Back to School

di Filippo Addarii

I spent the last week at the Arizona State University, hosted by the School of Sustainability.

It was refreshing to spend a week just thinking big and long-term with like-minded  people who don’t do “little”.

Practitioners tend to rush from one task to the other one and attend too many conferences that are just good for networking. Radical thinking is rare. They normally have too much on the plate and not enough time to think about the bigger picture.

Instead you need to pose and ponder if what you do makes sense or if you need to change direction.

Moreover, an emerging industry such as social innovation and entrepreneurship needs to be framed within a broader vision: underpinned by data, understood within existing macroeconomic theories to justify its added value for the whole society. Even when you challenge the system you need to understand it. We can’t rely only on lofty values and feel-good stories.

When, a few months ago, I accepted the invitation of Prof Sander van der Leeuw (first picture), Dean of the School of Sustainability at ASU and UN Champion of the Earth 2012, I did not realise the need to take this pause. I met him thank to the European research projects in which I ended up by chance (INSITE and MD). Fortunately Sander persuaded me to fly over for a week and get to know each other. Prof Carlo Jaeger (second picture), world expert on climate and economy, was his accomplice in the operation.

The two academics are building a global network of world top researchers from natural and human sciences to develop what they call the Global Systems Science (GSS) – a new vision to understand the 21st century. Given the various crises we are going through, the plan seems valuable.

However, this is not an endeavor for egg-heads secluded in an ivory tower. The guys are convinced that they need people like me to engage the broader public and create a shared vision across borders and boundaries.

Thanks to my relentless activity in building networks, I’ve been enrolled to connect science and society. I like the task. It reconnects me to my first university studies in philosophers and my heroes at the time: Plato, Machiavelli and Nietzsche.

So, after nine years of frenetic London pace, I flew to Arizona for a week of co-thinking as Walton fellow.  Walton is the family that owns Wall-Mart. They have donated several millions to the school to develop a cutting edge programme on sustainability in the 21st century, involving smart guys from across the world. A nice start for my first appearance on the scientific scene.

I’ll spare you all the other details. You just need to know that I’m working on a chapter on narratives to engage stakeholders for the EU funded Orientation Paper of GSS and a session on the same topic for the next GSS conference (Brussels, 11 – 12 June).

I will post the draft on line for comments. If you are interested and would like more details, give me a shout.

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