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We are living in a time of whole system transition on a personal and
planetary scale that affects every aspect of life as we know it.
Patterns of possibility are emerging that have never before been
available to all the earth’s people and to the whole planet. Two million
organisations are working toward ecological sustainability and social
justice, according to Paul Hawken. Millions of individuals are
self-organising to make a better world in spite of the negative factors
that threaten to destroy us. Technological innovations and collective
wisdom have created unprecedented opportunities for change. The
revolution in communication technologies and the Internet have made it
possible to connect all people in the world for the first time in human
history. The new science of consciousness is revolutionizing our
attitudes and worldviews, and the interdependence of all life is now an
established scientific fact.
Yet, in 2007 three billion people barely manage to eke out an
existence. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of employment and inadequate
shelter, combined with an ever-widening gap between the rich and the
poor, have resulted in human suffering and violence on a massive scale.
Almost a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Each day is a
life-and-death struggle for those faced with chronic hunger, illness and
environmental hazards in a world that has enough food to feed everyone,
the money to tackle disease, and the power to make decisions to create a
hazard-free environment. Over 40 countries are scarred by violent
conflict. Three million people die of AIDS every year, and 40 million
live with the virus. Some 115 million children of primary school age are
denied schooling. At least 180 million children are engaged in the
worst forms of child labour; there are some 300,000 child soldiers; 1.2
million children are trafficked every year—that is more than 3000 a day;
and 2 million children, mostly girls, are exploited in the sex
We have the technology and the resources: so what is missing? Too few
see how limited our current responses are for the enormity and
complexity of global problems which ultimately affect human well-being.
In explaining the causes of our global crises, we generally focus on
economic, social and political forces. Governments, corporations, the
United Nations (UN), civil society, and other institutions focus on
financial and monetary parameters, technological (e.g., medical,
educational, informational), political, administrative, military,
diplomatic, legal, and economic resources, measures and approaches.
These approaches are necessary, but partial. Not until we see the global
problematique as symptoms of a more fundamental, deeper-rooted crisis
can we begin to mount a more integral and profound response that is
likely to move us forward in a more sustainable way. That crisis is in
our individual and shared mind-sets, where psychological and cultural
factors and forces reign. That crisis challenges all of us, in the
Northern countries and in the Southern countries alike!
New Paradigm Design Sourced in Wisdom
“The world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have
done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at
which we have created them…. We shall require a substantially new
manner of thinking if humankind is to survive.” — Albert Einstein
Evidence indicates that sourcing action from wisdom works. Wisdom is
sourcing action from the deepest place within ourselves and generating
appropriate action for meeting challenges. For example, extraordinary
results were generated by the Leadership for Results Programme on
HIV/AIDS of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP.) It reached
130 million people; over five thousand breakthroughs in 40 countries
were reported. The corporate world offers examples of innovations
sourced from transformational leadership that have successfully
addressed the triple bottom line—profit, people and planet. There are a
few examples in civil society organisations, such as the Ashoka
Foundation, where personal transformation manifests in significant
transformation, and where interior deeper-rooted forces are addressed
along with systems and technological approaches. However, most of our
responses are aimed at solving specific problems rather than whole
We are not yet able to identify, distinguish, design and generate
responses that integrate the different domains related to the entangled
hierarchies of any given situation. Three major impediments stand in the
way. First, most of us do not even recognise the new generative
patterns of response and therefore do not act upon them or support them.
Second, our spirituality has been a personal matter that is often
equated with religious practice. Most of us do not know how to provide
the opportunity for ‘secular, sacred, strategic action.’ Third, the
large-scale successes of leaders at the top have been based on narrowly
focused interventions such as small-pox eradication or wealth creation.
