Meet Pamela Ryan, Ph.D., a dual citizen of the US and Australia, a force of nature and a force for good. Reading her comprehensive and beautifully written book Impact Imperative: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investing to Transform the Future was a wake-up call for me. Pamela’s work is comprehensive, jarring and hopeful. Her book was released last fall and goes deep into both the harsh realities and amazing opportunities we will experience in the next 10 years and the part enterprises can play in reversing the effects of climate change. It should be required reading for all undergraduate and graduate business school students. And if you have time to read one book this year about the role of business in addressing climate change, this is the one.
Pamela grew up in a small macho-culture mining town in the Australian outback, where married women weren’t permitted to work till 1967. There was a deep sense of communal spirit engrained through her upbringing, as both her parents were hard-working, equal partners. Her mother and father instilled a sense of connection to the greater good from the start.
Her impressive resume includes author, founder, researcher, investor, consultant, and university fellow. She studied psychology at the University of Adelaide and later moved to Austin, Texas in the early 90s where she received her Ph.D. while researching venture capitalist decision making. Driven by the notion of paying things forward, Pamela set up a foundation and moved back to Australia for five years to raise her daughters. There she set up a public policy think tank where she sought to discuss and build an understanding of international research topics such as parliamentary reform, economic growth, human rights, and relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. She founded Psychology Beyond Borders and partnered with the Institute for the Future around 2013 to work on a project on the future of social entrepreneurship, which would ultimately become the basis for her latest book.
She began to research what the world of social entrepreneurship would look like in the future and presented her findings at various conferences including one at Oxford. She started analyzing this global surge in “doing good” in the social entrepreneurial space. This research took Pamela and her research team all over the world, asking over 130 top impact innovators across sectors where they thought the world was headed by 2030 and the emerging trends in social entrepreneurship. Through her research, important questions emerged:
We all want to be of service and “do good” in this world. But is what we’re doing actually good?
· What is the effect we’re having on other people and the planet?
· What are the social and environmental implications?
· What do we need to do in our professional lives to ensure that we are leading from a compassionate and impactful place?
· And how do we come together as a global community?
Her comprehensive research presents us with an opportunity to look at the ways in which everything we do affects the whole and the ways that we can seek to do better for future generations. From her findings, she breaks things down into four possible scenarios in the book. For this post, she kindly simplified her 2030 scenarios into two. The good news is that if we all work together across borders and business sectors, (and eradicate siloes of “this is where we do good and this is where we do business), share best practices and continue to innovate, we can save ourselves and make the world safer and more sustainable for all species. She explains her scenarios here:
Impact Imperative is a futures focusing book, predicated on the potential for all of us to contribute to and impact multiple possible futures. One chapter of the book is a collaboration with the Institute For The Future (Palo Alto, CA)and is devoted to the exploration of four contrasting, plausible, possible futures for the year 2030.
Two of those contrasting futures serve as an example of the alternative trajectories we face for the planet, for humanity, for all living things on earth. The scenarios are built around two critical uncertainties, or key variables, (level of society at which impact is aimed, and the scale of impact, from local to global). Each scenario has a different set of values driving action, with particular trends amplified or diminished. We avoid the impulse to classify any scenario as “best case” or worst-case future. Considering the contrasting scenarios enables deep reflection about how we can adapt our own pathways to the preferred future depending on values, core mission, perceived relative opportunities and threats, etc..
Scenario One: Crawling
In Crawling, 2030 is characterized by minute progress. In venture capital industry language, this 2030 is a “walking dead” future for the earth, for all its inhabitants. In this 2030, minimal positive impacts have been achieved during the 2020s, and those that have been achieved are very local. Crawling 2030 world in which impact entrepreneurship has never lived up to its early hype. Large multinational companies found it competitively unviable. There are still some dedicated cottage industries led by millennials who didn’t follow their peers into the maturity of financial-based returns. However, in a Crawling 2030, impact innovation and entrepreneurship is regarded as an inherently self-defeating practice — losing focus on core business functions by the conceit and distraction of serving a “bigger purpose. Crawling signifies a slow, excruciating struggle (the lack of clean air, food and water slowly erodes our health, our existence) toward a not too distant extinction of the human species.
Scenario Two: Forward Freedom
Forward Freedom depicts a 2030 in which optimal positive impacts are achieved on a global scale.
Successful innovation and entrepreneurship require good ideas, implemented in the right way, at the right time. In this path, the 2020s showed definitively that the time was certainly right for impact innovation, entrepreneurship and investing. Due to the creativity and perseverance of a host of players including bold investors, savvy policy-makers, and talented innovators and entrepreneurs, themselves and a tipping point was reached in the mid-2020s. In this 2030, impact enterprise has evolved from the earnest efforts of a band of true believers and trailblazers into a transformative cultural and economic movement. All of humanity (not just the privileged few) is able to participate in a collective future where more people share in the planet’s resources.
Crawling paints a bleak picture. Pamela predicts a period of “scarcity,” as the planet’s resources continue to become more and more distressed and therefore access to basic needs becomes challenging in vulnerable parts of the world. Furthermore, escalated weather events, like the bushfires we’re seeing in her homeland, Australia, continue to escalate. The top one percent of the population continues to control the global wealth, leaving others without the opportunities to fulfill their potential.
In Forward Freedom the majority of people are able to participate in positive impact activities, working with corporations who are aware of their potential positive and negative effects. With this deeper sense of awareness, comes greater abundance and thus more access to basic needs like clean food, air, water, safety, healthcare, and education. The planet’s resources are revitalized rather than exploited. And this global surge in purpose continues to blossom throughout the next decade as millennials and Gen Z’s start to dominate the workforce.
In this scenario, women have also stepped into their power to play a larger role in controlling global wealth. And rather than a privileged few controlling the majority of the world’s wealth, it is more evenly distributed and issues surrounding poverty begin to resolve.
According to Pamela, it is thus imperative that we adopt this ecosystem-based approach, taking sincere note of the positive or negative effects our businesses and organizations have on the whole. This needs to become foundational to our business and organizational criteria, and integrated into our business plans from the start. There is no “business as usual” anymore. We need to start asking ourselves what our real intentions are and how are they measured in long-term, short-term, immediate and expanded ecosystems. We can’t just think in terms of outcome, numbers, and dollar signs anymore. With the current global surge in contributing to the greater good, there is potential, she says, for us to enact an alternative future in which the land is restored and we are all able to live a life mindful of the impacts we have, now and in the future.
Pamela also believes we need to diversify who is making the big decisions, noting the compelling research showing that when more women and minorities contribute to this process, there’s better overall performance. For example, one study cited notes that when just one woman is part of a group, the group IQ is higher than a group of all men. Women have a different approach to making decisions and this diversity in mindset and perspective contributes to better decision making overall.
She hopes that people will start to think twice about their own impacts (positive and negative) and what how to contribute to the greater good in this world. She hopes that this may help bring our collective trajectory to one of the better scenarios and regenerate the planet and its people. She hopes that people start to really see how they’re able to take action as individuals and as part of an organization. Having the opportunity to meet her was a game-changer for my company. Thanks to her inspiration we have added a new company value to help us be more proactive and accountable in this fight to regenerate ourselves and the planet: Sustainability – We support ideas, practices and people that are addressing climate change.
Thank you, Pamela, for your important work and for being the intelligent, balanced and sobering wake-up call we all need. I am thinking twice and I hope others will too.