Driving Transformative Change: Reflections from The Shift Event Launching their #SystemShift Programme

Last week I went to the kick off of The Shift vzw/asbl their System Shift Programme (read more about it here). Industry leaders, change makers, and young challengers were united with a shared conviction: the imperative for transformative change to address the challenges that confront our society and planet. Against a backdrop of impassioned discussions and enlightening presentations, visionary speakers stirred hearts and minds, urging attendees to integrate values into their work, recognize the interconnectedness of systems, and embrace the power of narrative transformation. 

“The event was a testament to the growing recognition that #transformativechange is needed to address complex challenges facing our society and planet.” ~ The Shift vzw/asbl

The depth and breadth of scientific evidence formed the bedrock upon which The Shift event was built. The urgency for transformative change resonated throughout, firmly grounded in the scientific consensus on the interdependence of environmental, social, and economic systems. The speakers, armed with eye opening empirical research, pointing out the intricate connections that govern our world and shed light on the need for holistic solutions to address the multifaceted challenges we face. let’s delve into the key takeaways from The Shift event. 

Sabine Denis @ The Shift event

Moderator Sabine Denis, visiting professor at KU Leuven and Université catholique de Louvain, captivated the audience with a vital inquiry that reverberated throughout the event: “Is this enough? Do we not need a more fundamental reflection on sustainability and the way forward?” Her thought-provoking question resonated deeply. This reflection urged us to consider the long-term implications of our actions and to explore innovative solutions that address the root causes of environmental and societal challenges and pointed out the intricate interconnections between our environment, society, and economy. The stage was set for profound change, inviting us to explore holistic solutions and forge a sustainable future that embraces the interconnectedness of our world.

Hans Stegeman @ The Shift

Hans Stegeman, Chief Economist at Triodos Bank, challenged conventional notions of prosperity, urging a reassessment of our definition. He emphasized that prosperity should not be solely tied to material possessions but should prioritize well-being, equity, and sustainability. Stegeman’s vision offered a fresh outlook on economic growth, inviting us to explore alternative models that align with these values. By questioning prevailing notions of prosperity, he prompted a shift towards holistic development and a consideration of the interconnectedness between social, economic, and environmental factors. He also talked about #degrowth (I have written an article about a talk about “the future of our economy” which I attented with #jasonhickel, you can read it here).

“Planetary boundaries can survive, but for the people to live, there is not always possible. The real challenge is that everything is connected […] The world is in a polycrisis: interconnected systemic crisis that has no easy way of solving.” ~ Hans Stegeman

Furthermore, Stegeman shed light on the interconnected #polycrisis facing our world, with the financial system at its core. Research supports this perspective, highlighting the limitations of the current financial paradigm driven by shareholder capitalism and short-term risk-return dynamics. This system contributes to unsustainable practices and amplifies systemic risks. To navigate towards a sustainable future, experts emphasize the need for a transition to sustainable finance, aligning investment decisions with long-term environmental and social objectives. By integrating insights from research with Stegeman’s call for redefining prosperity, The Shift event fostered discussions on transformative financial practices and the role of sustainable finance in shaping a resilient and equitable world.

“Economic growth can’t go on. We need a mindshift to post-growth. To degrowth […] and even in a degrowth economy, you can grow if you replace systems that don’t serve our planet and social system. We are capable of really changing it.” ~ Hans Stegeman

By leveraging the wisdom of the past, we can shape a better future. Scientific studies support the notion of learning from history and understanding the dynamics of social, economic, and environmental change to inform transformative actions.

Anne Snick Associate Member of The Club of Rome, shed light on the distorted relationship between the economy, people, and the planet. Snick highlighted the power of language and mental models in driving systemic change. She urged us to shift their narratives, emphasizing the need to talk about trees instead of just timber and animals instead of merely meat. By reframing our language and communication, we can better reflect our interconnectedness with nature and all living beings.

“We don’t talk about trees, we talk about timber. We don’t talk about animals, we talk about meat. We use the planet as a resource and we kill the planet for money, and social inequality rises.” ~ Anne Snick

Anne Snick also presented an impactful slide that made a great impression on me, one that highlighted the immense task ahead of us in aligning our world with planetary boundaries. The slide that’s called Mental model: e.g. “Development” and it shed light on an intriguing observation: in development countries demonstrate greater respect for our planetary boundaries compared to developed countries. This thought-provoking insight invites us to question the adequacy of our current definition of “developed.” It prompts us to reflect on whether our existing framework accurately captures the essence of progress and sustainability.

“Countries that do remain in the capacity of the planet are called ‘in development,’ while all the ‘developed countries’ none of them stays within the boundaries of the capacity of the planet.” ~ Anne Snick

Jan-Klaas Somers, Sabine Denis, Shanice Wanjiku @ The Shift

The reflections from young challengers Shanice Wanjiku and Jan-Klaas Somers added a fresh perspective to the discussions. Wanjiku highlighted the importance of bringing our whole selves into the challenge of sustainability, emphasizing the need for personal commitment and engagement.

“My favorite word that you used was co-evolution, and I also understand that change conjures a lot of fear that we are not always aware of, so there is a lot of space for growth.” ~ Shanice Wanjiku

Somers emphasized the role of advocacy in effecting meaningful change and expressed a desire for its further growth.

“The big role of advocacy, that’s what I am still missing a lot, so I hope this will grow.” ~ Jan-Klaas Somers

Their words captured the essence of coevolution, personal growth, and the vital role of advocacy in driving transformative change. Scientific studies emphasize the importance of intergenerational cooperation and the need to empower youth to actively participate in shaping a sustainable future.

Eline Vanduyver @ The Shift

Throughout the event, the collective power of communities and individual actions was emphasized. The attendees recognized the significance of mobilizing consumer power and engaging communities to drive sustainable change. Starting at the local level, they discussed the potential for creating a ripple effect that would inspire more individuals to take action and contribute to the collective effort.

As we conclude, we recognize that embracing transformative change is not only a moral imperative but also supported by scientific evidence. The insights shared at The Shift event highlighted the urgency of fundamental reflection, the importance of redefining prosperity, the interconnectedness of our challenges, and the power of language and advocacy in driving systemic change. Let us draw inspiration from these speakers and harness our collective potential to create a sustainable and inclusive future for generations to come.

Next week I’ll be attending the attending the General Assembly where I will volunteer to take upon the role of facilitator during the mini-hackathon, where we gather to prepare in guiding The Shift members in collaboratively adressing real-world challenges and uncovering innovative solutions.

And no this is not sponsored, I actually pay being a part of this movement, because we only have one world and I truly believe in positive change!

#WeMakeTheShift #DrivingChange