Systemic Solutions for a Systemic Crisis: Club of Rome

By Vala Ragnarsdottir, Vice President, Balaton Group

The Club of Rome (CoR) organized a meeting at Castell de Castellet (near Barcelona, Spain) on March 26-28, 2014 to discuss Systemic Solutions for a Systemic Crisis. To this meeting the CoR invited representatives from 25 organisations that are dedicated to improving and sustaining the human condition globally.  Vala Ragnarsdottir represented the Balaton Group as its Vice-President.  

The aim of the meeting was to for CoR to better understand the views of those present, identify opportunities and barriers for scaling up the influence of the organisations and discuss where common approaches might make the organisations “larger than the sum of their parts.”

The CoR goal was to have an informal yet insightful conversation among friends, and thus adopted “Chatham House rules” and no minutes were taken.  Each discussion was facilitated and notes taken on tables and flip-charts which the CoR took back for their analysis – but no report was written.

At the beginning each participants introduced themselves and their organisations.  After that the discussions were divided into three themes:
  1. The big picture

  2. The battles for hearts and minds: Where will change come from, to whom should we reach out to and how can we deal with the opposition organized by special interests?
  3. Wrap up, new ideas and potential collaboration
Since no report was written by the CoR from the meeting one of the participants took it upon himself to summarise the discussions.  A brief overview is given below:

The Greatest Adventure on Earth

The world faces several dilemmas which include consumerism societies, short-term and narrow minded purposed, and also cultural dilemmas where the concentration of power and richness is in the hands of a few – inhibiting the potential of most.
Potential solutions to these dilemmas that were discussed were amongst others:
  1. Unleashing the human potential in harmony with the environment with focus on knowledge, sports, crafts, art and science, beauty and truth.
  2. Extending the circle of generosity and trust to all peoples, flora and fauna – to the planet we share and in that creating more life than we destroy.
  3. Sharing feminine and masculine values by respecting diversity and the sacred principle of dignity for all and overcoming segregations, whether social, cultural or racial, as a moral and practical imperative.
  4. Changing the purpose of organizations by being devoted to problem-solving; by the societal ecosystem addressing different facets of global purpose – universal human welfare and the essential equilibria of the natural ecosystems in which we live.  For this we need fundamental changes, a combination of societal innovations and technical progress to ensure both high productivity in the use of natural resources and a low unemployment.  There is also need to abandon the self-delusions of financial accumulation and consumerism.
  5. Empowering citizens of all ages and produce what is needed with shorter workdays and variety of professional engagement over personalized curricula.  Citizens need to be empowered to enjoy substantial time in lifelong learning, exchanging across generations, practicing passions and participating in collective decisions at all levels, from local to global.
  6. Taking the holistic view. The two-sided nature of autonomy and connection is what makes society a complex system that is much more than the sum of its parts. This requires us to analyze and understand reality with a holistic mindset, where the center of the world is everywhere – and the best ideas my come, from a remote village of Africa, where the human story began.

Where organisations can work together

There is a need for all organisations to paint sketches of desirable futures that can inspire not only those who already dream but also those many more who still do not dare to dream.

We need to focus collectively on a paradigm shift of unprecedented scale in human history. This can be undertaken by assembling the energy of young, the wisdom of elders, the claim of women and the excluded, and the voices of all nations.  We can build a human world at peace with itself and the planet, an inclusive, sustainable and more feminine world where we could practice the obligation and pleasure of making life a meaningful and enjoyable journey for all of us our children and future generations.

Follow up from meeting in Spain

As shown above, during the meeting there was a lot of discussion about the importance of the emergence of the feminine (values, care, sharing, team-work, leadership…) being instrumental for the global and local changes needed to build a new paradigm.  

The CoR has since asked Vala Ragnarsdottir to assemble a group of people (women and men) to write about the emergence of the feminine from different perspectives.  This will likely start as an edited blog, that emerges as a book.  She aims to use story telling approaches to inspire people around the globe to dream and lead towards a sustainable world.  The stories will be centred on framing the paradigm we currently live and reframing a new paradigm.  In learning about new ideas we change our brain.  The new paradigm will be illustrated with examples that are already happening around the world and people will be invited into an inquiry where they can discuss ideas in a new space.  If this goes ahead, the blog/book will be edited by Vala.  

Groups presented at meeting (some had more than one representative)

Club of Rome
Club of Madrid
Nizami Gajavi International Centre
Innaxis Foundation and Research Institute
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Wordwatch Institute
Collegium International
United Nations University
Management Drives
World Academy of Art and Science
Mava Foundation
GLOBE International
Alliance for Religions and Conservation
Balaton Group
World Future Council
Global Footprint Network

Call for 2014 Fellowship Applications

Apply by April 11, 2014 for a Donella Meadows Fellowship to attend the next annual meeting of the Balaton Group. Established in memory of Donella Meadows, the Fellowship's purpose is to empower young and emerging leaders in sustainability research and practice. Fellows are principally, though not exclusively, women from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Application is also open to men and to people from other regions of the world. This program finances the participation of approximately four promising new Balaton Group Members every year, as Donella Meadows Fellows. 

Fellows will be invited to participate in the annual meeting in September. This year the focus is on the post-2015 development agenda process and new sustainable development goals. The event brings together 50 leading scientists, teachers, consultants, writers, and managers in a multi-disciplinary, collaborative environment that encourages debate and learning founded on the highest scientific standards, free of political and economic pressures.

Applicants for the Fellowship must have the support or recommendation of an existing member of the network, should have finished their formal education, be less than 40 years old, and be engaged professionally in an organization or in projects that solve problems related to environment and sustainable development in their own country. They also must have a command of English that is good enough to permit full participation in our meetings, and preferably have a modeling or system thinking background.

