A while back I edited a book titled 50+20: Management Education for the World, written by Katrin Muff, Thomas Dyllick, Mark Drewell, John North, Paul Shrivastava and Jonas Haertle.
Management Education for the World speaks to everybody concerned or passionate about the future of management education: consultants, facilitators, entrepreneurs and leaders in organizations of any kind, as well as policymakers and others with an interest in new and transformative thinking in the field. In particular, teachers, researchers, students and administrators will find it an invaluable resource on their journey.
I got permission to reproduce the epilogue which I wrote (and technically qualifies as my first published and printed work). The text has been slightly edited.
### Vera Sanchez – Rio de Janeiro – PreSnap (Prefrontal Snapture) –
(June 18-24) – AD 2032 ###
I’ve been doing this too long.
After three days of uncomfortable conference halls, endless presentations, interminable speeches, accusations and counter accusations, reluctant handshakes, air-conditioned hotel lobbies, pamphlets, police and protests I was close to giving up. Apart from the faster bandwidth and the explosion of microdrones cluttering the brown sky it seemed as if little had changed since Rio 2012: the world is a conflagration of ecological destruction, stuttering economies, interminable politics. Of course, many people were trying to resolve some of the problems through the old channels – but their efforts seemed futile when set against the overwhelming crises we face.
People don’t change. This is how we’ve always done things: by slash and burn, a euphoric, non-stop carnival of mass suicide. Why stop now? Why bother trying?
I woke up disoriented, having fallen asleep during one of the last seminars held in the Windsor Barra Hotel. I looked around the deserted conference room littered with discarded menus, presentation printouts, napkins, business cards – the unhappy wreckage of yet another failed workshop. I rolled up my slate, gathered my things and shuffled out of the conference room. The conference facilities were almost deserted; only a few of the cleaning staff lingered about, quietly talking amongst themselves (We’re still using humans for cleaning. Funny how machines seem utterly incapable of handling the most menial of tasks, I thought).
I gave myself six days in Rio: three for the Rio+40 Sustainability Conference, another three to consolidate my notes, catch up with friends, perhaps interview a few stragglers. I’m just mopping up now, sifting through the debris left behind by a circus of lunatics.
I felt my cynicism bleeding through again, a dull pessimism layered on physical exhaustion. I tried to recall whether I had thought any differently in 2012. Nope, can’t remember. The intervening twenty years had been defined by extensive travel, the magazine launch, taxes, unplanned motherhood, marriage, bankruptcy, failure to re-renter the job market, night classes, freelancing, divorce, relocation – along with all the drudgery and minutiae of life that pile up like rock strata, threatening to crush any passion or sense of purpose.
Growing increasingly sour, I pushed through the hotel’s heavy glass doors and emerged into the Brazilian heat saturated with polluted air, the howl of traffic, the rampant vegetation. And people. They were everywhere, mostly young and scrawny looking Brazilians jostling along the weed-lined sidewalks, faces vacant as they slid past other pedestrians, like water over stone. These Brazilians seemed uncharacteristically thoughtful, anxious even. No doubt most of them mere broke and hungry, absently searching for a means to drag themselves out of their misery. It’s the same everywhere.
But then I came across something unexpected, something new.
The first time I heard about the Idea was on a sultry evening the day after the end of the Sustainability Conference. I found myself near a beach outside the Windsor Barra where several people, a mixed group of Brazilians and foreigners, clustered around a small open air restaurant. Somebody had lit a fire, fuelled with driftwood and conference programmes. These people looked oddly out of place, somehow too random in their backgrounds. It’s not every day you get to see such a gathering of races and cultures, old and young, tortoise-shell spectacles alongside writhing animatoos, expensive spider-silk suits and dreadlocks scented with tear gas, weed and spray paint.
Judging from the noise I had assumed that these people were arguing amongst themselves, but as I cautiously approached a few turned to face me. They were smiling, their faces glowing in the light of the fire. I discreetly plugged in my translation software and listened.
