Why do we often neglect big problems, like the financial crisis and climate change, until it’s too late? Policy strategist Michele Wucker urges us to replace the myth of the “black swan” — that rare, unforeseeable, unavoidable catastrophe — with the reality of the “gray rhino,” the preventable danger that we choose to ignore. In this TED Talk, she shows why predictable crises catch us by surprise — and lays out some signs that there may be a charging rhino in your life right now. This talk was presented at an official TED conference February 1, 2019, and was featured by editors on the TED.com home page as a Talk of the Day May 1, 2019.
Michele’s first book, WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola is a 2018 Bronx Community College One Book, One College, One Community selection. The One Book program invites the entire campus to read one book and join together in events and projects exploring and celebrating the themes of the work.
BCC chose WHY THE COCKS FIGHT “because of the many opportunities it provides to examine the complexities of citizenship and race, imperialism and identity, which have particular relevance in today’s global political climate.”
BCC created a study guide for the book. This year’s events included an essay contest whose winners were announced at the December 4th event, a workshop and musical performance with Yasser Tejeda and Palotré, and an art project in which students designed alternative versions of the book cover.
Michele Wucker led a gray rhino workshop on the Reskilling Revolution at SIMWomen 2018 in Schaumburg, Illinois, on September 27.
A reskilling revolution unrivaled in size, scope and scale is upon us. Even as mobile, virtual reality, AI, blockchain and other new technologies yet to come change how companies do business and how customers consume goods and services, they also require a massive reskilling in your people. Things have never changed so fast, yet will never be this slow again. How prepared are you for this looming challenge? Are your people in the right roles with the right skills? If not, how will you get them there? Test your re-skilling readiness and hone your strategy in this interactive workshop based on the simple yet powerful “gray rhino” framework. Companies have used this flexible tool to prepare for Brexit before the vote; Asian leaders are using it to shape their AI, education, and financial policies; and your organization can harness the gray rhino to create a sense of urgency around re-skilling and develop a strategy to make it happen.
Details and registration information HERE.
Who gets a say in how the world deals with global catastrophic risks?
I spent a few days in Stockholm at the end of May moderating a panel at and participating in the New Shape Forum, where more than 200 people from all around the world gathered to share ideas about how to manage the big 30,000-foot high global threats.
Our host was the Global Challenges Foundation, founded in 2012 by the Hungarian-born Swedish financial analyst Laszlo Szombatfalvy. He’d made his fortune by designing and applying a financial-market risk calculation and valuation model. Now 90 years old, he focuses his philanthropy on global catastrophic risks: threats with the potential to reduce the human population by 10 percent or more.
Opinion research the foundation has commissioned shows a surprising amount of support for increasing global efforts and coordination to deal with these risks. But conversations at the Forum made equally clear that the world needs new global risk governance models that more directly involve citizens.
The global economy may well have become much flatter, in Thomas Friedman’s words, as developing countries have entered global markets. But governance of global catastrophic risks has not.
We spent three days in discussions and workshops, examining how well existing institutions are managing risks like weapons of mass destruction, climate change, unchecked population growth, pandemics, and politically motivated violence.
We also engaged with the 14 finalists for the New Shape Prize –a $5 million pool of funds to support innovation in global governance. The foundation received an astonishing 2,700 submissions from 122 countries.
I was struck by how many of the proposals honed in on one particular problem: that the loftier and grander institutions and global efforts get, the less connected “ordinary” citizens feel. And without the active participation of global citizens, the odds of success are much lower.
Can Individuals Make a Difference?
A 2017 GCF opinion survey across eight countries (Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States found that three quarters of adults considered themselves to be global citizens, and substantially agreed that individuals could make a difference. An astonishing 85 percent said that they cared about responding to global risks.
