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Michael Trainer

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Dear Rio+20: A Call for Inspired Leadership and Imaginative Action

Posted: 06/25/2012 3:38 pm

"Our governments are locked into the chains of the status quo" so said Jeff Sachs this week at the Rio+20 summit. "What we need are pioneers who don't ask for permission."

As the Rio+20 summit came to a close there was a mixture of sentiment in the air, none of which is excitement. Veteran policy makers at the summit told me that 'if everyone leaves the negotiation table unhappy, you have probably done something right.' At a meeting of this size, the largest U.N. gathering ever, bold declarative commitments on behalf of our collective future were hard to come by.

The conference was largely about natural capital, how we divvy up resources like fisheries and forests, and negotiating around rights to use those resources. What we really need is a return to old virtues and bold declarative leadership. We have abandoned ourselves to markets and to politicians, and I am struck by a lack of vision.

I was in Rio because I was invited to participate in a high-level event on accelerating progress in the Millennium Development Goals (the agreed upon global platform to end extreme poverty around the world) through Youth Innovation. I was absolutely humbled by the visionaries in the room, many personal heroes: Marina Silva, Jeff Sachs, Ted Turner, Mohammed Yunus, and the Secretary General. What I saw in their stance was that each led first with bold actions in their respective fields, and their collective actions will leave and enduring legacy on the world.

"Mohammed Yunus did not take the textbook of microfinance of the shelf, he wrote the textbook! But even before he wrote the textbook he did it, so it wasn't theory it was practice, it was proved, it was demonstrated." Sachs continued, "Our politicians are highly refined followers, that is their job in a democracy -- they listen closely -- they wonder what will get votes... okay that is the way it works we have to be the one to tell them what gets votes!"

Later that day, in response to the conference in general, a group of 200 gathered in protest, handed in their access badges and walked out chanting "the future we want is not found here!" It was the most declarative statement I had heard thus far, but I also realized these valuable voices has just left the room.

The acute tension at Rio+20 is how do we break the quagmire? Twenty years ago declarations were born that have yet to come to life, and the stakes are high, our collective futures depend on them.

We need the visionaries to inspire the masses because the will of the masses drives the political will upon which these collective agreements are forged.

The future we want is found in leaders rising up. We need the bureaucrats and the protesters; we need the system and the movement, for in the tension lies a dynamic possibility. We no longer have a choice, as the future we want is no longer a question but a generational imperative. If we do not declare it with commitment and live boldly into our interdependence, we will face 7 billion people and growing all fighting for scraps from the table.

What I took away from Rio is that we need the collective table we all sit down at to and listen and discuss, but we also need those willing to take a stand, and in doing so to shout with their actions and their words; because the future we want isn't just found at the tip of the politicians pen, but rather in the seeds sewn by a generation of global citizens committed to bold vision and innovative action taken on behalf of a collective future because our generation does not have the legacy to wait another 20 years.

My keys to the future we want:

1. More transparency and accountability, and a more inclusive process where the voices in the room are not simply those with access badges.

2. More Social Enterprise -- Businesses that measure environmental and social impact along with economic benefits.

3. Political will -- This is where the movement and the establishment can meet, if citizens can demonstrate they are informed, engaged, and most importantly mobilized their representatives take note.

4. Imagination, Courage, and Character -- we need more visionaries.

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman
5. Cooperation -- Quality teams with different skill sets and accountabilities committed to measurable outcomes.


6. Networks -- Growth is expeditious, but so is connectivity, if we can harness that potential in our communications and collaborations our growth can be both expeditious and sustainable.

7. Commitment -- Bold declarative visions inspire people to rise up in themselves, and what we really need as issues of global complexity grow in magnitude are people committed to raise and adopt with shifting boundaries, economic and political realities, and harness the possibility our expanding population for their creative potential and opportunity.

8. Global Citizens -- informed, inspired, and taking action.


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