Let’s not Waste this Huge Crisis and Opportunity!


Feeling overwhelmed and simply shell-shocked by the speed and scale of the current COVID-19 driven crisis is understandable.  But can we move from that, to taking advantage of the huge opportunity it provides for the long-term transformations that we’re working for?

This is the moment that I’ve been working for since 2009.  That’s when we wrapped up a project called the Global Finance Initiative (GFI) that began in January 2008 with the core question:  How can the sustainability imperative be integrated into the core logic of the global finance system? Interviews beginning in January 2008 began with questions about fragmentation and control of the system.  We asked:

“Can we talk about the ‘global’ finance system…or do we have to talk about the ‘American’ and ‘Chinese’ and ‘French’ financial systems?”

We were told:  “Oh, you have to talk about NATIONAL financial systems…they highly regulated at the national  level, and therefore very different!”

“Can we talk about the ‘finance’ system.  Or do we have to talk about pensions, insurance, retail banking, commercial banking, equity, bonds…?”

We were told “Oh, you have to speak of each of those separately.  They’re different markets, they’re regulated separately and have very different risk profiles!”

September 2008…“Global Financial Crisis!” headlines screamed!

The GFI was an action research project, bringing together people to be able to work on the long-term for the integration of sustainability into the global finance system.  Before it ended (because of the financial crisis, we couldn’t get funding), we reached two conclusions that have driven my work ever since, about two key ingredients lacking in 2008:

  1. An sufficiently detailed understanding of what a such a finance system would look like…how would a financial system that integrates the sustainability imperative actually work? People were still little beyond 19th – 20th century arguments about capitalism – socialism – communism.
  2. A network, or collection of people who were in common connection around a sufficiently shared vision, that a different system could be put in place.

Today’s crisis resembles 2008 in many ways.  Notably, the threat of global financial collapse is provoking huge public money disbursements.  Are these two points, however different today? Or are we simply going to continue in huge patch-up mode to a system that is not just bankrupt financially, but morally and ethically.  It’s a system that’s literally driving us to environmental and societal collapse, not just crisis.

There’s been substantial progress on the two points, since.  We’ve had a great critiques and options proposed for the public role (for example see Ellen Brown’s work), evolution of regenerative economies and finance (see John Fullerton’s work at the Capital Institute, for example), development of circular economies, Kate Raworth’s donut economics, and systems financing (an impressive body of work, such as by Steve Lydenberg and Bill Burckart are doing at The Investment Integration Project; see Climate-KIC’s Dominic Hofstetter’s workFrank Dixon and Steven Lovink have been working on realignment of nature and people) only to name a few.  As well, there’s the incredible work of the Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Finance System and a huge body of work in the ecological economics line.  All this builds on great work of people like Hazel Henderson, a true leader pioneer with envisioning a different economy.  These people are not working on incremental change or reform;  they’re categorically articulating the transformations agenda to take us from an extraction economy to one generating positive relationships with nature and people.

There’s also been significant progress in developing networks that bring together those advocating this transformed economy.  These include Ethical Markets, Future Capital, Catalyst2030, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, the Regenerative Communities Network, the Alternative UK, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, Extinction Rebellion, the SDG Transformations Forum itself, and many, many others focused on transformation.  We have incredibly improved connectivity.

So we have this vastly improved potential.

Many trillions of public dollars are being spent to support the economy.  There is a vast public interest in ensuring this is a transformational moment.  Let’s turn the corporations getting the public support into benefits corporations, permanently changing our economy.  Let’s shift the conditions to embrace the principles of regenerative economics!

This crisis is an incredible opportunity. It is likely to last a year, but the clock is quickly ticking.  There are major elections coming up in the US.  People around the world have tasted clean air for the first time in a long time.  Micro-behavior changes can shift into permanence.  We are showing we can do without many of the necessities promoted as progress – traffic jams, crowded airports.

The questions:  Can we come together to clearly articulate and put in place the alternative economic model that we’ve been working as the desired transformation?  How can we do this?  Or…are we going to go back to same old, capture by reform of traditional interests?

Posted by Steve Waddell, who is Co-Lead Staff at the Forum. 

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4 thoughts on “Let’s not Waste this Huge Crisis and Opportunity!”

  1. Great ideas, Steve. The real issue, of course, is an intransigent political system. We need a clear political strategy, informing/educating legislators and other leaders (I almost put that last word in quotes) about this perspective, so they can begin to think very differently than they are currently thinking. Look at the effort in that it took in the US to convince the Senate to put any monitoring of corporate money in place for this enormous bill that just passed last night. Maybe there needs to be a political strategy working group geared to different nations as appropriate.

  2. I agree,

    Are you familiar with the 5th Attractor? The system is breaking a bit, and in this time people are being attracted to the the 4 attractors already out there (which includes the increase of surveillance/ the move to more of a police state etc.). How in this time can we create the 5th Attractor? What actions can we take, to increase global unity and community empowerment. What technologies, which groups, which structures are already in place that can be switched/ adapted to do this? (Much like turning different factories into ones that make ventilators etc.)


    The crisis can also be seen as a global Rite of Passage. We are entering the unknown, when we reach the other side, we will come back with some sacred knowledge and due to it have increased agency to tackle the other problems.

    Also most people are working remotely now and have taken computers from work etc. And have desktop setups at home (with a mix of private/personal computers). Should the majority of economies collapse. I wonder whether that computing power could be used for good? E.g. collective mining. Or for research (there are plenty of uni students without any exams to revise for), Or creating creative content e.g. memes. Basically can we move from economies focussed around atoms to bits? And how can we facilitate that move?
    Or can that computing power be used to support the foundational industries in this crisis, such as food, healthcare etc. Can we become an online operations centre for community led support to these areas. Could we act as virtual test subjects of a global simulation of the pandemic game etc.
    What already exists that we could adapt to this?


  3. Great call Steve. I think that if you can see the opportunity you have to initiate it. That doesn’t mean that you have to take the whole global finance system in hand, but that you can build a fractal of the new system you are imagining and then use that as an attractor. Is the idea of a 4th sector economy useful? I mean the moving into relationship of social enterprises at every level of the system – from co-operaatives / commoning / social entrepreneurs alongside B-corps and allsorts of ‘for benefit’ companies. That would bring the inquiry into relationship with the grassroots – citizens and activists – civil society, localism, municipalism, regional, national and international organisations as well as businesses. If you are only inviting one of each element of this constellation, you could have a dynamic conversation that carries the complexity without bearing the weight! Then you could share with others, do the media etc. Could be manageable through Zoom, even at this time. The Alternative UK is certainly happy to help you orchestrate.

  4. Great declaration-observation, Steve. Yes, the opportunity is there for a redesign and transformation of our global financial system. There are many alternatives to the current financial system, as you point out, “Capital Institute- Hazel Henderson, and many others”, but these are mostly thought leaders, we also need action leaders, that I call evolutionary leaders that can take the systems created by people like Hazel and put them into action, We do not lack innovative ideas and models, we lack strategies, collaboration, money, and effective action oriented leadership.

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