This was appropriate. But they have little experience in innovations
that foster the expression of individual and collective wisdom in
action. Considering the urgency of today’s crises, interdependence and
global complexity, we have no option but to learn to do things
Figure 1 illustrates personal transformation manifesting in planetary
transformation, where individual leadership uses appropriate technology
and addresses systems transformation. This approach overcomes
fragmentation and leads to synthesis. It includes the recognition that
(a) the source of all strategies and action is wisdom—personal awareness
and transformation; (b) global complex systems generate tangible
consequences for people and our planet that must be addressed; (c) the
use of technologies must be placed in the context of large-scale
systems; and (d) the transformational approach must be sourced from
wisdom for sustainable change. A few thoughtful people from governments,
business and civil society are now designing programmes that
incorporate these principles. They are asking piercing questions: “Why
are so many people poor and hungry when we have the technology and
resources to prevent this? There are so many ‘good’ people with ‘good’
intentions, yet we don’t seem to make a dent in the world’s problems.
These questions became so urgent for me that I began to reach out to
others for effective responses. For fifteen years, I held hundreds of
conversations on every continent with people who formulate policy,
design programmes and generate breakthroughs. I designed and implemented
two successful large-scale programmes: (1) UNDP’s ongoing Leadership
for Results Programme with several organisations in 40 countries; and
(2) UNICEF’s earlier maternal mortality reduction programme in six
countries in South Asia. What have I learned? We have been trying to
solve complex societal problems at a surface level while neglecting the
deeper dimensions of the problematique; and it is possible to design and
implement programmes differently.
Then I began to design a program based the emergence of a new
paradigm: the UN’s current Leadership and Capacity Development
Initiative for 60 countries. The basic assumption of the design is
founded on the new sciences of psychology, neuroscience, and cosmology
as well as successful applications in organisational development. New
evidence in the science of consciousness is revealing our potential for
deeper and higher states of consciousness that reveal our essential
Oneness in an interdependent universe. Our ‘Oneness’ can be the
springboard for all action for humanity and the planet. Given the
scientific, technological and social tools at hand, in concert with the
dramatic revolution in consciousness research and its applications, we
have an opportunity never before available in human history to manifest a
new paradigm for our planet and humanity.
Personal to Planetary Transformation is a unique design because it
sources all action from the creative and sacred space of wisdom. It
addresses immediate, systems and root causes of a problem or condition.
For example, in designing our responses to address HIV/AIDS, we made
technical solutions available—condoms for safe sex, treatment for those
with AIDS, safe blood for transfusions services, clean instruments. We
addressed systemic issues by including people living with HIV/AIDS in
every planning session. But most importantly, we began our work by
looking within toward our attitudes, our worldviews, and the spirit that
informs our decisions even in the face of opposition. We asked, How can
we provide services and care without stigma and discrimination? Or
allocate resources for those in need who do not have a voice? How can we
make love in a deeply respectful way, ensuring the safety of our
partner? We understood that HIV/AIDS is more than a virus. It is about
power relations in the bedroom and boardroom!
It is an art to simplify without being simplistic especially in the
midst of complexity. We design our responses to diverse conditions to
help people innovate, generate breakthroughs and sustain the specific
change that is needed. I have distinguished seven ways in which we act
and organise ourselves for the best results, illustrated in Figures 1
and 2. Figure 1 illustrates the first approach, and reflects the
emerging paradigm we need for sustainable change. Figure 2 reflects the
six other ways we embark on strategic action
Use approaches for personal transformation manifesting in planetary
transformation (outer, middle and inner circles as one seamless whole).
The new paradigm must design and generate responses that integrate the
different domains that are related to the entangled hierarchies of any
given situation and that source from our individual and collective
wisdom, addressing immediate, systems and root causes.
1. Identify immediate causes and offer specific solutions with available
technologies (inner circle). Examples are bed-nets to deal with
malaria, immunisation to eradicate polio, roads to connect villages,
reduced sources of carbon emission to deal with global warming, clinics
to treat illness. However, when strategies are limited primarily to
technological solutions for a specific problem, only the specific
problem is resolved.
2. Identify the factors and structures that empower or disempower,
and define ways to address systemic causes (middle circle). We formulate
ethical norms, promote democracy, and encourage activists to fight for
social justice. We establish rules and systems for financing,
intellectual property rights, trade, health care, education, etc. Much
of what we have done in these areas heretofore has benefited a few while
3. Embark on a journey of self-discovery (outer circle). Over the
last two decades, numerous consciousness-based training programmes have
been initiated, and books on personal self-awareness have proliferated.
