Several things happened this past week that caused me to spend a great deal of time thinking about the importance of humility.
First, Maya Angelou, a powerful and insistent voice for justice, education and equality passed away, leaving a legacy of work that influenced several generations and will, I hope, continue to inspire many future generations.
Second, the 250 people who among them manage roughly one-third of the world’s total investable wealth (yes, there are just 250 of them managing about $30 trillion worth of assets) met in London on May 27 for the first ever conference on “Inclusive Capitalism.” The goal was to discuss practical ways to “renew the capitalist system” — a recognition that capitalism as we know it today is under siege and Darwinian principles apply. Survival means adaptation.
Finally, on the other side of the Atlantic, and representing a lot less wealth, I was invited to participate in a conversation on sustainable urbanization organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The objective of this session was to bring together representatives from national government, local authority, civil society, academia and business to discuss how to successfully integrate economic, social and environmental goals into a strategy for successful, sustainable urbanization. My role was to represent the 45,000+ members of AECOM and our private sector colleagues on what and how we could help transform urbanization processes into partnerships that create healthier, more just, more sustainable and more economically viable outcomes.
The thread that ties these three events together is the pressing need for humility. Maya Angelou states it far more eloquently than I ever could,
“Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”
In the case of the capitalist meeting in London, it is the failure to be humble, the single-minded focus on generating economic benefit, that has led to a situation where business is viewed, in the words of Lynn Forester de Rothschild who organized the conference, “as one of society’s problems.” Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, gave the keynote address at the conference and cautioned that rebuilding trust in the world’s financial systems will not be possible unless economic growth is more inclusive, providing for the needs of many rather than just a few.