“…economic growth will be decoupled from the ecosystem destruction and material consumption. The economy will progress in parallel with the well-being of society which has replaced GDP as the key global indicator of wealth. Families, communities, villages, even cities are creating a global alliance…”
“That’s the ultimate goal, but let’s start at the beginning,” said another man, some kind of old-school academic. “The first question has been answered, I believe. The current model provided us with very little intrinsic value. It’s made a real mess of everything, so we must change how business is conducted and taught. Remember, the key is thinking long term by encouraging responsibility, genuine leadership, enabling business to serve the common good and accelerating the transformation of business and the economy. We’re in the middle of species-wide sanity check – and not a moment too soon!”
An elderly woman stepped forward, picking her teeth with a splinter of wood.
“Well, he’s right about leadership. But the priority is not to scream out solutions or recommendations, but rather engagement with others. People are working together now, at last. The collaboratory helps create that space by…”
The discussion grew increasingly animated over the course of the evening. More people strolled in and out of the group. Even a few of the tanned Brazilian kids joined in, curious about the noise. I retreated a little way towards the beach where I lay down in the sand, suddenly numb with fatigue.
I woke with a snort and opened my eyes.
“Rise up and shine, lady,” said a girl beside me, wrapped in a thin blanket. She was Asian and looked no older than sixteen. She seemed energetic, nervous. Activist type probably. “You can cut off the leaves, but the roots remain,” she said, exhaling pungent smoke from a self-rolled cigarette.
“Okay.” I muttered, brushing sand and ash off my blouse.
“Roots of grass, localised nodes of action. The fundament stirs: you, me everybody. Not see? It’s started. Things different: no more lies, only work. No choice – not anymore. No more ‘no’. Now ‘yes’. Now we fix-fix-fix.”
The girl grinned as I crept away from the dying embers of the fire. Truthfully, I didn’t take much notice about what she had said. I didn’t care. At that moment I merely craved a hot shower, shampoo in tiny little bottles. Breakfast. The Internet. I staggered back to the guesthouse a few blocks away.
My dreams that night were a series of brief explorations, skipping over memories like a stone over the deep REM threshold, an ocean of oblivion. I recalled a student trip to the deep Tunisian hinterland over twenty years ago, shredded trash carried by the cold winter wind like colourful snow as the well-educated, over-qualified and utterly unemployable Tunisian men and women sold homemade snacks on the street corners. Well, the Tunisians had certainly done something about that.
I opened my eyes. When things are really bad, everybody gets involved, I distantly thought.
The next morning I made arrangements to meet up with Alfons Prieto, a tough, middle-aged Venezuelan-born activist and writer on social issues in South America. He’d moved to Brazil after getting booted out the Central American Union for his critical editorials on the ruling oligarchy. We agreed to meet for lunch near a market, where I half intended to pick out a few souvenirs for the kids back home.
I found Alfons loitering outside a makeshift marquee. After exchanging greetings he tilted his head toward the noise coming from within.
“Hey Vera, you seen this yet?” he asked, gesturing at the open tent flap. “This is the fifth gathering of the kind I’ve found today. The police don’t know what to make of it. Hell, a few of them have even joined in.”
I looked around nervously, half expecting the pop and hiss of a tear gas grenade, the yapping of police dogs and the whine of drones armed with sonic blocks. After Berlin in 2024 I swore I’d never get involved in another confrontation of that kind again (I’m still half deaf in one ear).
Alfons sensed my unease.
“Don’t worry, girl. Something else is going on, nothing like the conference or the protests. I just don’t understand. The people in that tent are from all over the world. The other meetings had community leaders, local officials, students – even street urchins for God’s sake. The conversations are spontaneous but structured. I’ve been in this city for years and have never seen anything like it.”
I told Alfons about the mixed group I had encountered on the beach.
“Then you’ve seen it too,” he replied, “Funny how people just get together and solve problems themselves.”
“Yes. Usually, when they’re angry,” I said, peering through the marquee flap. Some twenty people were inside, gathered in a rough circle. Many of them were sitting on makeshift benches.
“Hm, not these,” Alfons said, “They’re talking about the future, change – an Idea. I’ve already called a sociologist friend to look into it.”