For more information, download the application here.


The Balaton Group Meeting Blog

On this page members are invited to post news and resources related to the annual Balaton Group Meeting. Login (use the member login you received via the listserve) and type or paste in your comments. To upload a file, go to "Files" or send it to one of the site editors.

Leadership and equality are at the centre of Limits to Growth 

September 2013 -- The Limits to Growth presents arguably the most influential environmental message of the past 100 years. Critiqued for being apolitical, disregarding issues of distribution and equity, ignoring technological development, or infringing on freedom; politicians, industry and individuals around the world have found plenty of reasons not to listen to its messages. One of the main thing the younger members of the group appreciated was the patient optimism that scientists have maintained since the publication of Limits to growth over 40 years ago. Dennis reminded us about the sign that Donella used to keep on her office door: “Even if the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.”

In this year’s Balaton meeting, the thread was constantly weaving between technological optimism, pessimism and the need for a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we envision our common future. We spent some time exploring the past: Dennis presented how technology was incorporated into the World 3 model and an old Balaton brief from Donella addresses how technological development could be conceptualized to scale-up to meet global challenges in a locally-based, context sensitive manner. We reflected on how incumbent power interests ingrained in the core of our neoliberal global economy lock-in unsustainable trajectories and the opportunities and risks of new and emerging technologies such as synthetic biology, geoengineering and agricultural intensification among others. At the core of finding solutions to these difficult questions is: how do we create the future we want? Maja Göpel, in her presentation, emphasized the need to clarify human needs vs human wants.

Looking into the future to secure these human and planetary needs, Derk Loorback used transition theory to provide structure in mobilizing small-scale initiatives to shift higher-level structures. Our group questioned when chaos and confusion is necessary to open up a larger solution space vs. actually nailing down a vision to work towards.  Deborah Rogers provided a compelling argument that more equal societies have historically been more sustainable, and working on improving global equality should be our priority. How does equality contribute to either this confusion, or this vision for the future?

Deborah made a clear distinction between equality and equity: equality being equal access to rights, and equity being a fair or right distribution of those rights.  A question we asked was, can we achieve equity through equitable leadership, and how do we foster and create a space for equitable leadership to emerge? If one introduces technology in an unjust society, how does it play out? Technology for whom? Technology by whom? Various speakers highlighted the danger of allowing incumbent interests to create dominant pathways difficult to break-free from. No technology is free from power. Moreover, no technology is a silver bullet. Beth Sawin and Tom Fiddaman demonstrated with their new En-Roads model,, that even if a cheap, implementable low carbon technology was introduced, we could not achieve a 2-degree world. Thinking about distributional costs and benefits in a not an option, it’s a must.

So implementation of technology is about flattening the leadership. But is sustainable leadership possible? Is it always flattening? What kinds of social technology can help us achieve a sustainability transition? Trista Patterson provided many compelling examples from social media on how bottom up technologies are being diffused and helping us monitor biodiversity loss, energy emissions, and share stories of hope. Leap-frogging can’t happen from the top-down only, but also needs to be from the bottom up. Knowledge is at the base of social technology. Ashok Gadgil shared with us the moving success story of how appropriate energy efficient stoves have saved lives and millions of dollars for Internally Displaces Peoples in Darfur, through linking young people at Berkeley with local initiatives. Alan Atkisson is busy launching the 2030 Pyramid initiative:, with the potential for replication around the globe.

So how does equality and leadership factor into Limits to Growth? We were lucky to see a screening of “Last Call” a new film about the story of the Limits to Growth. It left most of us with a mixed feeling of sadness and hope. Dennis told us that in 1972 he really thought that when these limits were defined and presented to the world, and we knew what we had to achieve, people would act. The film does a great job at working through various critiques and shifting political interests over time. Reagan condemned Limits as a fundamental threat to individual rights and freedoms; arguable creating a political environment of even greater inequality. You can watch the trailer of the film here:

40 years of science, campaigning, outreach, dialogue and art, we must realize that we’re up against something really strong here, some very strong political and market forces. But we mustn’t give up: as Ashok humourously reminded us, heretics have been burned at the stake for much less radical claims than limits to growth, and we should at be happy that we’re all alive. 


R: Jamila Haider

Group: Alan, Isak, Niclas, John H, Elek 

Report to Balaton Group meeting Sept 2013 


New technologies or values?

Which is more important for achieving sustainability: new technologies, or values?

September 2013 -- In many ways, it was a question that had rested at the heart of our discussions over the course of the week. There were certainly no easy answers, and opinions amongst the group were divided, as each had an intuitive yet differing sense of what was most important.

Drawing on ideas of relative leverage, many felt that values must come first, directing both the innovation and use patterns of technologies long into the future. In support of this sentiment, Ani Sulistyowati described a number of examples from Indonesia in which efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and energy production had brought about unforeseen and unsustainable consequences. This, she felt, was the result of an unsupportive overarching value system, made visible through the prevailing politics, economics and social norms of the population.

Yet others, while acknowledging the crucial importance of values, contended that without the continued innovation and implementation of new technologies, few changes could materialise. They proposed that values were better seen as an instrument for choosing between technologies, and that the question at hand was about which is most likely to deliver sustainability at large.

As we continued to tease apart our various perspectives, the deep interconnection between technology (in its broadest sense) and values became evermore apparent.

Dennis Meadows had emphasized earlier in the week:

“It is not the ‘hardware’ itself that makes a technology sustainable or not; it is our relationship to it — the ‘software’ — and this is directly related to the goals of our society.”

And indeed, a consensus to this effect did begin to emerge as our discussion drew to a close. This was eloquently summarized by Junko Edahiro as follows:

"Values without technology are powerless, yet new technologies without values are dangerous."