The Power of Proximity: Envisioning a Shared Future

The end of a year always makes me stop and think about where that year began. For social entrepreneurs, funders, and frankly anyone in the social change space, it’s been a time of epic upheavals. Political, social, and even familial loyalties split in the ‘great divide’—populism on one side, a globalist agenda on the other. This chasm gaped wide with the differences between these ideologies—a common path seemed wildly beyond reach.
We thought deeply about this newly revealed landscape as we approached programming for the Skoll World Forum in April. The theme Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground was both acknowledgment of reality and an expression of hope. The reality of finally acknowledging the discontent, long bubbling below the global surface. The hope to begin to understand and eventually, move forward with respect and unity. Now is a time for listening, as Cristina Pato of the Silk Road Project pointed out: “Even if you are playing the loudest instrument in the world, you have to make an even bigger effort to listen to others.”
Throughout the summer, gatherings of social change agents and policy experts explored the deepening rifts, but also the virulent threats looming on the horizon that will impact us all, not matter our ideology. The specter of nuclear war, pandemics, and ecological collapse are catastrophic threats—an opportunity for unifying collective action. The rise of artificial intelligence, automation, and crypto-currency bring the promise of progress, but also the risks of unintended consequences. These are shared challenges we will face together—hopefully as a humanity united.
While the landscape is riddled with cracks, social change leaders have stood their ground, always pushing forward. Despite unpredictable policy dynamics and uncertain funding, our most capable leaders remain resolute. Many philanthropic organizations, including Skoll, have taken a deeper look at how to support the inner wellbeing of organizational leaders at a time when fatigue and burn-out could undermine their critical work. We must take good care of those who take care of the most marginalized and excluded.
I recently returned from a gathering of next generation education leader and thinkers—the World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE). Central to the conversation was how to prepare students for an uncertain world. This will begin with compassion and empathy. For this rising generation, collaboration across ethnic and cultural divides will be second nature.
As I look ahead to 2018, our Skoll World Forum will explore a new theme: The Power of Proximity. Without proximity, deep empathy and understanding remains an ideal, rather than a reality. In his book Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild explored the hard work of envisioning a shared future. “One challenge that faces anyone who cares about social and economic justice: drawing connections between the near and the distant,” he wrote. In the coming year, I trust that together we can make those connections happen.
This article was written by Sarah Borgman, Director and Curator, Skoll Community and Convenings; it originally appeared in the Philanthropreneurship forum and is republished here with permission.