According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design, and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources. We set out to explore the concept of a Circular Economy within the context of envisioning potential future states, in the company of diverse global innovators and community leaders.
The world is increasingly siloed. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, globalization was in trouble. Although the flow of information is largely free, the movement of people, goods, intellectual property (IP), and capital is not. This is a unique moment in time to connect people who don’t usually work together and generate new ideas and solutions that benefit the whole of the economy: people, planet, and profit.
It is for this exact reason that on October 13, 2020, Diplomatic Courier and Watershed Partners hosted the Circular Economy Forum: Building Shared Prosperity. We convened fifty leaders from a diverse range of sectors and backgrounds—including education, infrastructure, healthcare, and business—to imagine how to better work together in pursuit of a shared and sustainable future.
The Circular Economy Forum—an annual World in 2050 convening—was held on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group annual meetings, and was the second in a three-part journey of curated discussions and visioning of the future in 2050 hosted by Diplomatic Courier and facilitated by Watershed Partners. We kicked off the journey with our first convening on September 22, the annual UN SDGs in Action: High-Level Forum to Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it will culminate with a third convening titled Davos Dialogues: Achieving Transformational Success in the Education and Energy Sectors to be held in Spring 2021.
The Circular Economy Forum provided an open space for participants to reflect on insights shared during the previous gathering and form uncommon, interdisciplinary connections while discussing the Circular Economy framework and its role in the future.
Ultimately, this meeting highlighted the urgency for cross-sector collaboration in achieving the goals embedded within a circular economy. Participants reflected on how to rebuild trust in national and global institutions, redefine leadership and success/failure models, and reimagine fragmented sectors such as education, infrastructure, and healthcare.
The conversation opened by introducing participants to three core themes related to what our world could look like in 2050 within the Circular Economy framework.
These themes were:
- Rethinking business models to design for the future;
- Creating uncommon collaborations and interdisciplinary connections for the long-term; and
- Digital technologies and new ways of working.
Participants were then divided into six breakout groups and challenged to consider these themes through the lens of the Three Horizons Model, first developed by Bill Sharpe of the International Futures Forum. The model suggests that we understand our collective paths forward through three distinct time frames:
- Optimal arrival points in 2050: Starting in the emerging future (2050), what is being born and how can we help it to arrive well?
- The present day: In our ‘business as unusual’ world of today what is dying and how can we help it leave well?
- And the disruptions to the status quo between now and 2050 as we collectively move toward the 2050 arrival points: What is being disrupted and how can it be harnessed, as opposed to simply being captured?
While discussing these questions, participants were encouraged to be audacious and explore what 2050 could look like without feeling anchored to present-day conditions. They questioned working assumptions around production, services, resources, and capital, and considered how these might be transformed to best meet current and future demands. To cap off this experience, participants reconvened to share high-level insights from each breakout session.
Two interlocking ideas emerged during the event. The first of these ideas is the need to adopt a generational way of thinking and acting that go beyond serving present-day needs and instead, help fulfill long-term goals. The second idea centers on the need to be aware of underlying power structures that inform how systems are structured, how decisions are made, and who gets to take part in democratic processes. With those two ideas in mind, we identified six key themes from across participants’ conversations:
- Centrality of UN SDG 17
- Intergenerational Collaboration and Being Good Ancestors
- Empowering the Transition by Confronting Unconscious Bias
- Money, Structures, and Incentivization to Empower Change
- Responsible Data Stewardship
- Reimagining Education for Inclusion in a Digital Future