The theme of the World Economic Forum’s Davos 2023 meeting is “Cooperation in a Fragmented World.” The annual meeting of government, business, and civic leaders, on January 16-20 in Davos, Switzerland, underscores the nature of our interconnected world and the risks and benefits that this interconnectedness presents. According to the organization, “The world is at a critical inflection point. The sheer number of ongoing crises calls for bold collective action.”
Those overlapping crises include global warming, which is leading to extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, food shortages, displaced communities, and political instability. Other crises include energy shortages, lack of access to healthcare, COVID and the threat of other global pandemics, and the possibility of a global recession.
In the face of these predicaments, many countries have pulled back from global commitments to focus more on their own political and economic issues including tightened immigration policies and domestic supply chain and energy solutions. It’s a natural reaction in a crisis situation to look inward and taking care of one’s own country, state, community, company, family, and self.
But how can we overcome this proclivity to withdraw and find a way to mindfully engage to slow the advance of global crises and create a more sustainable world? For starters, we must strengthen our global institutions. Our global leaders must come to understand that it is not a zero-sum game, and that collective action is necessary to develop and defend institutions that will promote the collective good with both short- and long-term goals in mind.
But what can the rest of us do? As the world’s political and economic leaders gather to discuss these issues, how can we recognize and advance solutions to the many crises large and small that affect us? How can we approach issues and find solutions that benefit ourselves, our work, and society? In other words, how do we benefit from interconnectedness?
Interconnectedness of Life
Increasingly authors and academics are looking to nature for both metaphors and pragmatic insights into how to create a more sustainable world. A number of books over the last decade have examined natural systems such as trees in a forest to show how interconnectedness and cooperation is needed to survive.
Peter Wohlleben, in The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World, writes, “The most astonishing thing about trees is how social they are. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a ‘wood wide web’ of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods. Scientific research aimed at understanding the astonishing abilities of this partnership between fungi and plant has only just begun. The reason trees share food and communicate is that they need each other. It takes a forest to create a microclimate suitable for tree growth and sustenance. So, it’s not surprising that isolated trees have far shorter lives than those living connected together in forests.”
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer offers many insights on how to live a more sustainable life by combining her Native American background as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation with her scholarly botany studies as an Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).
She emphasizes the power of reciprocity between people and the natural world and the importance of positive engagement. She writes, “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”
As the pace of life continues to accelerate, many people have turned to meditation and mindfulness for calmness and clarity. In fact, the number of people practicing mindfulness in the United States has jumped from 38% to 46% from 2021 to 2022, according to one estimate.
At BackBay Communications, we launched a voluntary Midweek Meditation at noon every Wednesday to listen to Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast, which offers guided meditations. Even Peloton offers meditation along with cycling and strength classes.
Last year, I was a member of the first cohort of The Garrison Institute’s CLIF program (Compassionate Leadership in Finance), along with a dozen other financial services executives. I found it to be an eye-opening and valuable experience. The well-run program with thoughtful and openminded participants, included a retreat at The Garrison Institute and a series of online participatory seminars. CLIF’s objective is to build compassionate leaders in financial services by drawing the links between becoming a mindful individual and extending the personal insights and benefits to one’s business and society at large. I think of compassionate leadership as applied mindfulness. The second CLIF cohort is wrapping up now, and the plan is to continue to offer the course to individual financial services leaders as well as through financial services companies, such as large banks that can provide this needed training to groups of a dozen or more rising leaders.
One of the CLIF instructors is Sander Tideman, author of Triple Value Leadership, which discusses how to create sustainable value for your business, customers, and society by adjusting the lens with which you view and interact with the world. Sander explains how triple value leadership enables business leaders to positively contribute to society by recognizing that business is a part of society and not apart from society, advocating for a new business model that focuses not on value extraction, but on joint value creation for the benefit of organizations, customers, and society.
Whether in business or politics, empathy and compassion have an important role to play. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, “I think one of the sad things that I’ve seen in political leadership is – because we’ve placed over time so much emphasis on notions of assertiveness and strength – that we probably have assumed that it means you can’t have those other qualities of kindness and empathy. And yet, when you think about all the big challenges that we face in the world, that’s probably the quality we need the most. We need our leaders to be able to empathize with the circumstances of others; to empathize with the next generation that we’re making decisions on behalf of. And if we focus only on being seen to be the strongest, most powerful person in the room, then I think we lose what we’re meant to be here for.”
At BackBay, we take a long-term, holistic approach to our work, recognizing our interconnectedness and emphasizing cooperation and mutually beneficial outcomes. This is consistent with a sustainable mindset. With this in mind, it is heartening to see the growth of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) and Impact investing. BackBay has supported a number of clients that have offered ESG and Impact investing over the past half a dozen years. The interest in this field has grown enormously and so has BackBay’s client base. We now support more than a dozen sustainable investing clients and have an Impact and ESG group dedicated to working with private equity, asset and wealth management, and even fintech companies involved in this sector. Our work in this area has involved helping companies develop their narratives in this evolving field, and then creating websites, marketing materials, and ongoing media relations and social media programs to share their points of view.
The former journalists we hired over the last several years have aided our ability to identify, shape, and disseminate compelling narratives for our clients in all our groups: Impact and ESG, Private Markets, Fintech, and Wealth and Asset Management.
The theme of interconnectedness was manifest this past year in the many new business referrals we received from current and former clients. And in some of our new hires, who came to BackBay because of existing relationships.
BackBay has always taken an integrated approach to marketing and communications for our clients. For some of our largest global clients, we focus primarily on media relations and content development, while for many of our mid-market clients, we serve as their outsourced marketing partner, building and executing 12-month plans as an extension of the existing marketing or management team. These plans often involve the above activities plus videos, newsletters, speaking at conferences, and awards. The beauty of such programs is in the efficiencies provided by the digital interconnectedness of the platforms to share our clients’ news and perspectives.
As we enter 2023, I am thankful for our talented team, our collaborative culture, our smart, ambitious, and successful clients, and the opportunity we have to work together to achieve positive outcomes for our clients, their customers and employees, and society at large. In the hubbub of the start of a new year, let us all find a moment to pause and reflect on our good fortune and find opportunities to approach our relationships and our work with both passion and compassion.