Six in ten respondents considered the world to be more insecure it was than two years earlier. Only 54 percent were confident that the current international system could make the decisions needed to address global risks. In other words, people are very worried -particularly about weapons of mass destruction, politically motivated violence, and climate change. (Despite the US administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate change, the issue still was the third most concerning to American respondents.)
Overall, 62 percent of adults -and even higher numbers among men and older participants- also felt that only organizations or groups could be effective against global risks.
Perhaps what surprised me most was that seven of ten adults (71%) were in favor of creating a new global organization to respond to global risks. In the United States, the percent has jumped considerably over the past few years, to 67 percent from 49 percent in 2014. Perhaps that’s because of the way the United Nations has been used as a political football, but given the United States’ longtime attitudes about its own sovereignty and global leadership, this struck me as unusual.
As for the United Nations itself, six out of ten adults said they were confident in it, but nevertheless 85 percent overall thought it needed reforms to improve its ability. More than 90 percent of respondents in Brazil and India thought so.
At the same time, 62 percent of adult respondents believed they could personally make a difference on global issues. The number was even higher among people who considered themselves to be global citizens, among women and young people, and in most emerging countries. (China was an outlier, with only 47 percent of adults saying they could make a difference.) Nearly as many –58 percent overall—felt that a single individual could negatively impact global cooperation on catastrophic risks.
Are these results contradictory? Yes and no. Individuals can feel that they have a role, but that for such a role to be effective, others need to behave similarly in a way that organizations and groups are much better prepared to catalyze.
The New Shape Prize
At the closing dinner May 29, the foundation awarded $1.8 million to three projects aimed at reforming global institutions. The winning proposals reflected the need to bringing more citizens into decision making and connect them with multinational groups with the power to act.
Soushiant Zanganehpour’s “AI-supported global governance through bottom-up deliberation” uses blockchain technology to confirm the identities of voters in a decentralized global, participatory and deliberative system.
“Global governance and the emergence of global institutions for the 21st century,” by Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur Lyon Dahl and Maja PCE Groff, would reform the United Nations General Assembly to make it directly elected by popular vote, while adding a second civil society-focused chamber.
Natalie Samarasinghe’s project, “A truly global partnership – helping the UN do itself out of a job,” brings businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and young people into a new UN governance structure. Meanwhile, the UN would transfer its development work to these stakeholders.
Global Challenges Foundation executive director Carin Ism was frank in her remarks concluding the conference: the foundation knows that its odds of success are very small. However, as she pointed out, when the potential impact is big, even a miniscule chance at succeeding becomes worth a try.
It’s always great to collaborate with the team at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York City. Recently I spoke about “Move Over Black Swan: Here Comes the Gray Rhino” on June 14th, 2016, and as always was delighted by the great turnout and thoughtful conversation. You can read the transcript and listen to the podcast HERE.
Here’s a brief interview with me talking about gray rhinos, done a few minutes after my presentation at PCMA Convening Leaders in Vancouver January 11, 2016,about how use the gray rhino concept to help your organization act on obvious dangers instead of avoiding them.
One of the best things about joining The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has been the chance to return to immigration public policy debates. It was an honor to speak about immigration and business Monday, March 9th, in honor of International Women’s Day at the Union League Club of Chicago with a fantastic panel including Mary Meg McCarthy of the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, Crate & Barrel founder Carole Segal of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, Maria Socorro Pesqueira of Mujeres Latinas en Accion, and Moderator Alison Cuddy of the Chicago Humanities Festival. For more information about the event click HERE.
Here also are links to a few recent media appearances: “Obama’s Immigration Plan Gives Ohio Businesses a Taste of Reform,” in the Cleveland Plain Dealer November 25, 2014; Executive Action Is Here -Time for a New “Start” on Legislative Reform on the Chicago Council’s Running Numbers blog, November 21, 2014; an interview “Immigration Reform” on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight November 20, 2014, and a radio interview on “Could Executive Action Clear the Way for Comprehensive Immigration Reform?” on WDCB-FM November 14, 2014