They have paved the way for different perspectives and actions. However,
self-discovery alone will not transform the planet unless we also
respond to larger challenges.
4. Promote social justice with concrete actions (inner and middle
circles). In these cases, the ‘DNA’ or the policy of the organisation
sources itself from principles related to human rights or healthy
ecosystems. The Earth Charter and Amnesty International are examples.
5. Open our hearts and engage in charity or philanthropy (inner and
outer circles). People often give support and resources generously, but
do not engage with systems issues. Their actions benefit some people,
but do not address systemic causes—for example, providing a clinic
without looking at the medical or health system or the pharmaceutical
6. Open our hearts and engage in systems change (outer circle for
self-discovery, middle and inner circles for action). Leaders are often
deeply spiritual, offer themselves generously, and engage with systems
issues. Their actions benefit people, and address systemic causes—for
example, Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom movement in India. However, the
strategy for change does not provide a platform for everyone to source
action from deep within, so over time the actions fall short of the
potential for significant sustainable change.
While working in the field, I observed that policy-makers and
programme managers have discovered that integrating transformative
practices actually strengthens the ‘technological’ response. Hitherto,
professionals engaged in development argued that time-bound results can
be achieved only if the interventions are focused and specific. On the
contrary, if technology and systems actions are skillfully synthesized
with transformational approaches, not merely applied sequentially or
separately, we can address the different factors needed for development
simultaneously and hence much more effectively.
Emerging new leaders will understand both the visible and hidden
sources of action and inaction, and the attitudes that determine them.
They will understand factors and forces that create and legitimise
structures, and the systems and cultural norms that inhibit or enhance
progress. They will enhance their own personal awareness, realising that
this is the most critical element of social transformation. They will
keep informed of the complex emerging global systems, and have courage
to take action that creates a better world for everyone.
Global Architecture for Personal to Planetary Transformation
Today, the most urgent and sustainable response to the world’s
problems is to expand solutions for problems that are driven solely by
technology, to responses that are generated from personally-aware
leadership. Evidence shows this is possible in business and in
development, and a few large-scale initiatives are now underway.
The Leadership and Capacity Development Initiative of the United
Nations is one of these expanded approaches that I am directing. This
initiative builds on successes, and works with a worldwide constellation
of like-minded organisations and individuals. The purpose is to foster
sustainable transformation at every level of society. A pregnant space
for emergence enables actions that are sourced from deep within. Key
components and systems are in concert and are aligned to the larger
purpose. All strategies and actions embody wisdom, courage and
compassion. This strategic resonance has the potential to generate a
planetary paradigm shift. It has attracted hundreds of leading-edge
individuals and organisations, and corporations and governments. We have
identified the key players and organisations; and in this constellation
we are working as universal partners for large-scale planetary change.
The eleven components of our business plan follow.
1. Implement Transformational Leadership Programmes for Change
The Transformational Leadership Development Programmes are currently
being implemented in 20 countries and are expanding rapidly.
Transformation is the powerful unleashing of human potential to commit,
care and effect change for a better life. Using the best science, the
programmes are designed to apply at scale some forty distinctions,
frameworks and conversations, woven into a unique methodology.
Technologies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and
establishing businesses are integrated with technologies for leadership
development and systems transformation. Effective, results-oriented
stakeholder partnerships among government, civil society and private
sector support country-specific issues related to youth, women and
marginalized groups. The theme of the programme is selected locally
according to need. For example, last year Cambodia worked in the
education sector, providing a platform for how my being, my essence, my
stand, is the source of my action. Coaching and education programs are
underway in 15 countries. Capacity is being developed in-country to
‘coach’ transformational approaches with people who have generated
breakthroughs and who have a stake in the future of their own country
2. Support the New Archetypal Leaders
New archetypal leaders are emerging. Largely unnoticed, they are more
like midwives giving birth to other people’s ideas than’ stars’ of the
show. They invest in their own spiritual (not necessarily religious)
growth; they proactively inform themselves about the state of the world;
they see patterns in addition to events; they have the courage to take
on difficult issues; they act from a source of wisdom, compassion and
empathy, rather than charity and ‘doing good.’ They do not reflect the
traditional sage, hero or saviour archetypes. They are informed sages,
wise in the ways of the world; they are courageous non-violent heroes
with a cause; they are compassionate saviours, grateful to be able to
serve—like Yoda in Star Wars! We are actively connecting with and
supporting such sage-hero-saviours.
