I have heard people say you should never meet your heroes because the reality rarely lives up to expectation. Well, earlier this summer, I had an experience proving this sentiment wrong. At least this time!
At the beginning of July, I was invited to speak at an event in Madrid with the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. What an incredible man; a true inspiration. He was humble and brilliant. I am still in awe and could go on and on about his thoughts on the day but for now, I want to share just one and leave it for you to consider.
We were talking about the future and, in particular, how we prepare our children to lead it. He began by observing that:
"Rapid changes across the globe have put massive strains on our social and political institutions."
Continuing this theme, Obama argued that one of the key reasons for the rise in nationalism, across so many countries, was partly symptomatic of that change and led people to become increasingly fearful of one another. He used this context to explain why he and Michelle are now so committed to the future and nurturing of young people.
"It is important, to focus on education, climate change, how to grow an economy and how to provide greater social equity and cohesion. In all of these issues, we are going to have to train our young people to think differently, to adapt to these new circumstances and to promote a new generation of leaders."
What resonated with me most was his reflection on the cause of these circumstances:
"One of the things I learned as President of The United States is that most of the problems are not technical, most of the problems are human by nature. They have to do with politics, greed and jealousy, conflict and tribalism. They are all the things that keep us separated and prevent us from thinking together."
In Obama's words, the new challenge is:
"To encourage young people to think differently about problems and to form new kinds of institutions and ways of organising our societies."
So there it is for now, he expressed, in a few simple phrases, the challenges I think we all need to focus on and maybe the summer is the best time to reflect on them. I'm off to spend a few weeks doing that. Of course, after a period of reflection we must take positive action:
Systems and structures change nothing. People do.