09/28/2015 10:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We Have 7 Days

Photo: I.Rimanoczy

We have seven days, was the message sent out on Sept. 25 2015 over the internet. The day marked a historic landmark, as over 193 world leaders took on the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which address the three interconnected elements of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Yes, we all heard about Millennium Development Goals when they were issued 15 years ago. They aimed at reducing poverty in half, improving education, human rights and other laudable goals. While thousands of people around the world worked to achieve them, something is different this time. What for many was a problem of "UN" and humanitarian organizations, has become a problem for us, the people on the planet.

Several years ago, as I was struggling with designing exercises to help students understand systems thinking and see how everything is interconnected, I got a little help from Nature. Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in Iceland, erupted leaving millions of passengers stranded across the world because airlines were grounded. We all learned what an unpronounceable volcano -- in a country whose location we may not even be sure of -- can do to our every day life. In other words, lesson in real time: Interconnectedness 101.

I wondered if Nature would continue to provide us lessons for our accelerated learning. When Rachel Carson published the polemic book "Silent Spring" in 1962 announcing that human behaviors were creating consequences in Nature which would mean disruption in our lifestyles, she was seen as a doomsday voice. It took time and many droughts, fires, costly floods, health problems related to our eating habits and to our production processes, landslides related to our forestry practices, stress symptoms related to our urban lifestyles, to name a few, to learn that yes, our behaviors matter. They have consequences, and we are all connected to each other and to the planet on which we live all of us.

When it comes to change, people have different attitudes. Some are naturally visionaries looking far into the distance, and are frequently discounted as crazy. Others study trends and patterns and anticipate challenges, send out warnings, and urge those who might be listening to think of strategies to address the storms on the horizon. They become leaders, setting the new standards, inspiring others to follow. Some feel comfortable engaging in change as they observe others taking the lead. Finally some have a more immediate focus and are mainly concerned with What is in it for them? Will it happen in their lifetime? In their neighborhood? In their block? How can they protect themselves and their assets?

Nature -- which is not just about changing climatic conditions, but also about our healthy and happy living, has pedagogies suited for everyone. If you cannot see the early signs, you may find the signs at your doorstep: in the form of a water restriction in your area; increases in the price of certain fruits or vegetables you cannot afford now because of a vanishing bee population to pollinate them; rate increases in your insurance because you live in an area threatened by a rise in sea levels. You just have to connect the dots.

Yet business is savvy, and while the gambling of stock markets focuses on short term gains, thousands of smart business leaders look at the news, study trends, and develop scenarios to prepare for a new reality. The change makers expand within their organization, and corporations become motivated to act as they observe what their competitors are doing. Early adopters drag the reluctant late comers. Even those unconvinced ultimately realize: We can not not do something. A chain reaction is launched.

This is called the Tipping Point Zone. It happens when slow incremental changes pile up and reach a point, after which change happens in a radical, quantum leap. No longer in small steps. Suddenly everyone seems to "get it," to speak a new language, to ponder new values (or old values, revived). A new ethics spreads, and what was accepted until yesterday becomes immoral today. What was unthinkable a moment ago, becomes reality.

The accelerators emerge everywhere: a Pope addressing the Congress of the U.S., the youth of Cuba or world leaders at UN. At the Global Summit. CEOs of multinationals like Unilever, Virgin, Tata, and hundreds others came together with icons like UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador Shakira and David Beckham, heads of the World Bank and the Monetary Fund, or youth representatives, like the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzaii. The walls of the UN Headquarters projected the Goals for all to see on the outside, and New York City cabs are running mini lessons on taxi TV about the Goals to which world leaders are committing.

The announcement is clear: We are the first generation that has the knowledge and the capacity to end global poverty and build a life of dignity for all, leaving no one behind. A world that works for all, and each one of us has a part to play to make this happen. This year is a threshold line. The clock is ticking. We have 15 years to get the world on track to a better future.

But it gets even bolder. The 15 years start today. In the words of Richard Branson: "We have seven days to make the Global Goals famous -- because if the goals are going to work, everyone needs to know about them. We must tell everyone. Once the goals are famous, they won't be forgotten. And once all seven billion people in the world know about them we must act. No matter who you are, it's time to read up about the Global Goals and tell everyone you know about them."

Can you do that? We have seven days.