Our globally networked societies and economies have transformed the environment in which we live, yet our political direction, organization and visions have not yet adjusted. Brexit is an indication of the frustrations that many feel in a world they no longer understand, with leaders who lack power and fail to offer a coherent and inclusive sense of direction.
Recent research has shown that those with no history of democracy and who live in relative poverty feel like they are today ‘global citizens’. Those who live in established democracies generally feel less empowered and that their opinions and opportunities are being subsumed; they, increasingly, do not see themselves as ‘global citizens’.
This environment creates openings for populists to peddle policies that are inherently negative, protectionist and divisive. Yet rather than causing despair, this should operate as a wake-up call for those who are educated and economically privileged. It is surely they who must demonstrate a readiness to create a positive vision for the future and engage politically, rather than complain about their fellow citizens democratic choice.
At times of great change, there is typically great turmoil. For those who benefit from any new world order, there is a tendency to drift. Such was true in the 17th century, when a fast-changing society led the British people to rise against the threat of absolutism from their monarch. It is worthy of note that the dividing lines at that time were almost identical to those of the Brexit vote – London and Scotland moving in one direction, the rest of the country supporting tradition and the monarch. On that occasion, it was the agents of change who led the way and created the foundations for modern parliamentary government.
Today, whether in business or society as a whole, we similarly need leadership and vision which is relevant, inclusive and inspires a sense of hope.