Against the tides of TODAY – Elements for RESILIENT INSTITUTIONS

Institutions hold the key to creating resilience in our society

I wrote this article at the beginning of 2013, but I feel it still resonates with the current situation in 2016, which too has barely started – though disappearing quickly. It may not have featured in your traditionally famous media, but here it is again, to remind us of our roles in the present society. It reminds us of how institutions can be used to build resilience in our society. Here it is …

As people celebrated the beginning of the New Year 2013, I was glancing through the world economic situation report that prospects a risk of synchronized global downturn in 2013-2014. It was not good at all! In pursuance of various recovery/survival strategies, the world seems to be desperate for a working solution; a solution that can stand the test of time, but …

The question is whether we’re going to start taking the steps now to avoid the really big jumps that are in store if we don’t do something now – David Suzuki

The quote above by David Suzuki gives an impetus to this article, not only to fulfill my desire to contribute a solution in such challenging times but also to add my voice to that of others who want to realize a better tomorrow.

Undertaking a spirited fight against the challenges of today does not mean picking up guns and fighting the current systems/institutions; it rather means pushing forward ideas and solutions of extraordinary nature that they cannot be flouted… ideas that will raise the question “why didn’t I think of that before?” ideas that will not be replicas of the existing systems, but rather challenge their flaws and further go ahead to provide working solutions. I have in this article proposed three main items that I believe require critical attention. This is our task as leaders of tomorrow; a task that if well done will lead to the realization of a sustainable social and economic development.

1. Understanding the impact of institutions on our behavior in all aspects and acting upon it.

Like genes influence our behavior, Institutions are characteristically human and tend to be transmitted the same way in every society. Group membership and instruction, status, role and interpersonal relationships are the chief means by which the sociocultural environment exerts its influence on individual development. In every social structure there are a variety of distinguishable positions such as doctor, teacher, carpenter, parent, student, child, and so forth. Each contributes in some way to the total group functioning and is given a certain social status. Status brings with it both privileges and responsibilities. Parents shape the personality development of a growing child by administering various rewards and punishments; society enforces its basic rules of behavior by conferring and withdrawing the privileges of status.

Leaders of tomorrow either emulate or are motivated by the actions of the present leadership. It is supposed that the existing institutions of all kinds are responsible for creating their future leaders. The world is currently challenged by several issues that range from simpler concerns in our homes that amalgamate into global concerns of sustainability and development. These concerns have become more eminent in the last half century; during which it is also notable that we have greatly progressed in both technology and institutional development. The sustainability of the technologies and institutions has been the goal of most researchers in the last two decades.

Yusuf Bangura, in his paper “Economic Restructuring, Coping Strategies and Social Change: Implications for Institutional Development in Africa” criticizes the contradiction between the institutional set-up itself and wider society. He mentions that it’s necessary to look more closely at the sets of values and relationships that anchor institutions in social systems. He discusses coping strategies and issues of social change, and attempts to develop a framework that relates the crisis in social relations with problems of institutionalization. This framework would provide a general layout that would fit in most of the scenarios other than what is exhibited in Africa alone. Developing countries in particular have a lot more to learn as their institutions are still young and some are not even existent.

These institutions if designed appropriately should foster a sustainable economic and social development. The main question is how to design these institutions to achieve the greater good of the world at large. A sustainable economic and social development means efficient utilization of resources, environmental considerations, and above all a general system or institution that takes consideration of the needs of the future generations. The economy is normally influenced by the social systems and needs of society. To attain any progress in anything, efforts should be turned to society; and an understanding of the behavioral needs of society will ensure that no mistakes are made in the making of any economic decisions for example. Social institutions for example can be channels through which people are psychologically motivated to propagate sustainable social environments. Orienting these institutions to influence people behavior in a way that leads to a socially and economically sustainable environment would be the ultimate achievement of mankind in the 21st Century. No social or economic order is secure if it fails to benefit the majority of those who live under it.

2. Creation of resilient economic and social institutions.

Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rests the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human developmentKofi Annan, UN

In the early stages of every person’s growth and development, education becomes key in contributing to the general behavior of that individual. Both at schools and at home (family), a child learns new ways to do things and gathers knowledge all throughout that time. If anything goes wrong at this stage, then it may not easily be corrected in the future stages. This is the only opportunity the older population uses to inculcate characters that they desire to see in the future. Educational institutions have a high stake in directing our social, economic and political lifestyles. Designing these institutions to create a generation that will be mindful of its actions relative to the needs of future generations, will not only foster economic and social development but will also secure the future of humanity.

Living in a society that is faced by several challenges; a society that is run by institutions; a society that keeps evolving by the tune of the institutions’ goals means that we have to turn to these institutions ( be it political, social or economic) to put in place systems that will foster a sustainable economic and social development.

