The world faces tremendous global challenges in the decades ahead in what is expected to be an era of far greater economic volatility and change. Yet today we seem increasingly ill-equipped to deal with the big issues of our day.
How will we transition to a more sustainable energy system while meeting growing demand? How will we reduce CO₂ emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change? How will we avoid overstressing our resource systems as we add another 2 billion people to our population by mid-century?
These challenges are extremely complicated. They cross borders. And they will require far more collaboration between government, business and civil society than we are seeing today.
In the past, there was effectively a “triangle of trust” between government, business and civil society, which helped us tackle the great issues. Today, that triangle is broken. We need to find ways to get past the political and economic paralysis that is thwarting progress. But, how do we build a global movement for change so we can actually make progress?
To address the trust issue, business needs to be more transparent in how we operate. We need to do a better job of listening and explaining what we do and why. Business can also take a larger role in exploring new forms of partnership and collaboration – with governments, with interest groups and NGOs and with businesses outside our own industries. Some work already is under way to create new forms of collaboration that could restore the triangle of trust.
The World Economic Forum’s Energy for Society initiative is one example. The goal is to focus the energy industry around a set of principles to foster open and transparent communication, and to increase understanding and more collaborative action. Shell CEO Peter Voser and 19 other energy company chief executive officers around the world have already signed on.
If we are going to meet our future global challenges, leaders in both business and government will also need to develop certain critical traits. In this new era, leaders need to be humble enough to want to see through the eyes of others and understand what drives them. They need to be far-sighted enough to distinguish trends and real disruptions from everyday volatility. And they need to be resilient enough to tackle the inevitable challenges of a turbulent world.
There is a great opportunity for global business leaders to restore the trust necessary to address these global challenges. It is also our responsibility to help address these issues, to help break through today’s gridlock so we can continue mankind’s long march toward greater prosperity.
Author: Jorma Ollila is the Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s largest independent energy companies, and a former Chairman and CEO of Nokia. This blog is based on Mr. Ollila`s recent keynote address to the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award dinner in New York.
Image: An employee walks on top of an oil tank at a refinery in Wuhan, Hubei province REUTERS/Darley Shen