Global Leadership Demands We Break the Silence

Renewing Global Leadership is the theme of Global Washington’s upcoming conference. We are very excited to have extremely accomplished global leaders as our speakers for the conference, ranging from corporate, non-profit, academic, foundations and development agencies. As we talked about at last year’s conference, we are going through some interesting times politically, and we have seen major shifts in attitudes around America’s role as a world leader.

Globalization has created uneven playing fields. Despite high expectations that the world would become flat, we find instead the world is full of spikes and valleys. Wealth distribution has become a major issue of concern. Indeed, the wealth of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett now exceeds that of the bottom half of the entire U.S. population. Many folks living in this country feel that their opportunity to work hard and earn a living that provides for their families has slipped away. Many hard working educated folks are also concerned that with the new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and synthetic biology their skills will become outdated and their jobs replaced by machines. From this we see the emergence of an “America First” attitude.

Yet, we know America’s leadership has led to enormous positive impact all over the world, lifting people out of poverty. Our ingenuity and leadership has also led to new discoveries, leading to the betterment of people’s lives all over the world. However, our conversations today are not about being bold and having high moral standards. Rather our conversations have become tribal in nature, and we are losing our moral authority.

In many instances we murmur the right amount of distaste or show just enough concern to not seem uncaring about issues, but many of us are not willing to be unflinching in our demands for change. The Rohingya situation is one such tragedy playing out.  While we may say the right things, we cannot simply hope that the crisis will solve itself.

I recently received an email from a Global Washington member, Spreeha, working in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.  With his permission, I shared his note on GlobalWA’s blog and on social media. To date, the response has been far more tepid than I would have expected.

This got me thinking. What is our role as leaders within organizations when we witness these humanitarian crises? Should we remain neutral or take a principled stand? The Rohingya crisis raises some interesting questions. It is happening in Myanmar, whose leader is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and someone the world looks up to, but she has remained largely silent. The world, meanwhile, is skirting around the issue because of all sorts of political and business reasons. Yet we are witnessing a genocide, happening in real time.

Why are we silent?  Is it because the Rohingya crisis is not the only global issues facing our development community? Every day there is something new, another crisis that seems to overwhelm us and compromise our ability to respond effectively.

Yet what is our role in Renewing Global Leadership?  What is the role of your organization in stepping up and demanding better?  In today’s climate I believe we cannot remain neutral in the face of these many critical challenges, and many Global Washington members agree.

We are seeing major U.S. corporations speaking out against policies they consider unjust and against the long-term interests of our nation. They have shown the moral courage to take a principled stand. In many cases their principled stand also coincides with their business interests, but if we want to play a global leadership role, all of us need to speak and act on our principles even when our business interests may not coincide. Remaining “silently neutral” is not an option.

I hope we can discuss this and many other important issues at the GlobalWA conference this year. Hopefully it will spur conversations that continue into the halls of academia, within corporate boardrooms, in strategic discussions at foundations and government agencies, and among the amazing nonprofits we have working on the ground, doing everything they can to help people overcome poverty, and create a better world for everyone.