Self-reliant Societies to Add New Dimension to Global Sustainability

Growing up in a small village in the early 1970s, I fondly recall a model of self-sustainable society. Our village was surrounded by several other villages having diverse demography and economic activities. Though it was primarily an agriculture-based community, the populace had almost everything required to live. Interestingly, most of the locally driven supply chain was operated through ‘exchange in kind’, and only select items were traded through cash. Though the village was about 3km from the district center, we never felt the need of visiting the city for anything beyond administrative work.

Today, we live in a global village, driven by principles of ‘knowledge economy’, ‘digital transactions’, ‘connected society’ and ‘home delivery’. While on the one hand there is state-of-the-art connectivity, on the other hand travel and mobility have increased beyond imagination. The globalization of knowledge and practices has made the world heavily interdependent. The concept of a knowledge economy, as defined by business experts, connotes to a process wherein one buys raw material from the cheapest available source, processes and manufactures via the most reasonable and skilled workforce, and sells in the best-paying market. While it makes perfect sense in the context of a global village, there are negatives to this too.

To start with, it has made the world absolutely interdependent, and we frequently see how a change in the public policy of one country, a natural disaster in another and a war-like situation in some other part has an impact on local economies even in the unaffected parts of the world. This requires even small businesses to view and analyze the world affairs. A consistent approach towards predictive information modelling of world affairs is key to successful entrepreneurial leadership and adds additional overhead cost to small businesses — making it unaffordable for local consumers. Secondly, the concept of a knowledge economy has added tremendous pressure on transportation and mobility. It is almost unsustainable to transport huge amount of raw material from one geography to another for production, and again transporting the finished products to another part. In most cases, these logistical arrangements are trans-continental. While this process may add to economic gains, in the end, it is definitely not sustainable. At the same time, we often see executives and managers (including myself) travelling most of the time for meeting our ecosystem stakeholders, adding further pressure on transportation logistics.

Thirdly, local producers are often deprived of the end produce as it has been sold to the best-paying markets. Since the global markets (as a source of raw material and consumption) are volatile, it is natural for some or the other geographies to continue to experience natural and/or man-made challenges, and so, the fate of the producing class is always at risk. As there hasn’t been either availability or demand of these products in local markets, local governments and communities often are caught helpless and the only rescue is a stimulus package, which isn’t a sustainable economic process.

Fourthly, while global villages facilitate cultural diversity through exchange of practices and processes, this also leads to slow elimination of the local culture by adding commercially driven festivities, replacing the existing practices. Global giants whose business turnover are often larger than the GDP of several developing countries, create campaigns and engagements, especially around the young generation, taking away the spirit of centuries-old local culture.

And finally, the concept of a global village and the resulting knowledge economy has added tremendous pressure on global environmental health. Just imagine the amount of transport infrastructure across air, water and surface that is being built, and even then, is falling short of the ever-growing demand. The end result – worldwide environmental degradation and local communities, which may not be a beneficiary a knowledge economy, paying the price.

The Novel Coronavirus pandemic has seen the world undergoing one of its worst ever crisis in known history. A disease, which erupted in a small town, is today a pandemic, affecting billions of people, leading to crumbling of health and social infrastructure in several countries, bringing to halt economic activities, leaving the stock markets in free fall and triggering concerns of a global recession as big as the one that followed the World War I. As per estimates, trillions have been lost, and the count is still on.

Though it’s a global problem, what is peculiar is that this crisis doesn’t have a global solution. The only remedy lies in social distancing. Are we at a stage wherein we need to add a new dimension to global sustainability? Will that be self-reliant communities?

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