During the Rio+20 conference (2012), the main themes of concern for fostering global sustainability were creating a green economy and restructuring our institutional framework. A green economy is pro-environment and would be in line with global warming solutions; further confirming our signature on earth. Restructuring of institutional frameworks on the other hand is key to ensuring that the created environment is in capable hands. They note seven critical areas; Jobs, Energy, Cities, Food, Oceans, Water and Disasters as the main focus for sustainable livelihoods. All these concerns affect the core values of our institutions and their realization must be rooted to resilient institutions.

Advocating for strategies aimed at supporting a process of institutionalization that would lead to effective rules, predictable transactions and viable incentives for institutional actors would need to address three main issues. The first concerns questions of livelihood, social polarization and multiple identities. The second relates to the role of culture in social development and institution-building. The third issue concerns the role of social forces in disciplining institutions. Institutions should be designed to mediate the transformation of coping capacity into adaptive capacity through combining vulnerability and resilience approaches to foster sustainability of set goals. Converting institutions into bridges between several stakeholders will help to combat existing tensions and challenges.

Economic institutions should be designed in such a way that they call for innovativeness and creativity that would propel the world in an economically sustainable situation. In this regard, rewarding innovative and creative individuals; and above all excellence that brightens the future of tomorrow’s generations is crucial to not only creating sustainable economic and social institutions but also, the environment at large.

3. Re-institutionalization as the ultimate strategy.

Innovation requires courage and intelligence, but not permission… (Anonymous)

Victory is an integral of successes and it means that we have overcome a difficulty or a threat to success. Such victory is what counts more and recognition of contributors to this is not only motivational but also starting point for other members of society.

Ernst and Young, in their latest issue” leading corporate sustainability issues in the 2012 proxy season” identify that a confluence of factors including social topics, economic, political and environmental related developments are essential in fostering sustainability. They propose several channels to highlight these challenges and critical among them is enhancing dialogue among shareholders and improving disclosure in key areas addressed by key shareholders’ proposal topics. This is proposed as a robust sustainable approach to tackling the latest concerns in most of our already established institutions.

Fox et al, in the article “Changing Human Behavior and Institutions toward 21st Century Paradigms – a Theoretical Construct”; applauds economic growth in relieving poverty levels for the last 60 years and note that the quality of policies and institutions matters in achieving this. Also, they note that there is no single recipe for growth; solutions should be context-specific with several shared points of resemblance. It’s from this that I borrow the concern of designing institutions to be more particularly specific at the smallest level but all aim at the general objective of fostering sustainable economic and social development. For example starting at the family level to inculcate responsible and sustainable behavior to the younger generation and then proceeding to schools, local communities, and large institutions such as universities and finally spread out to global extents. Designing these institutions with specifically appropriate approaches sharing a similar agenda would be in line with sustainable livelihoods.

The economic institution reforms in South Africa after 1814 British conquest saw a boost in agricultural production, a factor that was responsible for South Africa’s enhanced economic development up to later times including today. Some of the institutional re-designs undertaken were improving the food marketing system, awarding prizes for agricultural innovation and reforming the labour law institutions that governed the employment of the black population. This shows the positive changes that result from directed institutional changes as well as rewarding courage.

Towards the end of 2012, the government of Japan started to opt for aggressive economic stimulus options to elevate the country out of the economic valley it has witnessed over the last one and half decade. This is the brain work of some of the newly elected political figures (Abe Shinzo) and he is targeting a re-adjustment of the existing institutions (economic and social). Some economic analysts like Jim McCaughan suggest that Japan needs to do more than this to achieve long time economic sustainability. He proposes restructuring of the economic institutions, opening out to international markets and financial reforms. For a country that faces problems of a declining population (plus a considerable percentage of aged population); looking back to change how institutions work is possibly one of the main strategies to ensuring social and economic sustainability.

The motivation that results from rewarding innovation is the mother of bigger inventions that challenge our ordinary thinking. We need to get out of this comfort zone and realize that the world is being challenged daily, and needs a dynamic population that challenges uniform thinking and goes ahead to create or put forward alternative options. Among these several options, sustainable economic and social options can be rooted.

In conclusion, fear of the unknown always affects our decision making. Many people out there prefer to “play it safe” because they are afraid of making any changes in their lifestyles. This kind of thinking or behavior will not lead us to sustainable social and economic development beyond the 21st Century. In societies where people who rise above the ordinary are not recognized, then few will rise again! And if we badly want to create positive change, then we should remember that –

courage is not the absence of fear, it’s rather the judgment that what you want is more important than what you fear(Anonymous)

photo credit: N07/6870139051″>Climate Resilience Lab – Nairobi, Kenya via photopin (license)

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