.
W

orld in 2050’s (W2050) mandate is simple, if difficult: help the future arrive well. This mandate is necessary specifically because we live in an era of great change and—while we believe a “new renaissance” is possible—there remains no guarantee we won’t be worse off in the future. Amid society-altering forces, it should surprise nobody that we are beset by fear and uncertainty. We are also beset by distrust—the very institutions we’ve relied on to structure our increasingly interconnected world, protect against calamity, and prosper are the targets of much of this distrust. 

Rightfully so. Our institutions have many clear failings and need to change dramatically if they are to help us navigate an uncertain future. Yet that very distrust impedes our ability to reform and rely on them. 

A megatrend decades in the making (accelerated by a pandemic and other crises) we’ve observed how hyper-partisanship and populism have put immense pressure in rule of law and democratic institutions. Rising inequality—made more acute by these recent crises—has further fueled distrust and populist sentiment, polarizing society and extending distrust across geographies and within alliances at a time when we must cooperate to meet shared challenges.  

In the absence of credible governance from state and civil society institutions, corporations are responding with more robust corporate governance strategies that increasingly see corporations taking key roles in the politics of global governance. This shift has been accelerated by pressure from institutional and activist investors, but there are concerns that when markets reward corporations for touting corporate governance strategies it encourages a kind of moral grandstanding more than a real shift to good corporate citizenship. 

Our multilateral institutions are aware of the need for reform, and efforts are underway to transform them to meet our evolving needs. Those efforts are hampered by societal distrust as well as the self-serving nature of bad actors. How can we reimagine future institutions to regulate bad actors while regaining societal trust? 

Society Is Telling Institutions How to Change

Scholarship is at odds over how to explain the interaction of populist sentiment and institutional distrust. Demand-side explanations reference changing need and demands from citizens, while supply-side explanations argue existing institutions are becoming unable or unwilling to meet citizens’ needs and demands. This academic debate may be interesting, but both explanations speak to a shared conclusion. Rising populist sentiment and distrust in institutions signals the failure of institutions to meet the needs and demands of citizens—whether because the institutions have degraded or whether they’ve simply failed to keep up with the evolution of society.

We cannot turn back the clock to a time when more people felt our shared institutions were trustworthy and useful. But we can try to understand where and how our institutions are falling short today, while changing how we think about institutions and governance to better imagine what institutions should look like tomorrow as well. 

We aren’t the only ones to think about what’s gone wrong and how to revitalize institutions.  Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic made these questions more prominent than ever, with institutional failures and distrust leading to things like vaccine hesitancy making human suffering and economic fallout worse than they needed to be. Our network of experts has been thinking of how, post-pandemic, public and private governance can be reformed to avoid this kind of catastrophic failure in the future. 

The pandemic was a major disruptor, and it taught us what the costs can be if our institutions don’t have the capability or the moral authority to do their jobs. If we want the future to arrive well, we need to reimagine institutions that can meet the legion of potentially disastrous disruptions encapsulated within W2050’s megatrends. 

Workshopping NextGen Institutions We Can All Believe In

To regain societal trust and moral authority, the institutions of tomorrow need to do more than deliver needed services. 

One thing our partners and network of experts at W2050 talk about a lot is resilience. Usually, they’re talking about things like supply chains and energy systems. To future-proof our institutions, we need to think about resilience here as well. How can institutions be resilient against the degrading effects of populism? Whether you find supply-side or demand-side explanations of populism to be more compelling, open flows of communication with people around the world will be key to ensuring institutions not only understand what the most urgent needs are, but also how well they’re being met. 

This means rejecting the old top-down paternal model of institutions in favor of something more inclusive, with inputs from all segments of our global society. We need to find ways to better listen and respond to the disenfranchised and disappointed to ensure the trappings of inclusivity are genuine. Institutions can be resilient against the ills of distrust and lost efficacy by making them more accessible and responsive as compared to today’s model of elite-centric access and top-down decision-making.

That’s what we believe at W2050. So, what are we doing to help?

For years we’ve been at the forefront of figuring out what international governance will look like in this century. While much of the world remains stuck in a 90’s style of paternalistic institutions-know-best and top-down solutions, we’ve been experimenting with and discussing whole-of-society approaches to governance. 

Most recently—as a virtual side convening to the 2020 Annual World Bank and IMF meetings—W2050 held its annual convening in partnership with Coeuraj (formerly Watershed Partners). Dozens of experts from a variety of sectors came together, utilizing the three horizons model, to talk about the circular economy and UN SDGs. From this collaboration we produced a February 2021 report, which synthesized key takeaways from the forum. These included robust discussion on how to make boundaries between organizations, institutions, and nations more porous to foster better communication and collaboration. Our experts agreed that to get there, we have to make space for all stakeholders—and especially those historically marginalized—have the space to collaborate and be heard to make institutions more effective and just. Not only did they workshop ways to foster this inclusivity, but they were then able to bring these synthesized learnings and broader perspectives back to their organizations and push for positive change.

W2050 has for years regularly hosted high-level side events at major global summits and forums. These summits, particularly as they resume some form of hybrid and in-person formats, provide the perfect setting for uncommon collaborations where we can bring together business leaders, policy makers, civil servants, IGO execs, and representatives from more marginalized groups to explore a better, shared future.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Rebuilding Trust in the Institutions We Need to Meet the Future

Photo by Guillaume Bolduc via Unsplash.

