Opportunity in the Midst of Crisis

As a Peruvian, 2017 has started as one of the most challenging years of our country’s history over the last century. Peru experienced a national crisis due to ravaging floods, as a result of the “coastal El Niño”. Several regions were declared in state of emergency, over half a million people affected, over 100 hundred lives lost (BBC News, April 5th).

Amongst this chaos, there was an impressive response from the government and civil society, with well-organized donations and philanthropic activities. Thousands of voluntaries, companies and media, all mobilized support (with ships and helicopters) and genuine solidarity, under the hashtag #unasolafuerza.

(Video from UNDP Peru).

The truth is, while I chipped in my small grain of help through donations (for tents and food), I did feel rather helpless and paralyzed.

Although society’s active response was encouraging, there is much more to do. While the urgency of emergency has dissolved, thousands of people have lost everything and still need help. Furthermore, the country is now focused on “the reconstruction phase”.

It was during this difficult times that I attended my last workshop of the Masters on Sustainability Leadership. As part of my personal challenge, “Peru’s reconstruction” represents as an opportunity in the midst of crisis. An opportunity to redirect the country’s development towards the sustainable future we want.

How to connect the climatic disasters experienced to a broader systemic view? The floods will keep happening, probably more often, and more strongly. Moreover, water on the Peruvian Pacific coast comes almost 100% from the glaciers and lakes from the Andes, so soon enough, our water supply will be at risk, as already 40% of Peru’s glaciers have been lost (Peru & Lima’s vulnerability to climate change).

So the challenge is, how to go beyond philanthropy and connect our lives to the wider ecosystem we live in, beyond our urban, man-made environments? How to better connect people with the dynamics of our planet?

While this is a challenge for humanity, I feel personally motivated and involved, as the title of my blog implies, I want to help build bridges for sustainability, specifically amongst business leaders, as I believe they have a unique potential and capability to drive the change the world needs.

Hence, reflecting on these past two years, since the Masters in Sustainability programme began, my personal leadership challenge has been to get business leaders involved in sustainability. This meant consolidating the Líderes+1 sustainability platform, its why, how and what.

The journey has been intense and with so many learnings, to stay humble and listen, to practice and synthesize, to inspire and connect…

Líderes+1 has reached positive milestones: presenting the platform at COP21 in Paris; recruiting new members, now almost 40; and formalizing the group as a civil association; organizing sustainability themed events.

However, there is still a long way to go, with a few important “to do’s”: to make Líderes+1 financially stable; to develop a successful “flagship” business project; to further improve the communication strategy; and really generate awareness about the sustainable future we want. It was disappointing to return to Lima after the excitement of COP21, where Peru played such a relevant role, to realize very few Peruvians were aware of what happened in Paris and what is at stake: the future of our planet as we know it. Maybe it was too distant.

So, while I have been struggling with not being opportunistic, there is in fact an opportunity to take advantage of the recent and tangible climatic crisis to increase people’s awareness. How to go beyond a philanthropic reaction to pro-action for sustainability? How to foster resilience and a systemic view? Is it possible? Am I being too ambitious? I am optimistic, as I have seen people change. I am starting one step at a time, first with the Líderes+1 team and then expand from there. The reconstruction is our opportunity to catalyze the sustainable future we want. Let’s make it happen.

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