Thoughts on meeting the thought leaders

06 October 2021

By Rory Gurdon

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend the Meet the Leaders event that GGI hosted as part of its Festival of Governance. I was one of a group of young people invited to put questions to five thought leaders from a variety of backgrounds, from party politics to environmentalism.

The career of each leader has been spent developing their own ideas and systems for how to improve the world, each taking a distinct and interesting approach. For me it was seeing how their divergent ideas and systems interacted that proved the most compelling aspect of the evening.

There were concepts that met with broad approval, only to be tactfully disputed by the final respondent. This happened with the topic of mandatory voting. Most saw it as a valuable tool to boost voter engagement, but Jacqui Smith – with her perspective as a former Home Secretary – believed it would create a sense of apathy among political parties.

In some cases there was immediate contradiction from the outset. Tom Burke and Jaideep Prabhu had highly divergent ideas about the role of technological innovation as an answer to climate change. The former – a leading environmentalist – suggested we have all the tech we need to solve the problem; the latter – a professor of business and enterprise – disagreed, advocating that new technology is a vital component to a net-zero future.

These contradictory opinions captured the spirit of the accompanying Flip the Script game, the core of which is a simulated debate between players adopting different mindsets, systems and cultures. This was reflected in the varying mindsets, systems and cultures of the speakers. This variance was not always brought to the fore by disagreements; there were some issues where there was broad consensus but with significantly different focuses.

In their answers to a question regarding innovative partnerships between governments and the third sector the entire panel agreed about the potential of the third sector to create new solutions to challenges in governance, but each gave different examples with varying levels of excitement or caution.

It was also interesting to note where there was less variance in the mindset, systems and cultures of the thought leaders, such as on the topic of education. As highly successful experts in their various fields, all five panellists offered fascinating insights, but it is arguable that the very success that lends them gravitas also creates different perspectives on the challenges facing those that society is failing. That is not to suggest any lack of empathy – each leader displayed a great deal of passion when discussing how to improve the lives of ordinary people – but it should at least be noted that the high quality of the discussion partially relied upon both speakers and audience being able to leave most of the angrier, frustrated undercurrent in our current political climate at the door. This is a luxury not all can afford.

With that acknowledged, the event was deeply informative and prompted a great deal of valuable conversation, both during the Q&A and at the reception that followed. There is a dearth of well-intentioned, good-faith discussion from those with divergent political opinions, and having had a glimpse of what that looks like I am excited to see more in the future.

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