February 18, 2022

In the latest entry for his series exploring World in 2050's megatrends, W2050 Executive Director Shane Szarkowski explores the global trust deficit in our multilateral institutions - and how they can be made more accessible and responsive to better help the future arrive well.

W

orld in 2050’s (W2050) mandate is simple, if difficult: help the future arrive well. This mandate is necessary specifically because we live in an era of great change and—while we believe a “new renaissance” is possible—there remains no guarantee we won’t be worse off in the future. Amid society-altering forces, it should surprise nobody that we are beset by fear and uncertainty. We are also beset by distrust—the very institutions we’ve relied on to structure our increasingly interconnected world, protect against calamity, and prosper are the targets of much of this distrust. 

Rightfully so. Our institutions have many clear failings and need to change dramatically if they are to help us navigate an uncertain future. Yet that very distrust impedes our ability to reform and rely on them. 

A megatrend decades in the making (accelerated by a pandemic and other crises) we’ve observed how hyper-partisanship and populism have put immense pressure in rule of law and democratic institutions. Rising inequality—made more acute by these recent crises—has further fueled distrust and populist sentiment, polarizing society and extending distrust across geographies and within alliances at a time when we must cooperate to meet shared challenges.  

In the absence of credible governance from state and civil society institutions, corporations are responding with more robust corporate governance strategies that increasingly see corporations taking key roles in the politics of global governance. This shift has been accelerated by pressure from institutional and activist investors, but there are concerns that when markets reward corporations for touting corporate governance strategies it encourages a kind of moral grandstanding more than a real shift to good corporate citizenship. 

Our multilateral institutions are aware of the need for reform, and efforts are underway to transform them to meet our evolving needs. Those efforts are hampered by societal distrust as well as the self-serving nature of bad actors. How can we reimagine future institutions to regulate bad actors while regaining societal trust? 

Society Is Telling Institutions How to Change

Scholarship is at odds over how to explain the interaction of populist sentiment and institutional distrust. Demand-side explanations reference changing need and demands from citizens, while supply-side explanations argue existing institutions are becoming unable or unwilling to meet citizens’ needs and demands. This academic debate may be interesting, but both explanations speak to a shared conclusion. Rising populist sentiment and distrust in institutions signals the failure of institutions to meet the needs and demands of citizens—whether because the institutions have degraded or whether they’ve simply failed to keep up with the evolution of society.

We cannot turn back the clock to a time when more people felt our shared institutions were trustworthy and useful. But we can try to understand where and how our institutions are falling short today, while changing how we think about institutions and governance to better imagine what institutions should look like tomorrow as well. 

We aren’t the only ones to think about what’s gone wrong and how to revitalize institutions.  Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic made these questions more prominent than ever, with institutional failures and distrust leading to things like vaccine hesitancy making human suffering and economic fallout worse than they needed to be. Our network of experts has been thinking of how, post-pandemic, public and private governance can be reformed to avoid this kind of catastrophic failure in the future. 

The pandemic was a major disruptor, and it taught us what the costs can be if our institutions don’t have the capability or the moral authority to do their jobs. If we want the future to arrive well, we need to reimagine institutions that can meet the legion of potentially disastrous disruptions encapsulated within W2050’s megatrends. 

Workshopping NextGen Institutions We Can All Believe In

To regain societal trust and moral authority, the institutions of tomorrow need to do more than deliver needed services. 

One thing our partners and network of experts at W2050 talk about a lot is resilience. Usually, they’re talking about things like supply chains and energy systems. To future-proof our institutions, we need to think about resilience here as well. How can institutions be resilient against the degrading effects of populism? Whether you find supply-side or demand-side explanations of populism to be more compelling, open flows of communication with people around the world will be key to ensuring institutions not only understand what the most urgent needs are, but also how well they’re being met. 

This means rejecting the old top-down paternal model of institutions in favor of something more inclusive, with inputs from all segments of our global society. We need to find ways to better listen and respond to the disenfranchised and disappointed to ensure the trappings of inclusivity are genuine. Institutions can be resilient against the ills of distrust and lost efficacy by making them more accessible and responsive as compared to today’s model of elite-centric access and top-down decision-making.

That’s what we believe at W2050. So, what are we doing to help?

For years we’ve been at the forefront of figuring out what international governance will look like in this century. While much of the world remains stuck in a 90’s style of paternalistic institutions-know-best and top-down solutions, we’ve been experimenting with and discussing whole-of-society approaches to governance. 

Most recently—as a virtual side convening to the 2020 Annual World Bank and IMF meetings—W2050 held its annual convening in partnership with Coeuraj (formerly Watershed Partners). Dozens of experts from a variety of sectors came together, utilizing the three horizons model, to talk about the circular economy and UN SDGs. From this collaboration we produced a February 2021 report, which synthesized key takeaways from the forum. These included robust discussion on how to make boundaries between organizations, institutions, and nations more porous to foster better communication and collaboration. Our experts agreed that to get there, we have to make space for all stakeholders—and especially those historically marginalized—have the space to collaborate and be heard to make institutions more effective and just. Not only did they workshop ways to foster this inclusivity, but they were then able to bring these synthesized learnings and broader perspectives back to their organizations and push for positive change.

W2050 has for years regularly hosted high-level side events at major global summits and forums. These summits, particularly as they resume some form of hybrid and in-person formats, provide the perfect setting for uncommon collaborations where we can bring together business leaders, policy makers, civil servants, IGO execs, and representatives from more marginalized groups to explore a better, shared future.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.