider the point we are at as a country. We are in the midst of our own intellectual Big Bang. Information is no longer regulated. Knowledge has been compromised. Once again, the world is burning. But this time, there will be no quick bail outs. When independent advice and independent thought has become so hard to extract we know our institutions are failing us.

In these strange days, the BBC has a weighty responsibility to explain the world better. To be impartial – not to ‘balance’ one misinformed voice with another. To properly enquire who exactly is pushing the products, to what audience, for what gain. And it must do this quickly, while we have the stamina to seek understanding. This is the only route back to reason. 

Early this months, two reporters – imprisoned in Myanmar for reporting on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims – were released and pardoned. This was a long overdue step toward peaceful reconciliation for the state, as outlined by Kofi Annan and his Advisory Commission before he passed away. Kofi’s work championed press freedom as the cornerstone of democracy and the 2017 report highlights its fundamental importance to any hope of a prosperous and secure state. And yet, as this month’s World Press Freedom Day reminded us, open, informed, balanced reporting is under threat in the world across the world today as autocracies tighten their grip and the digital sphere spreads the snare of disinformation ever wider. But it is not only civil society that relies on transparent reporting for health and prosperity.

Holistic, transparent, purposeful business reporting is now a non-negotiable of customer and regulator trust, with recent studies finding that 94% of consumers remain loyal to transparent businesses.

Benefit Corporation (or B-Corp), accreditation remains the most robust way to measure and report business impact through the lens of people, planet and profit.When I first helped to launch B-Corps in the UK, it was still a burgeoning concept in British business. Now B-Corps constitute 2,829 companies, 150 industries, across 64 countries – and more and more British industries are discovering that the B-Corp advantage is more than a glowing report card.

As ever, progress comes from the edge, not the centre. Small businesses embracing B-Corps status today are not just using the reporting framework to improve transparency, but to actively improve the design of their business. Kennedy Woods Architecture, a young London based studio, recently became the first architecture practice to gain B-Corp status – demonstrating that even industries traditionally high in environmental impact and rife with toxic work practices can change their ways.  

Speaking with Royal Institute of British Architects about accrediting, co-founder Thomas Woods observed that the process of accrediting had been instrumental in helping Woods and partner Chris Kennedy consider and shape every detail of their practice, from bonus structures to the carbon footprint of office deliveries. As a result, their operational and cultural foundations are now leagues ahead of more established counterparts.

And this isn’t just good for employees, suppliers and community. These measure matter to the practice’s preferred clientele – making B-Corps a powerful tool for resilience, especially during these volatile times. As Woods argues, “during phases of financial uncertainty or recession, there’s all the more reason to demonstrate the value and integrity of your service to clients. We saw the B Corp accreditation as a key element to being able to work with a certain type of socially focused client.”

We have also been supporters of The Media Development Investment Fund (“MDIF”), which provides support to independent media outlets in countries that often fall victim to media oppression.

MDIF invest both equity and debt capital into companies that provide news and information in societies where they are needed in order to advance democracy, accountability and public debate.

Many of MDIF’s portfolio companies have created significant change to the societies in which they operate through coverage of matters that are often under-reported, such as government corruption, environmental issues and gender & ethnic discrimination.

Other businesses are seeking creative alternatives. My own reporting framework, theExternal Rate of Return, will soon offer the world’s most holistic two-way reporting framework to date, harnessing the corporate reporting and the power of conscientious consumerism to help good business pay greater dividends than ever – learn more here.

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