The Grenfell Tower fire has united us all in grief and sympathy for those affected by this terrible tragedy. After the initial shock of the catastrophe made way for anger, residents, loved ones and members of the general public all looked to the city and the country’s leaders for answers and reassurance. The response of these leaders told a contrasting story. Prime Minister Theresa May drew wide criticism for choosing not to meet members of the general public in the aftermath of the fire, restricting her contact to closed conversations with the emergency services who were first at the scene. Leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, was seen hugging and empathising with members of the community, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan made a point of meeting the public and taking questions on the streets of the community.
These contrasting styles were also in evidence throughout the recent election campaign. May’s popularity plummeted as she refused to enter into debate with the other party leaders and opted to vet and hand-pick the audiences she engaged with in public. Early attacks on Corbyn had focused on how many people found the prospect of this career rebel as Prime Minister impossible to imagine, but his willingness during the campaign to front up and get his hands dirty with public and media alike doubtless had a huge positive impact on his results at the polls. A key feature of the campaign was the mobilisation of the youth vote, thanks to a savvy social media campaign by Labour which reflected a broader re-enlivening of grass-roots politics brought about by this medium. In a relatively short time social media has completely changed how we engage with our leaders and each other, allowing us to create and mobilise communities like never before.
Finding Your Purpose
So, it was with these thoughts in mind that I recently watched Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s speech to the Harvard University Class of 2017. Zuckerberg famously dropped out of Harvard to pursue his plans for Facebook, a point he quips about in his introduction to the assembled graduates: ‘…you accomplished something I never could. If I get through this speech, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something at Harvard!’. The big uniting idea of Zuckerberg’s speech is that our global society needs to invest in creating a sense of purpose for its citizens, in a world in which increased automation and technology are eliminating jobs and where traditional communities are declining.
He draws on his own experiences to demonstrate how his personal sense of purpose – to connect everyone in the world via a social media network – was severely tested when the big financial backers came knocking. They expected to swallow up Facebook into one of their global conglomerates and that Zuckerberg would accept the offer at the right price. He believes his decision to stand firm, stay true to his purpose and refuse to take the money and run is what differentiated Facebook from just any other get-rich-quick start-up. He outlines his three areas of focus to help create a world where everyone can enjoy their own sense of purpose:
Taking On Big Meaningful Projects Together
Beyond dealing with the issue of finding our place in a world where technology and automation will make many physical human jobs obsolete, he suggests there are plenty of huge challenges facing us which we can address in practical and purposeful terms like: ‘getting millions of people involved manufacturing and installing solar panels to stop climate change; curing disease and asking volunteers to track health data and share genomes; modernizing democracy so everyone can vote online; personalizing education so everyone can learn.’
Redefining Equality so that Everyone has the Freedom to Pursue Purpose
The noble aim of creating a universal purpose is all very well but it will remain a mere aim unless we give people the equality and financial freedom to pursue it. Entrepreneurialism is essential for generating ideas and progress but the greatest success comes from the freedom to fail. ‘When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose….. We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.’
Building Community Across the World
When Zuckerberg talks about building a community for everyone, he literally means everyone in the world. Solving global problems needs a global community, but he recognises it’s down to his generation to resolve the conflict that comes with globalisation: ‘This is the struggle of our time. The forces of freedom, openness and global community against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism. This isn’t going to be decided at the UN… It’s going to happen at the local level, when enough of us feel a sense of purpose and stability in our own lives that we can open up and start caring about everyone.’ (To many of us, in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, some of the most moving and heartening images were of people from all over the city and country pitching in to offer the victims whatever help they could. Social media would have formed and galvanised these geographical and online communities into action.)
To many of us, these might seem like the lofty ideas of a billionaire businessman, but as recently pointed out on our blog about this phenomenon, Zuckerberg is probably better placed to achieve these goals than your average political leader. These ‘philanthro-capitalists’ aren’t bound by the short-term concerns of traditional politicians and they’re employing their mega-riches to solve global social and health problems which are simply beyond the scope of national or international political organisations. (Although by the way Zuckerberg deftly reframes the argument for universal income, skilfully broadening its appeal by combining it with universal purpose, I’d say a career in politics may well be within his grasp too). There’s a case to be made that these are the new breed of leaders we will look to in addressing the global challenges of the 21st century.
First Wealth’s Purpose
This sense of purpose has real resonance with how and why we set up First Wealth. We help clients structure a financial plan which gives them the freedom to live their best life and we’re firm believers in making sure that while we plan adequately for tomorrow, we also put ourselves in the position to seize and make the most of today. It can be daunting as individuals to ask ourselves what our own sense of purpose might be, but as Mark Zuckerberg says: ‘Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.’
If you would like some help in creating your ideal financial lifestyle, please get in touch.