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KOSMOS SALUTES ALFREDO SFEIR-YOUNIS
Kosmos is honored to salute Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, a
beloved member of the Kosmos Advisory Board and deeply respected and
dedicated Global Citizen. Recently retired from twenty-nine years at the
World Bank, he has devoted his life to alleviating the misery of
poverty on a macro-scale and to embracing each individual who crossed
his path with compassionate concern. A renaissance man of our global
future, he combines a deeply developed inner life with expertise and
skill in the ways of the modern world.
We live at a time of momentous transition. Peace and abundance can
now arise only through collective effort, as opposed to individual
initiative. They are our collective responsibility. Our human
interdependence and the interdependence between humanity and all living
beings are now at the core of all processes of human transformation and
destiny. The meaning of ‘collective’ is no longer simply the
arithmetic sum of separate and independent contributions, based on
personally defined aims or goals. Our collective future is much greater
than the sum of its parts in quantity, quality and distribution.
In addition, this is a moment when the traditional material and external instruments and
solutions to our collective challenges have reached their limits in
effectiveness and availability. Technological change, as we have
conceived it for the last several centuries, no longer provides adequate
solutions to people’s problems. Banking on technology without first
creating a major expansion of human awareness and coherence is not only
inappropriate but also possibly the cheapest ticket to human suffering
and self-destruction. In this new era, inner development―the union
between our material and spiritual natures―and human self-realization
form the foundation for the architecture of our future.
It’s valuable to look at this new foundation from the angle of
economics, finance and globalization. Today, our economic and financial
systems are an outgrowth of our individualistic values and tendencies,
while globalization demands that we act for and by the group welfare.
This is why I have devoted my professional life to changing the
approaches in economics and business and to mainstreaming spiritual and
humanistic values into their structures and thinking. As an
environmental economist and an expert on human rights in economic
development, I have pushed the frontier of the debate in these fields to
the limit. These arenas deeply influence our shared human experience
and well-being. They have also provided a huge school for me and for the
refinement of my possible options and priorities. I have most certainly
learned that the human and spiritual dimensions of the environment and
human rights are One.
My mission is about humanity as a whole. This implies a need to
dissolve the many barriers that are now at the center stage of economic,
social and institutional development at all levels of decision-making.
For example, everyday we see the barriers created by national boundaries
and misunderstandings about national sovereignties.
In 1947, the Council of the Supreme Spirit allowed me to return to
earth. This was not a unanimous decision, but I insisted so much that
they let me come. I was not the only one who attended the meeting of the
Council; my four siblings were there, too. It was a group decision and
all five us engaged in intense negotiations. We all felt that Chile
would be the right place to be born this time around and we became part
of the same family. We chose the same parents―Alberto and Ines—who came
to earth before us for many important reasons. As a result of the
negotiations, one sibling decided to precede me and the three remaining
ones were born after me. All of these deliberations might have happened
thousands of years ago.
Was it the right choice to make and the right time to come? It must
have been, though in many ways, I am still figuring this question out.
Only recently I began to remember the content and scope of the Council’s
discussions. Specifically, the Council members sent me with a clear and
precise mandate that incorporates a large array of goals, events and
directives for this lifetime, including the healing of humanity.
However, after being on earth only a short time, I became pre-occupied
with other interests and concerns. This was neither good nor bad. It was
just a choice.
In my adopted path, I was supposed to speak, dress and behave like
the elite. Thus, my parents sent me to one of the best schools in
Santiago (1954-1965), after which I attended the school of economics at
the University of Chile (1965-1970). My desire to assist the poor and
the needy was the engine that kept me going during my studies, which I
completed when I got my PhD. at the University of Wisconsin (1976). I
came from a family with almost illiterate grandparents, and all of these
studies were supposed to be an integral part of becoming socially and
politically functional among my country’s elite.
This initial path also included playing soccer (I was well known as
goalkeeper), fishing, farming and athletics (I specialized in disk
throwing and shot putting). Dancing, working the land, loving all
animals and being close to nature and the Great Spirit were always part
of me. In addition, from the time I reached adolescence, I always took
immense satisfaction from assuming positions of leadership in the
neighborhood’s social and religious associations, academia and politics.
Consequently, when I was quite young, I was elected president of the
Youth Catholic Association and president of the University of Chile
School of Economics; later on, I became a democratically elected regent
of the Catholic University of Valparaiso. In that senate, I exercised
many functions, including that of budget chairman.
