Sustainability leader: “an organisation or individual that inspires and supports action towards a better world”

Dr Wayne Visser
Senior Associate, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
Writer at The Guardian
Professor, Gordon Institute of Business Science & Deakin University
Director, Kaleidoscope Futures
Founder, CSR International
Ranked one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior in 2013

What, in your view, is sustainability leadership?

In the research I’ve done on this topic at Cambridge University, we define a sustainability leader as “an organisation or individual that inspires and supports action towards a better world.”

What are the pillars of visionary leadership?

We have a framework on sustainability leadership that suggests that visionary leaders understand the changing global context (including all the challenges we face) and respond with certain traits, styles, skills and knowledge, translating these into actions for a better world. For example, typical traits of sustainability leaders include:
Caring / morally-driven
Systemic / holistic thinker
Enquiring / open-minded
Self-aware / empathetic
Visionary / courageous

What are the main challenges that our world must face to create a better future?

I believe the three biggest challenges we face are: 1) redesigning capitalism to have checks and balances against excessive short-termism and greed, 2) decoupling growth and environmental impact to tackle resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and climate change, i.e. achieving a circular economy, and 3) finding socio-economic and cultural-political mechanisms to reverse the trend of increasing inequality (the gaps between rich and poor).

What do you think of our mission to share the cultural vibrancy of African countries with people in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world?

I do believe we should be focused on discovering, building and promoting Africa’s distinctive contribution. What is it that Africans do well, better than anywhere else, and how can this be leveraged? I think it has something to do with their hospitable culture, together with their music, dance and style. So maybe Africa’s distinctive gift to the world is through its vibrant culture, which may manifest in the arts, fashion and tourism. Let’s stop trying to make Africa compete with China and India as a low cost producer. The continent needs to discover its source of pride and to blow the world away with its energy, its colour and its warmth.

What inspires your art and drives you to accomplish your work?

You will find some of my views on art here. Art cuts through the veneer of daily life and triggers more intuitive and primal responses. Art is the catalyst that the world desperately needs right now. I am convinced that we will not scare people into changing their lives, or caring about future generations. No amount of doomsayer facts or gloomy predictions will move the majority of people to shift their perspectives or modify their behaviour. Art is all about moving people – emotionally, ideologically, spiritually and pragmatically. Art provides what we desperately need more of, namely inspiration to act on

How does art help to make your life meaningful or fulfilling?

My art, like my poetry, allows me to create interesting worlds. Art is like magic – it describes the world around us and inside us, and by doing so, it also creates these in other people’s minds. Art is the way we share our imagination with others, and – as Einstein said – imagination is more important than knowledge. Art also allows me to capture the spirit of what inspires me – such as Africa. All forms of art, I believe, should first be for the satisfaction of the artist.


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