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Why we need to start talking about imagination & the ability to create shared visions as key skills for future leaders.

Craig Zelizer

May 31, 2019

PCDN’s 2019 Career Series is focused The Future of Work in Social Change. We will continue our exploration of the key trends and concrete tips to help you advance a career of impact. See our ongoing Career Series here

By Ilaina Rabbat and Geraldine Hepp


From the Silicon Valley to the traditional Development sector – everyone is talking about the future of work. Amongst the reports on the future of work research, the WeForum, UK Commission and PWC offer detailed insights into multiple future scenarios and their implications for individuals and institutions. In a world of machine learning and AI, massive reskilling and life-long learning are predicted to be key to keep up with the need for enhanced technical as well as soft-skills. Still, we see an important topic missing in this conversation: it’s not just about coping with the future scenarios, or fixing the problems that may come. We need to enable future generations to dream, design and strategize to create a future they want.


In the recent ‘Future of Impact Work’ conference Amani Institute organized in São Paulo, Brazil, we invited speakers whose stories highlight the need for a more focused conversation on these envisioning skills.


Here we would like to share three of them and invite you to a short exercise to strengthen your own imaginative (and generative) skills:


Re-skilling and access to opportunities is not enough

Miguel da Hora is a 25 year old changemaker from Osaca, a favela in São Paulo, where he runs a DIY makerspace for youth. He has been able to encourage self-driven learning projects that take participants as far as Stanford University as they grow into confident and pro-active young adults. He himself was initially set on the typical path of gang activities and hopelessness. Without a life-changing encounter through ‘Intel Computer Clubhouse’ a social project that showed him alternative realities, he wouldn’t have aligned his skills and vision with a more ambitious project: to create a better world for himself and his peers. ‘When I started to discover new possibilities, participate and win tournaments, meet new people, I realized that in reality I could be a giant. And that's why everything has changed’ he says of this experience.


Access to virtual opportunities or re-skilling is not enough. If you don’t expose people to other options and inspire them to imagine different futures, they will not build agency.


We need to understand how to build and measure skills that can’t be automated

Sallyann della Casa – originally from Trinidad Tobago, is a lawyer who turned to education looking for answers to the big challenges corporates and governments are grappling with. Currently working from Dubai, she investigates what it takes to stretch beyond what we think we are capable of in the context of machine learning, automation and exponential developments in technology. One of the big questions people ask especially with regards to artificial intelligence is: How replaceable are humans?


Sallyann went on a journey of deep research to understand what are the skills that can’t be automated and how to measure them. The objective is to make those skills more tangible for professionals and institutions involved in education – from policy makers to HR professionals to deans and school principals. Thus, she developed a ground-breaking technology to develop and measure skills like communication, critical thinking and creativity from primary through higher education, up to in-house training programs in corporations.


However, it won’t be enough to enable individuals to go beyond their imagination of what is possible and respond creatively to the challenges predicted by futurists. If we don’t only want to respond to, but collectively drive and build a future that we truly want, we need to learn how to create a shared vision.


Peter Senge, the author of the widely acclaimed book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, defines shared vision as what you and other members want to create or accomplish as part of an organization. A shared vision is not top-down, it is the co-creation of a group of individuals which requires not only imagination capacity, but also the ability to listen to each other deeply, suspend assumptions and find common ground.


Building Shared Visions in turbulent political contexts

Claudia Valladares is the founder of Impact Hub Caracas, and she also coaches new Impact Hubs across Africa and Latin America. Building communities of entrepreneurs who create impact is encouraged by most rhetoric about the future of work.


However, in the volatile and complicated socio-political context of Venezuela, which experiences turbulent and even dangerous times at the moment, the Impact Hub community realized that they needed to put the ‘citizen’ back on stage (not only the entrepreneurs) harnessing the power of community to come together to build resilience and citizenship.


With a lot of the future scenarios predicting rising unrests across the world due to a widening gap between rich and poor, an increase in migration streams based on climate changes, we see the ability to create a shared vision as a key skill to be taught across the board so that people can  come together in difficult times and create change on the ground.


From science fiction to social fiction


In 2013, at the Skoll World Forum, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus asked the public to write about the possibility of a new future.  He said that science fiction books and movies have inspired science to create things that we thought were not possible. Science fiction has helped us seeing new technology and new solutions that we have never envisioned. Considering that, what if we created social fiction? What if all of us develop the skill of envisioning a better future?


Working in development, a lot of us are involved daily with imagining different futures. If you want to test your imaginative skills, here are some prompts for an exercise to stretch your imagination for a future you want to co-create:


  1. How would a world look like where all social injustices we see today are fixed?
  2. What if no illness can make us suffer and what if even, we won’t die anymore?
  3. How would a world look like where there is no divide between rich and poor?
  4. What if abundance is the new lens replacing scarcity?
  5. What if all the countries measure happiness instead of GDP?
  6. What if all have not only access but also the ability to acquire all knowledge available?
  7. What if there are no more wars or violence?

At Amani Institute, we believe that professionals working towards social impact need to play a bigger role in defining the conversation on the future of work by helping governments, corporations and educational institutions not only to teach collaborative or technical skills but enable more and more people to create a shared vision and implement it.



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