These were the times of the socialist revolution in Chile and I was
very involved in many related activities and processes. One of the most
interesting projects gave me an opportunity to train indigenous people
in business and economic skills to support their agricultural and
small-scale enterprises. However, my academic responsibilities
(researcher, teaching assistant, assistant professor) took the lion’s
share of my life. In all of the above, I met many people walking their
own paths, including some who were on the Council. Of course, no one
wanted to reveal this.
One of my first jobs as an economist was in the Central Bank of
Chile. Later, in 1972, to be part of an eventual Ministry of the Sea, I
was sent to study marine resource economics at the University of Rhode
Island. At that time, I strongly felt my professional interest becoming
much closer to the original path delineated by the Council. I had begun
to remember! In this respect, I committed myself strongly, once again,
to address issues such as poverty alleviation, environmental protection
and management, human rights and social justice, spiritual economics and
public policy/business, peace, humanity’s union, etc. These are
humanity’s shared, primary collective concerns.
While in the US, the fear of an eventual loss of citizenry forced
me to apply for jobs in a few international organizations. This process
led me to become a full-fledged economist at the World Bank in May
13,1976. (I remember this date because it was the same day and month
that I landed in the USA in 1972.) I devoted nearly twenty-nine years to
the World Bank. A combination of operational projects, field missions,
policy design and monitoring, advice and evaluations and a large number
of institutional positions filled my life there. These positions also
allowed me to interact intensively with the elite sector of society and
government, both in the international and global spheres, and within the
many countries I visited and with which I worked. However, the richest
part of my jobs was always the interaction with the poor, dispossessed,
disabled, children and young adults, women, farmers, entrepreneurs,
religious and union leaders, local politicians, village chiefs, shamans,
indigenous peoples and so many more. They became the mirrors of my
mission and established firm grounds for what is to come.
Over the years, I was asked to write many policy documents on
topics and in areas that were considered cutting edge at the time,
including fisheries, forestry, water management, renewable energy, land
conservation, small-holder agriculture, small-scale mechanization, food
and nutrition, biodiversity conservation and management, desertification
and many more. I also had the opportunity to serve as the World Bank
Special Representative to the United Nations, both in New York and
Geneva. During this period, my mission was completely consolidated and
aligned with the terms created by the Council.
While at the UN (1996-2003), I developed a new framework for
understanding human rights and responsibilities. This experience led me
to my last position at the World Bank, senior adviser to the managing
directors. If I had been on the frontier in the past, this position
moved me beyond that frontier, and I experienced a corresponding
increase in institutional resistance to the changes and viewpoints that I
During my stay at the United Nations, I fully advanced one
essential part of my mission, humanization of economics and business, or
what I have called the reconciliation between economics and
spirituality, between the material and non-material dimensions of human
life. The receptivity was immensely positive and rich. I was able to
introduce the angle of spirituality into public and private
decision-making and this strongly influenced a large number of people at
the UN and elsewhere. Many things flowed from that period. First, I
retired from the World Bank on March 1, 2005. Second, I created a new
organization, The Zambuling Institute For Human Transformation. This
institute is devoted to mainstreaming spirituality in the domains of
economics, business and public policy. It focuses on three broad areas
leading to human transformation: human rights and responsibilities,
spirituality in public policy and business, and inner and outer world
peace and human transformation.
Everything I have just described has been strengthened vigorously
by the spiritual practices of both the East and West, and the deepening
of my inner development, assisted by the cosmovision of indigenous
nations. The alignment of the spiritual and material spheres in my life
is rapidly taking place: The inner and outer conditions in my life are
in synch. The material and non-material are in a process of deep
reconciliation, and my body, mind, soul and spirit are walking the path
to unity and its multiple collective dimensions.
Silence and meditation are and have been powerful instruments in
self-realizing certain values (love, compassion, justice, security) in
my life and in the collective consciousness. Prayer and contemplation
are critical to my understanding of inner transformation. The
transmission and integration of the messages in my path are embedded in
spirit. The healing of humanity and Planet Earth, which are needed to
advance in that transformation, is the self-realization of compassion.
In a time of worldwide fear and insecurity, we must all embrace a
new genetic code of wisdom: the commitment to our shared peace and
well-being, our collective future. I am committed to facilitating
humanity’s shift towards compassion-based life and devoted to world
peace and human transformation.
Alfredo Sfeir-Younis PhD is a Chilean economist, spiritual leader and healer, Founder and President of the Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation. He retired after 29 years of service from the World Bank where he was the focal point for human rights. His last position was Senior Advisor to the managing directors, and the Institutional Focal Point on human rights.
Fall | Winter 2016