Saskia Rotshuizen






Environmental Management & Sustainability



By Saskia Rotshuizen

Will we have the courage?

A few weeks back, I wrote a blog post about the start of my GOTO (Global Opportunities and Threats Oxford) experience. I ended that post stating I was keen on improving my systems thinking skills for approaching wicked problems. Today, we are living a wicked problem in real time.

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

It took me a long time to start writing this second post. Every day over the last few weeks brought its share of seemingly paradigm-shifting news, challenging what we all previously considered as important. Who would have thought that in the couple of months since my last post we would now be worrying about whether it is safe to go shopping for basic necessities?

This is not another post about how the COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented financial and social uncertainty, or tips on how to survive in isolation. This post is about hope, and the perhaps naive belief that we are witnessing the dawn of a new era. In conversations with friends and classmates, in opinion pieces here and there, I see hope raising its head and asking: what if this was finally it – the catalyzing turning point that we need to curb climate change and create a more resilient and equitable world?

Fresh out of GOTO and still with my systems-thinking cap on, I find myself looking for connections, feedback loops, and leverage points. I want to find answers to this crisis so that we can learn from this pandemic, so that it did not happen in vain. The truth is, however, that these answers are not here yet and won’t be for months.

So what have I learned in the meantime? Here are three lessons I took from this experience so far, which I believe can help us in our reflections for the future we want to build:

  1. We are all connected
    This is obvious, and yet so often forgotten. From an economic point of view, globalization and capitalism worked hand in hand to connect us all in an increasingly tight web, which contributed to the spread of COVID-19. The truth is, we were always connected – as humans. The pandemic also reveals this shared humanity, with neighbours supporting each other and doctors flying into highly affected countries to support the ongoing efforts.
    Today, we see a re-awakening of what it means to live and share the common human experience. How can we make sure that this precious human connection stays alive?
  2. The levers we choose to pull in this crisis will say a lot about our priorities
    We are dealing with a system that was already broken before this pandemic. The result is this: the convergence of financial, health and environmental emergencies. However, crises as we are living right now are akin to a kick in the sand in terms of systems thinking. Instead of waiting for the dust to settle back into the same pattern we are all too familiar with, we have an opportunity to dramatically re-design the blueprint of the system. Governments will reveal their vision of the post-covid system via bailouts and budget allocations. When there is a chance to leave the worst parts of capitalism behind, will our leadership have the courage to “Build Back Better” (to use a current ESG label) and to make choices that benefit all as opposed to the few?
  3. At first, there was panic, and then there was adaptation
    Systems react to shocks the same way as individuals do: first there is confusion, and then there is adaptation. A few weeks into this crisis we already witness incredible creativity from both the business and scientific communities to adjust quickly to a ‘new normal’. Once again we are reminded of the fantastic capacity of humans to adapt – though this is easier for more privileged groups. There is hope in this adaptability: if we can adapt so rapidly and collectively to COVID-19, then can we not challenge our ingrained assumptions in order to alter our lifestyles for a more prosperous and abundant future society for all?

Earth Day was a few days ago, raising with it the looming threat of climate change. Here we have it – the opportunity to make radical changes to our ways of living and working is right here, right now. From the individual level, to the organizational level to the national level. It is happening now.

The question is: will we have the courage to seize this opportunity to co-create a more fair and prosperous future?

I certainly hope so.

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