Who can change the world?

Twice in the last week I’ve been asked whether ‘given the lack of political leadership’, if ‘Big Business’ is the answer to the future of the world and society.

On both occasions, the panels I’ve been on, have drowned in agreement that Big Business is a super good gap-filler for our current political leadership vacuum. (The current example is always “Look at Alan Joyce’s impact on Marriage Equality”. The previous example was “Look at the Male Champions of Change”). I find it an interesting question. I’m not as confident on the answer.

On another occasion this week, I was asked whether ‘the answer lay with the investment community’. Another very interesting question. Just who makes up the ‘investment community’? Investors are usually bankers, or very wealthy families. Are they the right people to lead society for us all? Sure, there are some “impact” investors. Maybe they’re the answer.

So, as is my way, I’ve given this a load of thought.

Let’s look at our options on Who can Change the world.

Big business (our ‘Captains of Industry’ as it were). Investors. Do we look back at our much maligned Government? Do we go popular, and look to sporting heroes? Or celebrities with massive social media followings? Do we go all academic and look at the theoretical solutions that might just work? Do we go global, and look to “movements” to rescue us from our insularity?

Let’s look at the pros and cons, one by one.

Business (and the Captains of Industry who lead them)

As a group, they have just one thing in common. This is a bunch of people who have been chosen for achieving the one thing we measure businesses on – financial return on capital. In other words, they know how to make money. That in and of itself, is not a negative, of course. In fact, if you’re an investor in their company, it’s a good thing. But nowhere in the “How to pick a CEO” guidebook is there a set of criterion around creating a better society, social justice, leading in a way that’s very inclusive, or ensuring employee wellness is a priority. 


Investors are also measured by a unique criterion – capacity to invest, and ultimately, make good decisions around investments so that they make more money and can invest more. Again, not in and of themselves, bad things, but not hardwired to save the world or make it better. And their investments will work based on whether or not, we buy the stuff they invest in.


The Government is an interesting option. I imagine people who sign up for Government have some view that they can run society well, or do the right thing by others in society. That’s quite a good criterion for building a better community and way of us all living and working together. Only one problem with this group – they are beholden to our vote. So, unless we’re really signing up to large scale social change or forward thinking and sustainable planning, then they’re sort of stuck thinking and doing the things we will vote for. If we’re short term, so are they. If we don’t give a hoot about the environment or marriage equality, then neither will they.

Football Team Captains (or any sport captain for that matter)

I had to throw this one in, as we do tend to expect our sports leaders to lead society as well. Pop them on a pedestal and look to them for role model behaviour in every possible way. Odd expectation given they are chosen for their role for being awesomely well coordinated physically, and if they’re captaining the team, that they can get other awesomely well coordinated people to play together well as a team. We don’t really choose the Captains as the ‘people with the greatest vision for society’. 

Famous Celebrities

These people are often on TV, or in magazines, based on their acting or entertaining skills, or incredible good looks, or their voice on radio. They have large numbers of people following on social media, ‘liking’ their photos or words. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s no immediately obvious ability to lead society and the world.


This group is the journalists that make a living from telling stories, usually other people’s, really well. They’ll be able to inspire change and move us all forward if there’s great stories to tell, and inspiring people and ideas to report about. Even then, they can only have an impact, when we read the stories they write. 

Global Captains of Industry

This is a similar to the local CEO group, but possibly working at a larger scale, or with a more massive social media following similar to a celebrity. They’re chosen on the same criterion as the local Captains of Industry – ability to make money and ensure investments work well.

So, any of these options, when judged purely by their job and the criterion used to get it, are a long shots as THE go to person, or people, to lead us to a better place.

The Good Ones

Of course, there’s a great CEO or two, who really do make a difference. Alan Joyce’s outspoken support for Marriage Equality hasn’t yet changed the law, but it helped a better conversation.

There are also good Government representatives. Not the domain of one party or another, but more aligned to living their lives in public service, trying to make the country better. Their integrity runs deep and we elect them over and over.

And there are some awesome sports stars, who may or may not be Captain, but they have big opinions that people listen to and they are awesome role models.

And there’s famous people who use their celebrity for good. They volunteer and turn up and MC every charity function they’re invited to. They donate their own money and speak loudly in places where their voices are heard loudest.

And there’s great journalists, who work hard to uncover the best stories and write them in ways that draw us in to appreciate every angle.

And there are some international business leaders who really do try to make companies different or better than they’ve ever been – for their employees, for their customers, and for the community at large.

The changes that these people make, are not about their job, or a singular group they belong to. It’s about who they are as individuals, and about what they do on top of their day job.

And that’s who I think will lead us to a better place. A better policy on the environment. A better way to work. A better way to design organisations. A better way to be more inclusive.

I think it will be the best CEOs, the best sports captains, the best celebrities, and the best media people. AND, I think it will be the best of us too. It will be ALL of them, AND you AND me, and everyone like us. That’s not just our opportunity.

That’s our obligation if we want things to get better, to move forward in a better place for everyone.