Leading Grand Change

Associations are uniquely placed to tackle complex global challenges. Taking a leadership role and not shying away from grand challenges is the right thing to do for mankind and can benefit your organization as well. Although this article focuses on grand challenges of a global nature, its premises hold true for complex challenges on a smaller scale as well.

Today we are confronted with an ever-growing list of grand challenges ranging from hunger to global warming to water scarcity to disease. There are also complex challenges that are unique to various global supply chains. Although many grand challenges appear most prominently in the developing world, as the world becomes smaller and smaller, these challenges will be at our doorstep, if they aren’t already. The fact is we all belong to one global community. That community acts as our supply chain and our market.

Associations can’t solve all of the problems, but they are uniquely positioned to lead the development of strategies to tackle grand challenges. It takes industry, government, academia and civil society to tackle grand challenges. It also takes these four sectors to build sound strategy to overcome the challenges.

In his book “The Social Lab Revolution,” Zaid Hassan argues that three requirements are necessary to tackle grand challenges: a diverse team, an iterative process and systematic spaces. I would argue that these same three requirements apply to any complex challenge, global or not.

Associations, with their history of being conveners, are well placed to bring together diverse teams. Associations have the staying power and leadership competency to create an iterative process. And, associations have a history of creating heterogeneous environments or spaces where experimentation and learning can take place with a group of diverse actors.

Tackling grand challenges might seem overwhelming to some. But, as Lao Tzu once said “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And, one step is not a huge challenge. The question, for each of us, becomes, are we committed or just interested in making a difference?

The history of associations is full of people joining together in communities for a common cause or interest. The time has come for associations to join together in the global community and lead the development of strategy that addresses grand challenges. What better way to create relevancy in the global market place, to create opportunity for meaningful member engagement and to generate member pride.

If you and your organization are committed to making a grand difference, the first step is identifying a grand challenge that can make a difference in the life of your members, directly or indirectly. Then it’s a matter of convening a diverse group of people to develop a grand challenge strategy. If you are committed and take the first step, with the right leadership, all else will fall into place.

What are your reasons for taking, or not taking, the first step?

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