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Shaping the Values of our Connected World

When more than 800 leaders from business, academia, civil society, and government convene at the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai next week, the Global Agenda Council on Values, of which I am a member, hopes to serve as the glue between the more than 80 Councils that are addressing the most pressing issue of our time. By engendering a cross-Council dialogue, the Council on Values can act as a bridge between the public and private sector, between different industries, faiths, cultures, and generations - and different sets of values.

In light of the financial crisis, growing social divides in many countries, and deepening mistrust in business, a multi-stakeholder dialogue on values is more important than ever. In our hyper-connected world, the consequences of our actions are more transparent and dramatically amplified, and the gap between values and behavior is increasingly open to public scrutiny and subject to systemic effects. Consumers and citizens demand more transparent, collaborative and inclusive models of value creation that produce well-being, happiness, and meaning as much as profits. However, it appears that even well-articulated and broadly supported moral principles are difficult to translate into day-to-day decision-making and into the behaviours observed by suppliers, dealers, customers, and employees, with their varying and often conflicting value systems.

Values are what connects and divides us as human beings. As deeply held beliefs and personal truths, shaped by tradition and collective experience, they determine how we engage with others, what we identify with, what we value, what we love, and what we deem worth fighting for. They are at the core of consensus and conflict, and they bring out the best and the worst in us. They affect our everyday lives and are yet believed to transcend life’s volatilities. And while research suggests that they converge with increasing levels of modernity, income parity, and globalization, they also remain extremely divergent and reflect the diversity of our cultures.

This dialectic is reflected in The World Values Survey, a large-scale research project conducted by The World Values Survey Association that has been monitoring and analyzing people’s values and beliefs since 1981. The survey classifies values into the opposing pairs “traditional vs. secular-rational values” and “survival vs. self-expression values.” The first pair describes the tension between authority, family, and nation-centric beliefs as opposed to a more science-based set of “modern” values that emphasize freedom, reason, and individualism. The second pair describes the shift from an industrial society to a knowledge society, from a focus on subsistence to human agency.

So in 2012, which key universal values do we share, and which principles do we promote to make our global economy more humanist, just, and sustainable? The mission of the Council on Values is to develop not only a new mindset, but also a new toolset for a more ethical economy.  

We are tackling this complex challenge with a three-pronged approach:

First, we aim to expose the values that underpin our attitudes and behaviours and to better understand how they influence our decision-making at the regional, industry, and global level. We are beginning this exercise in our own front yard, so to speak, by conducting a cross-Council study that examines the values underlying all Global Agenda Councils. Our goal is to map out correlations between values that can yield relevant insights for society at large.

Second, we intend to clearly articulate the values for the global economic system and create a participatory framework for all stakeholders. To that end, the Global Agenda Council on Values has drafted a “social covenant” based on a new set of shared values in order to realign the private and public sector on the role of business in society. A first draft of this framework was shared in Davos this year, and we plan to refine it further in Dubai.

Third, the Council will focus on how digital technology, especially mobile and social computing, can help make moral principles tangible through social networks, gamification, situational awareness, and smart devices, with particular focus on the younger generation of “netizens." We are keen on involving the tech community because software appears to have great potential (and moral responsibility) as it enables most of our actions and interactions, and transports values either explicitly or implicitly. As a first direct outcome, the Council on Values, in partnership with frog, LRN, BSR, Carnegie Mellon, Net Impact, and other partners, organized the “Reinvent Business” hackathon in June this year. More than 150 software developers, designers, academics, gamers, filmmakers, storytellers, and business leaders came together in San Francisco to design and build innovative products and services that have the capacity to change corporate behavior from within. Based on the belief that social technology and design present a unique opportunity to drive higher levels of transparency, empathy, and self-governance within companies, participants created concepts and prototypes for software applications that translate values into concrete interactions and experiences at the workplace.

The Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai is expected to weave all these three tracks together, as well as spark new insights and ideas.

Identifying and promoting shared values is important, but the real litmus test for a moral economy is the respect it can afford for the values of others. This is particularly true for our ever more connected world where the other is just one click away and we are all neighbors. If the Values Council can help articulate what we have in common while appreciating what distinguishes us, then we will have made a small but meaningful contribution to improving the state of the world.

A shortened version of this post was first published on the World Economic Forum Forumblog.

[Image: REUTERS/Pawan Kumar]

 

Tim Leberecht is the CMO of frog and the publisher of design mind.