“I shouldn’t have bothered,” I said, turning away. “It’s probably just another meme, a fad – like pictures of cats wearing monocles.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Somebody once explained to me that an Idea evolves, matures. One day it’s just ready, a necessary evolution that takes root amongst small groups before expanding exponentially, independent of technology, culture or politics. I’ve been listening: they’re figuring out what it means to be happy, what works in today’s world and what doesn’t. They’re solving problems. And you know what? They really believe they can do it.”
“Sounds like the conference all over again.”
“Hah! At the conference people were just recycling dogma, pretending to justify their tenure, air miles and permanent salaries. Who doesn’t want to fly business class? But listen: over the past few weeks I heard of multiple initiatives around Rio and elsewhere on the continent. Most are very small, local – often little more than five or ten people. The favelas are in an uproar but in a good way, I think. Now governments, colleges, universities, schools are joining in too. Even businesses are involved, thank goodness. They know something is wrong. Maybe some of them are actually looking beyond their quarterly reports.”
I didn’t smile at the joke.
“I don’t get it, Alfons. What are all these people doing that’s so special?”
Alfons considered the question for a few moments.
“They’re cooperating, Vera. It seems they really listen to each other. No, don’t give me that look,” he said gently, “I’ve seen what they do. Everybody gets a say in there. Everybody has a job to do. The locals are calling these gatherings collaboratores.”
“The collaboratory,” I said distantly, recalling what I had heard on the beach.
“Something like that. Maybe this isn’t twenty twelve all over again. Waddaya think, Vera?”
“I think it’s good. It’s about time everybody did something about this mess we’re in,” I said, turning to Alfons, “Listen. Does a cynic who comes full circle become an optimist again – or just a worse cynic?”
Alfons regarded me, his expression unreadable behind his smog mask and wrap-around sunglasses.
“Vera – anybody ever tell you you’ve been doing this kind of thing too long?” he asked.
This time I laughed. I let Alfons guide me away from the marquee and toward the small market where I bought a miniature bench – a dainty, gaily painted toy of varnished matchsticks. I thought it might make a charming (analogue) addition to my daughter’s AI-managed doll house.
We clambered on top of a wrecked APC, eating frozen yoghurt while watching the Rainbow Warrior dirigible dispense clouds of smog scrubbers over our heads like confetti.
Later that afternoon I returned to my hotel room. I didn’t bother arranging more interviews. Nobody was answering their slates and the heat, sweat and noise of central Rio had left me drained. At the same time I also wanted to find out whether there was any more to what Alfons has showed me earlier.
To my surprise, I found that the world’s vlogs and swarm feeds were literally abuzz with activity. The forums groaned under the strain of comments, suggestions and arguments, though with noticeably less of the customary bickering I was used to finding on the political feeds. I hurriedly swiped through hundreds of trending topics with mystifying titles such as Colab_712_HK_submissions, CLB 2nite NAIRB, 3E-Academia, ExecMonLocations?, or Pop-up BuS (Ougadougou). One of the more animated discussions was nested under the heading Fix-This-Shit – an initiative launched by a loose group of social workers, schools, small business owners and squatters in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg.
I pushed away the slate, my head spinning.
My last two days in Rio were no different. Alfons was right: people were changing, listening, working together with a level of enthusiasm and efficiency that seemed impossible a few weeks earlier. A little more digging revealed that the Idea had started well before Rio+40, amongst an informal group of academics, a bunch of semi-random people who decided they’d had enough and wanted a fresh start.
I came to Rio believing I’d find our society making little or no progress on intractable problems as old as humanity itself. I was wrong. I had found something else, perhaps something better and more lasting than the endless circular dialogue I had come to expect from such political and money-tainted gatherings. For the first time I thought I saw direction, a consensus that people – all people – can help resolve our ridiculous, self-manufactured disasters.
To be honest, those three days after the conference scared me a little. The human race is not naturally inclined to cooperate, but that was what I saw in Rio. I’m seeing it all around the world right now: a real desire to resolve problems, a willingness to talk, admit mistakes – a common urge to create something truly good. Maybe Alfons was right. Maybe things will be different now.