As the curtain falls on one of the most turbulent years of our lives, Forum’s CEO, Dr Sally Uren, explores three key lessons from 2020 and outlines what will be required next year if we’re to create a just and regenerative future…

2020 was anticipated as the dawn of a ‘decade of delivery’ in which the much-hyped ambition of the sustainability sector would translate into meaningful action at scale and pace, centred around COP26 as a potential moment of breakthrough on climate.

There’s a stark and daunting contrast in what we had hoped for this year and how things actually turned out. As the curtain falls on 2020, I’m sure it will go down as amongst the most unpredictable, turbulent and memorable years of our lives. While further uncertainty lies ahead, with the dawn of 2021 comes an opportunity to simply stop and reflect on what we have learnt – and three things stand out for me, all of which we should keep as we step into 2021. 

First. In the face of immediate crisis, governments, businesses and more have shown they can act swiftly and decisively to fundamentally change the way we live and work – from new legislation and product development to new business models and innovative collaboration. As the clock ticks down to 2030 and our ever-pressing SDG deadlines, just imagine what we could achieve if we applied the same urgency and resolve that we have seen in response to the pandemic to tackling social, climate and biodiversity crises.

Second. We are all capable of extreme adaptation, living with immense uncertainty and meeting this with a creativity and resilience rarely called on before. There have been countless occasions this year when our spirits have fallen and it has seemed like the darkest of times, but we’ve also witnessed some of the best of humanity. The many examples of individuals and communities putting aside their differences to come together against a bigger challenge gives me hope that as social, climate and biodiversity crises intensify, we will recognise that we are stronger together, and that social and geographic boundaries will not hold us back against a shared, existential threat.

Third. Recognising the role of mindsets in dictating how – even whether - we respond to global threats and challenges has never been more important. As shared in our latest Future of Sustainability report, Forum sees four very distinct mindsets emerging this year: Transform, Unsettled, Compete and Retreat, and Discipline. Only one of these has the potential to put us firmly on a path to a just and regenerative future. But the beauty of mindsets is that they are within our control; we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond and that response must be transformative.

While all four mindsets will continue to play out in 2021, we must firmly set our eyes on Transform, working together to drive long-lasting, systemic change for a just and regenerative future. This will require each of us to be future focused, recognising that multiple futures are still open to us; to contribute to new narratives by shifting the mindsets of others; to invest in change – ensuring that money, time and energy are directed to the right places. We also need to consider the power we all hold, how it impacts others, and how we can use it to create positive change; and lastly, we need to pay attention to our own personal resilience that will be needed to cope with the ongoing uncertainty in how we live, work, govern and operate.

Businesses, investors, government, civil society organisations and the philanthropic sector all have a key role to play, see here for what this could look like

As 2021 unfolds, we will continue to try and make sense of how the world is changing – with you. We would like to invite all of you to share your insights through Forum’s Futures Centre. Our collective response to these insights will be critical to creating the future we want.

Finally, I wanted to close with a huge thank you to all of our trusted, innovative and world-changing partners. Without you, Forum’s work to drive transformative change simply would not be possible. Thank you for all you are doing to create a better future. 

Wishing you all a happy and restful holidays ahead of what I hope could turn out to be a truly transformative year.

Very best