Some ambassadors are born to the role. Some acquire it through hard work—or money. Others have it thrust upon them.
I stumbled into the role in 1961, persuading all my schoolmates to sacrifice their pocket money for two weeks to support WWF, born that year. Nearly half a century later, I joined the WWF UK Council of Ambassadors.
In hindsight, I have been an ambassador for the future more or less all my life. Most of the work has been done with business, through markets. In the process I have worked with an A-to-Z of organizations in the private, public and citizen sectors.
Throughout, I have worked to build bridges between worlds. The worlds of today and tomorrow, of business and society, of young and old, of the human and non-human, of the living and unborn, of the quantifiable and unquantifiable, of the incremental and exponential.
The cartoon below, drawn for me by Financial Times cartoonist Ingram Pinn back in 1991, symbolizes the challenges of bringing the perspectives and priorities of nature, society and the future into today’s critical decisions.
While the fish represents the non-human world and the robot the deep future and (now) the rapidly emerging world of artificial intelligence, the woman stands for a wide range of issues associated with gender, disadvantage, dispossession and suppression.
To advance the related change agendas, I have spoken to audiences worldwide—clocking up over 1,000 major events to date. I write—with thousands of articles and blogs filed, over 50 reports published and my twentieth book, Green Swans launched by Fast Company Press in 2020. Plus, in the spirit of Ingram Pinn’s cartoon, I serve on boards and advisory boards—over 70 so far.
Along the way I have been called many things: a “Babelfish,” “grit in the corporate oyster,” “Greenpeace in pinstripes” (this long ago from a director of Greenpeace), a “social entrepreneur,” a “market revolutionary,” a “cross-pollinator,” the “Godfather of Sustainability,” and an “Ambassador from the Future.”
Despite Lucy Kellaway’s playful pushback in the Financial Times (see below), I like the “Chief Pollinator” tag I was given some years back by Volans. But all the above tags are true, to a degree. And all involve some form of diplomacy—both in bridging between opposed interests in today’s world and converging today’s priorities with tomorrow’s.
Long ago, Henry Wotton described an ambassador as an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country. I have tried not to follow that route, instead working to grasp and tell tomorrow’s truth.
But how to get a sense of that future—and of what it might require of us today? To find answers, I have worked with younger people, devoured science fiction, and visited outliers evolving new science, technology, business models and ways of living, thinking and being.
Conversation and listening sit at the heart of everything we do.
And my “Embassy”?
That’s Volans, the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts venture we founded in 2008. That same year we launched our book The Power of Unreasonable People, which went into the hands of every delegate to the World Economic Forum’s Davos summit. Now captained by CEO Louise Kjellerup Roper, Volans is housed in London’s vibrant Somerset House.
This door to the future is open.