Prepared for a Future That Is Passed

Article excerpt

We are well equipped for an age that has passed. But Canada is seen as an incubator of change, better prepared than most for a future that has already arrived. A ward acceptance speech at the Public Policy Forum 16th annual testimonial dinner, Toronto, April 10, 2003.

In the last little while, we've been going through a period of high anxiety. We've been forcefully reminded that the world is a dangerous place, and the dangers are not safely contained for other people to cope with in places far away from us.

Some of the sources of anxiety are obvious and very current, but I believe that some of the underlying low level anxiety comes from sensing that we are in a time of significant transformation, and from not being certain whether and how we will be able to cope.

Our political, corporate and cultural institutions now work remarkably well for the industrial age, but we all know that for our part of the world, the industrial age is already over, and the outlines of the post industrial world have been slowly revealing themselves. We have the institutions for a society of obedience and deference to authority, but we no longer have such a society.

Our most exciting inventions in communications and information technology have helped to create decentralized knowledge and multiple centres of power. These changes can and have released great creativity, but they also increase uncertainty, volatility and lack of control in both our global and our local economic, political and social systems.

The velocity of change is likely to be permanent. We will need to create institutions and ways of doing things that can adapt quickly. We need to build or change our institutions for a future that is already here. This challenge will be greatest for our largest institutions -- governments, large corporations, universities.

My work has taken me to a variety of institutional cultures -- to the activism of the women's movement which taught me to see other institutions from the perspective of their impact on the half of the human race that did not build them and do not control them. Let me tell you -- it is very enlightening to get a view of the world from the margins rather than the centre of the action. I have participated in the culture of universities, of business, of elected politicians, and of government. In each case I have found people doing their best within the constraints imposed upon them by the rules and limitations and ways of working of the place they found themselves in. …