3. Source deeper ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Plus’
Five corporations are in conversation with us, and more are engaging.
They feel the urgency for renewal and increased effectiveness. They
provide platforms for developing leadership competencies for their staff
and managers; encouraging innovations and breakthrough initiatives
through employees or members; developing capacity by using
transformational approaches. Through individual insights and generative
conversations, people set new pathways to address systems issues beyond
the company, encouraging mechanisms that impact our planet positively
and challenging those that impact negatively. Community service is not a
matter of better ‘PR’ for companies, but the source of employee
engagement; partnership is not a matter of ‘technical support’ for local
civil society organisations, but the opportunity for one’s own growth
and contribution. Our intention is to deepen corporate engagement for
social transformation with more corporate leaders.
4. Empower Grassroots
We are designing programmes with six groups who have global presence
and who aspire to touch the lives of three to five hundred million
people– and eventually a billion. Our mutually reinforcing objectives
using transformational leadership programmes include strengthening
grassroots voices and governance, addressing issues and concerns related
to ecosystems, innovative strategies for education, and creating
5. Generate Financing
The purpose of this initiative is to create an understanding of,
demand for, and subsequent funding by development partners, donors and
financiers, of transformational leadership as an integral and critical
component of development and business. We encourage United Nations
organisations, international financial institutions, multilateral and
bilateral aid organisations, large INGOs and big foundations to embark
on transformational leadership development in their own organisations.
Specifically, donors, development agencies and financiers could earmark
funds for projects that include leadership development, and establish
units within their organisations to learn, design and implement
transformational development and business. Currently, we are working
with three multilateral organisations, a large umbrella INGO, and
potentially two bilateral organisations. Concurrently, we seek
additional partners. As we find leadership that recognizes and promotes
the importance of this approach, the outcome will be massive and
sustainable, a paradigm shift from ‘charity’ to universal partnership.
Shifting from promoting technologies as the major solution to current
problems, we will build leadership competencies that draw upon the power
and wisdom of people and politicians. There will be a new appreciation
for humanity in current corporate philanthropy and donor support. In
addition, financing will be available for new leadership to manifest
social and planetary transformation.
6. Support Champions of Change
Influential people and institutions from civil society and business,
development partners, and governments that distinguish the strategic
nuances of programmes where personal transformation manifests in
planetary and social transformation, are actively championing this
emerging paradigm. They articulate and promote the new paradigm and
distinguish it from traditional ways of doing business. We are
connecting individuals and institutions worldwide. Together we are
actively supporting the numerous innovative risk-takers who change the
status quo in order to create a new and positive future.
7. Connect through Information Technology
With our partners in the constellation, we will link together the
innovators of change who participate in this global effort to form a
worldwide interconnected and collaborative group to share expertise in
transformation. They will implement programmes designed to generate
measurable results using transformational approaches. We are seeking
partnerships with groups who design and implement innovations, using
cutting–edge information technology and transformative approaches.
8. Foster Change with Media leadership
We are forming coalitions with media as well as working with
individuals so that they can become influential leaders. Media
activities in 8 countries we are currently working with aim at scaling
up social transformation by creating new icons and metaphors of
leadership; voicing unvoiced questions about the root causes of
underdevelopment; acknowledging women and men as leaders; shifting the
cultural response paradigm from despair to courage, commitment and
positive lives. They are writing new stories of
wisdom-courage-compassion in action from around the world.
