Building an Interconnected Society

If freedom was the value at the heart of our social-economic system in the 20th-century, then today we must build a new system that deals with the central fact of this new world: interconnectedness… It’s ever-more clear that global interconnectedness, and the overwhelming complexity to which it gives rise, is the central challenge of the decades ahead.  David Mattin, New World, Same Humans

A disease takes on new meaning when people you know are suffering from it.  A friend who tested positive for Covid-19 and after days of fever and fatigue thankfully recovered, shared a series of practical thoughts while still quarantined about how the world may change as a result.  In the shadows of human tragedy, economic disruption lies in wait. Tourism and cultural events have suffered blows that will be mortal to many. Businesses large and small will shutter. Unemployment in traditional industries rises remorselessly, while the digital revolution is fast-tracked to critical mass.  In this chaos, a new world order has a chance of breaking through.

We have disconnected ourselves from our planet, and now experience the whirlwinds we have sown. Our political systems are based on Us vs. Them, disconnecting us from each-other, leading to petty spats and major wars, exclusion and terrorism.  We are disconnected at work, losing any sense of meaning.  And we are disconnected from ourselves, falling prey to overwhelming doubt, a lack of self-worth, growing instability.   We need to re-connect all these loose wires.  To find a new global interconnectedness.

In this time of chaos and doubt, we need to ask what contribution to a better, more sustainable world, can each of us make?  As my afflicted friend discovered, enforced isolation creates precious thinking time.  Dark clouds do have silver linings.

For Impact Trust, an old Chinese wisdom take on new urgency.

If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain.

If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees.

If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.

At the heart of Impact Trust is sustainable development.  A critical mass of people need to believe in, advocate and practise, better ways to live in these disconnected times with planet Earth, each-other and themselves. Beyond all the immediate challenges and responses, a profound shift is needed in society. To grow people who become the agents of change we all seek.

Our focus is on young adults. Minds are open and there’s a long-term payback.  Anyone who believes that youth have no say on the policies of today, has clearly never heard of Greta Thunberg.  A hundred of her can change a nation.  A thousand can change the world.  We nurture changemakers who spread ideas and activations from one community to another, seeding fertile ground.  We develop mindsets that can change the world.

Young adults in Europe and Africa are being overwhelmed with multiple challenges of student debt, joblessness and growing nationalism, with the environment, education and health systems, all under intense pressure.

In response, the Impact Trust has three interconnected initiatives: –

  • Routes to Resilience (R2R)

Conceptualised, developed and activated by the Trust, in a fruitful collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership in South Africa, Routes to Resilience helps learners, educators and young professionals grow a deep understanding of the interconnectedness between people and planet. The blend of programmes brings learning to life, by combining theory with place-based learning and real-world practical applications. These programmes equip youth with the desire, knowledge and tools to make better, more informed and sustainable, life and career choices.

In 2019, the Impact Trust made a strategic decision to establish R2R as an independent social enterprise, with offices in South Africa and the UK.  This decision was made easier by finding a great person to lead Routes to Resilience. Ann de Passos is establishing strong footholds in Africa and Europe, with well-defined offerings that last from a half-day to nine months.  I have been privileged to share my thinking with some of the cohorts. Each time I am moved by their hunger to learn and joy experienced, as a sense of purpose takes hold.

Whilst the Trust will continue to contribute and maintain its interest and connection in R2R, Ann’s leadership allows the Trust to incubate an ecosystem of related programmes that build a sustainable future.

  • Alert – Access to Learning through Responsive Teaching

Young learners read and learn at different speeds, with different levels of understanding, due to different levels of literacy, cultural contexts and home language environments.  In the traditional methods of learning, the elusive middle ground is sought. Some race ahead then become disengaged, whilst many others are left behind, feeling helpless.

The Impact Trust, in collaboration with educational technology pioneer, Lightsail, is piloting a revolutionary way of using Lightsail’s ‘Content Builder’ to enable more responsive classroom teaching, while growing educators’ capacity.  Our vision is to build individualised learning at scale. No-one will be excluded. Alert is ready for a full South African pilot to commence in the second half of 2020, with an extended roll-out from 2021.

  • Mindset – Developing UQ

IQ and EQ are well understood, measured and evaluated.  UQ – humanity’s Ubuntu Quotient is less explored.  Ubuntu comes from the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which literally means “a person is a person through other people.” Rooted in humanist African philosophy, Ubuntu speaks to our common humanity and spiritual interconnectedness.

Development of UQ creates deep connections between individuals, communities and the planet we share. How our Ubuntu Quotient is assessed and grown, how these deep connections are made, are challenges that the Trust is addressing.  Through 2019, the concept was fleshed out, desk research instigated, and alliances made with corporates and Universities. It is an ambitious project, that is gaining support.  The Trust has never been afraid to venture into uncharted waters.

In all our efforts, we are driven to inspire and inform change-makers; igniting mindful impact. Our own growth and resilience owe much to the Founder and Programme Director of The Impact Trust, Tamzin Ractliffe. Her vision, passion and energy are a beacon of light.  My thanks to her and the Board, who are generous with their time and wisdom.

We say a special thank you to Niall Carroll, who is stepping down from the Board this year, after five years of selfless service, to focus on his global change initiative. Your moral compass and pragmatism have guided us all. At the same time, on behalf of the Board, I welcome our two new members.  Gerry Salole, whose experience and knowledge of public benefit foundations is unmatched, and Simon Peile who brings a similar degree of experience and knowledge from the investment community.  Gerry and Simon have long been champions of our aims, always giving the Trust thoughtful insights and meaningful ideas.   May our dialogues deepen, as we continue in our quest of growing young adults to meet the multiple challenges of today, as well as those to come.

Our thoughts go to all the individuals, families and organisations threatened by Covid- 19.  In these uncertain times, the Pete Seeger song that inspired my youth, once more resonates.

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,

We shall overcome someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We shall overcome someday.

We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand,

We’ll walk hand in hand someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We’ll walk hand in hand someday.


Together, we shall overcome.

Mike Freedman
Chairman, Impact Trust


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