“Attentive listening reveals a common thread of humanity at the heart of the human condition…” — Sting
This last week I attended a global leadership conference in Dubai where 2,600 chief executives from nearly 100 countries gathered to hear content that could make them better business leaders and global citizens. I was ready to learn how I could take back important business tips that would help my agency and my clients. And while the speakers provided expert opinions on everything from innovation mindsets to 21st century challenges for global businesses, for me the most compelling insight did not come from an author or business expert, it came from a musician.
Grammy-award-winning musician and philanthropist Sting shared his opinion that “attentive listening reveals a common thread of humanity at the heart of the human condition, creating empathy, sympathy, understanding and compassion that are the only hope for world peace.” As someone who has worked in the communications industry for multiple decades, Sting’s belief – that storytelling is more important than ever because it allows us to step into the shoes of others – struck a deep chord. This is especially relevant as more media time and social chatter are being spent on political rhetoric and parlayed insults between American presidential candidates than on the fact that one in 12 people today is a refugee. This lack of attentive listening is sadly evident with many of the global issues addressed at YPO Edge, hosted by Young Presidents’ Organization.
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan challenged the world’s indifference to the plight of the Syrian refugees, pointing out the historical amnesia that European countries are demonstrating given that many European residents during WWII were dependent on the goodwill of others when they were refugees. The question he posed was how could Europe, with a population of 500 million, not spread the burden and coordinate a collaborative solution for one million refugees living in the most inhumane circumstances with nothing but the clothes on their back. He warned us that by lacking empathy and compassion, and by being deaf to the major tragedies of humanity defining our times, we are negatively and destructively shaping our futures.
Human trafficking is a “global shame resulting from ignorance and indifference” requiring a focus on prosecution and eradication of the crime syndicates that profit from it.
— Nancy Aossey
Another story that needs broader telling and better listening is the global issue of human trafficking, a well-organized $70 billion dollar global business. Investigative journalist and President of International Medical Corps Leadership Nancy Aossey led an expert panel that passionately addressed how human trafficking exists in every nation and ranges from sex tourism and child soldiers to organ trafficking and ritual abuse torture. While extremely sympathetic to the plight of the victims, calling it “a global shame resulting from ignorance and indifference, ” Aossey emphasized that the major focus needs to be prosecution and eradication of the criminal syndicates that institutionalize and profit from human trafficking. The surprising information was that ISIS participates in multiple forms of human trafficking as a way to generate huge amounts of money to pay for its terrorism.
Mina Guli, a lawyer-turned-activist who is CEO of water conservation non-profit Thirst, showcased another global crisis – the abuse of our resources. In February, Guli committed to raising visibility about the global water crisis by becoming the first person to run 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in less than two months to raise awareness. She is running more than 1,000 miles to bring to the world’s attention that by 2030 there will be a 40 percent greater demand for water than supplies available. Last year the World Economic Forum ranked water scarcity as the #1 risk facing society. Guli took a break from her marathon efforts after braving the treacherous Tabernas Desert in Spain, the Arabian Desert in Jordan, and the harsh conditions of Antarctica and Africa to share with us the physical challenges of her endeavors and the need for everyone to become a lot more aware of the issues. Her goal is to educate all of us on the toll that agriculture and manufacturing are taking on water supplies and how water scarcity is an overlooked global crisis.
I traveled to Dubai to become a better business person, and learned valuable leadership tips that I will share in an upcoming blog. However, the most surprising takeaway was that the greater value of this conference was in learning about issues that motivate me and hopefully many of the attendees to be more attentive listeners to global issues and look to become more meaningfully engaged in issues that threaten millions of people and our world’s resources.