9. Create Transformation through Art
It is in art that our stories, songs, music, dance, paintings reside
and our renewal is expressed and created. Using transformational
approaches, we have created a space for the emergence of artists to lead
‘possibilities and peace.’ We have identified artists in several
countries who are poised to create a worldwide movement, using
transformational art with a shared global vision of world development.
Critical to these initiatives is overcoming the present culture of war
and violence, and replacing it with the dynamics and directives of the
culture of peace based on a sustainable and empowering development
10. Identify Global Patterns and Share the Information
Often decisions are made on the basis of incorrect or incomplete
information. This has become an increasingly critical problem in the era
of ‘globalisation’. People need information on global and local
patterns and systems, distinguishing between those that empower and
those that disempower. Having access to correct and complete
information, in a simple way, allows people to make choices. We are
seeking partnerships with organisations that are making information on
global patterns readily available in a coherent, understandable and
11. Measure for Momentum and a Paradigm Shift
Personal transformation manifesting in social and planetary
transformation requires appropriate indicators and an evolving system of
measurement. The current set of indicators used for most development
efforts tells an incomplete story. It often omits stories of innovation,
courage, transformation and profound change. We are now partnering with
eminent persons to see how national indices of progress can include the
wisdom and contribution of people as an asset. We are looking at the
vast body of knowledge to distill indicators of empowerment and
planetary well-being sourced from wisdom, and then to promote our
A World That Works for Everyone
The next 50 years will show whether the world as a whole can come
together as one, resolving the many seemingly intractable problems we
now face. Or will we continue to muddle through, from crisis to crisis,
never solving the problems of humankind in a definitive and sustained
way? Yesterday, we were engaged in resolving a crisis: HIV/AIDS. Today,
we are focusing on global warming. Tomorrow, we may focus on nuclear
waste. What remains constant in this changing world is the power of
There are challenges to overcome if personal transformation is to
become an inherent part of whole systems change. If you say yes to any
of the following questions, please step forward.
• Are you a champion of the emerging paradigm? Are you more like a
midwife than a ‘star’? Can you distinguish the strategic nuances of
programmes where personal transformation manifests in planetary
transformation? Do you promote new leadership?
• Do you have influence and resources to support the unknown
risk-takers who are sourcing from a creative and sacred place? Are you
supporting courageous activists who promote empowering systems and
challenge disempowering ones?
• Risk-takers are innovating and changing the status quo in order to
create new possibilities for a positive future. They need you. Will you
• Are you a pioneer who dares to speak up and challenge the reliance
on the ‘technology-only’ paradigm? Are you willing to source all action
from creative and sacred wisdom, despite the ridicule by experts?
• Are you a new architect who knows how to design large-scale
programmes that source from wisdom? Can you address simultaneously the
practical problems embedded in complex world issues?
• Are you a corporate leader who generates innovation sourced from
the creative and sacred space of the people you lead and the processes
you change? Do you speak out in the world of business and commerce for
changing systems and products that do not help humanity and the planet?
Do you promote the practices that work for everyone?
• Are you a ‘consciousness scholar or teacher’ who can stretch beyond
your brand identity and serve selflessly from a space of wisdom?
• Are you willing to examine yourself deeply to understand how you
are contributing to the global problematique? Do your actions and
decisions subtly perpetuate gender, class, and ethnic inequalities
resulting in the intolerable situation of 30% of us who cannot ‘make
Never before in history have both opportunity and need been so great.
Never before has ‘grow or die’ been more apparent. And never before
have the means existed to effect planetary transformation. Indeed, this
is the time to pioneer results-oriented designs that can then be applied
across the urgent and significant issues of our time. This is the time
for mindsets that foster the culture of peace. This is the time for a
world that works for everyone.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the United
Monica Sharma, trained as a physician and epidemiologist, worked for the United Nations since 1988 for 22 years. Currently, she engages worldwide as an International Expert and Practitioner on Leadership Development for sustainable and equitable change. She works with United Nations, Universities, Management Institutions, governments, business, media and civil society organizations.