No Exit - Collaboration Is Our Only Option

Can businesses drive societal change for the better through collaboration? There are numerous examples that this can be true.
09/23/2016 03:29 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2017

Can businesses drive societal change for the better through collaboration? There are numerous examples that this can be true.

Just a few weeks ago, the local chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development the Chilean organization ACCIÓN hosted a seminar with the title - Collaboration - no exit!..

It was not only the discussion and dialogue they brought onto the stage and into the 1,000 people strong audience that attracted me. It was the commitment to foster a societal discourse for the betterment of the Chilean society that is currently challenged by scandals, fraud and social unrest against a pension system that feels insecure to many Chileans.

ACCIÓN is a non-profit organization leading a business community of 165 local and multinational companies operating in Chile engaged on Sustainable Development. Every year, they hold a seminar on the latest trends on sustainability and related topics, which is considered the country's most influential event in the field, attended by an audience above 1,000 people and broadcasted via on-live streaming.

I had followed their invitation to give a keynote speech on the art of leading collectively as a cornerstone for a paradigm shift towards collaboration - within companies and across the sectors of society. But moreover, I had followed an emotional urge to take my firm believe that better collaboration will take humankind into the future into a country that has born two of the world's most influential systems thinkers: Humberto Maturana and Fransceso Varela. Their work has greatly contributed to a gradual shift in realizing that the universe, and life in its very essence is cooperative. Life is collaborative. It is complex, interdependent and constantly in the process of "self-making". Holding that view goes a long way in overcoming some of the challenges the world is facing today, because we, as human beings, carry the same cooperative capacity within us.

Despite the opposite message dominating the daily news, my last 20 years of strategically advising international cross-sector multi-stakeholder initiatives showed me that this cooperative capacity can be enhanced and invigorated. Meaningful ways to co-create can become a day-to-day activity - in business and society.

Accion is part of a global community of people who want to make a difference in the world - for better businesses, resilient societies, and a thriving natural environment. I believe that this human faculty - to collaboratively negotiate the path into the future - is what we need if we want to create a sustainable future that works for 100% of humanity and the planet as a whole.

Every journey begins with a single step.

But every journey to contribute to better co-creation starts small and in humble beginnings.

This is the way my journey also started.

I grew up in the western part of the divided city of Berlin in Germany, close to the boarder. At times, when playing with my friends, we heard shootings from across the border. When I asked my dad about it he explained that these were bullets shot by soldiers trying to prevent people from escaping the eastern part of Germany. I did not ask any further questions, I simply began to daydream. In my dreams, people on both sides of the Berlin wall took each other by the hand and walked over the boarder peacefully. Nothing dramatically followed; they just laughed and danced together joyfully.

Twenty three years later my dream came true. Not because of my individual dream but because so many people had a similar dream. And many of these people did what needed doing - they worked together to change the world - and collectively they did change it!

The human faculty of jointly overcoming constraints, of daring to risk the impossible, and of supporting each other to persist never left my mind. It became my underlying life quest to find out what it takes to bring this faculty to the surface.

We are on a quest to understand the deeper meaning of life

It is lived human connectivity that changes the world. Such lived connections create better societies, improve businesses and enhance productivity.
It is this purpose and meaning that gets us up in the morning and that makes us feel grateful when we lie in bed and review our day.

If we understand the magic of successful and constructive human collaboration, could it become a key to co-creating a more sustainable future? Would it increase our capability to adapt, to learn, to find solutions to problems, to innovate and to be more effective? Could we collectively transform our businesses, societies and the world into a force for a future that works for 100% of humanity and the planet as a whole?