“Of course it hurts when buds burst. Otherwise why would spring hesitate?” The words of Swedish poet Karin Boye seem well suited for our time, a period increasingly resembling one of great transition. We stand before a phase in history when our society needs to be fundamentally transformed toward more sustainability. Climate change demands it. Different forms of inequality demand it. Also, these and other calculations must align in order for it to be economically sustainable.
Less obvious is how this is going to happen. Actors in society – business, public institutions and non-profit organizations – are seeking a way forward and no one wants to end up wrong. But when the search is over and the transition begins for real, what will society building and sustainable development actually look like? What will we bring with us from our societal structure today, and what will be left behind?
Together with Sobona, the employer´s organization of municipally owned companies, Kairos Future has examined society building in the past, present and the future. Clearly, the Swedish people are waiting impatiently for changes. They want concrete action in the sustainability area. But what and who are they waiting for? Who are the ones who can bring Sweden into a new lasting spring? Is everyone aboard the change train? What are the keys to success in turning grand sustainability visions into reality, whether it be businesses, organizations or society at large?
Contemporary times are reminiscent of past turbulent epochs. Epochs that in themselves were characterized by rapid changes, when institutions were founded and society constructed. For politics, business and other actors alike, the task has in light of history never been clearer: respond to the demand for long-term society building apparent among citizens and make sure we commence a new future-oriented spring in society. This spring is all about gearing towards more sustainable communities.
What should be built then? When the public voices their most prominent requirements on what society should deliver, they are a functioning welfare system and a frictionless living. Turning to youth’s priorities, we see that society building should primarily move towards environmental sustainability, but also encompass increased equality. An employer who doesn’t take equality seriously will face difficulties in attracting youth.
”The report shows that municipal companies with their operations are of extra interest as we seek the answer to these questions. They are in the intersection between public and private, between customer and citizen. They have a fundamental role in shouldering and enabling the society building of today and tomorrow – historically, now and onward.”
Per Nordenstam, CEO Sobona
For businesses and organizations engaged in sustainable society building, in a context of large and disruptive changes, the challenge lies in thinking short-term as well as in the longer perspective. And act! To stay on track with the long-term ambitions and strategies while also concretizing this in the short run.
Delving deep into the sustainability efforts of municipally owned companies, we see three success factors: Long-term and leadership commitment, conscious and co-creative co-workers, and making it concrete. Organizations actively incorporating this trinity in their work are significantly more likely to succeed in their work with sustainable development from a corporate perspective.
The time ahead of us is one of fewer boundaries and less silo mentality, which is why collaborations and partnerships become much more important. No single actor in society can achieve change on its own – more time and effort need to be invested in co-operation with others, ranging from political and non-profit forces to co-workers, customers and users.
In our work we found several scenarios for society building towards 2030, and throughout all of them trust was crucial. Trust is created in the local domain. Here municipal companies play a vital role, with their wide networks and activities across the sectors of society.
“This work has strengthened our member companies as well as the organization as a whole, in a collaboration built on dedication and competence. We have broken new ground. We have made abstract questions concrete.
Anna Lirén and Madeleine Gimåker, Development strategists
Read more about Society Building 2030 in the report here (in Swedish).
Watch the movie about Society Building 2030 (in Swedish).
Listen to the seminar about Society Building 2030 at Almedalen 2019 (in Swedish).