Cities as Forces for Good: An Incredible Challenge, a Leap in the Unknown, and a Personal Message to my Partners

I was reading Umair Haque’s new book, The New Capitalist Manifesto.

Exceptional analysis, a must read book. His thesis (engagement philosophy) is applied to Business entreprises, but I believe, as is explained hereafter, it applies beyond “business” to other contexts and situations.

His “stirring call” is for more companies to abandon old paradigms and move to an era he calls “Constructive Capitalism”.

He describes how the most impressively successful companies today (a tiny minority still, but a growing one), achieve avarage profits that are 300% higher than the average of the peers in their industries. He analyses why, and discovers that these exceptional companies have ceased harming society, long and short term, from whatever angle you look from, and that this is the reason of their success.

They bring what he calls “thick value” – enduring, meaningful, sustainable advantage benefiting everyone individually and society at large, harming no-one is the core of their philosophy: Net benefit to society, no hidden costs, no impact devolution on others, no harm.

Life is strange. A few years ago I met a rare kind of birds, let me call them “a multidisciplinary team renegate scientific societal researchers/entrepreneurs”, who also had a “stirring call”.

Their call is not a small one: How can one engineer new cities, and re-engineer old ones, in such a way that they become “net contributors to the environment” (and society), instead of being harmful, triying “only” to reduce their harmful impact?

When you think that the very great majority of the World population will become “urban dwellers”, the quantity of cities that will have to be extended or build in the decades to come is enormous.

This idea was proposed as a “Grand Challenge for Engineering” to the US National Academy for Engineering. See the outline of their project by following

My friends the renegates have now decided to cross the “knowing-doing” gap. (I’m borrowing this terminology from the title of another magnificent book, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton). This will imply a lot of prototyping, on many different fronts, before hopefully fully implementing the idea on a grand scale…

A “societal entrepreneurial venture” is born, one that, if implemented,  will impact all constituent parts of a city and its surrounding society: business, finance, government, institutions, inhabitants, policy, science, designers, education, agriculture, communities, … hence, they all need to be active co-creators.

It is the very beginning, but the resolve is there. That’s why I’ve joined the initial core team.

I am very excited of being part of this “Grand Challenge”. I am determined to bring my “business, financial,organisational, entrepreneurial, socio-economic, hand-on, human, networking , connecting, negotiating, strategic , futurist… experience and competence and worldview to the venture.

I’m so proud to work with and to support the initiators of this exceptional project.

I am so happy to contribute to something with really very “big” potential impact.

I want now to reassure my dear friends, clients/partners with whom I dwell in the business world, helping them create the exceptional companies Umair speaks about in the book mentioned above:

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t abandon you, on the contrary. First of all, this “activity” will be benevolent, unpaid and conducted in the shadow of my commitments to you. I am more determined that ever to develop our very close partnerships to the limit of my (hopefully increasing) competencies, capacities and very being. In fact, I will need you more than ever: I have a family to feed and this venture may well involve costs beyond my time involvement. So I’ll be more than ever on my toes to bring you the highest value possible.

Never forget: Yours Too is a Very Big Project: Indeed, as I explain in my post , the pionneering work we are embarked on has an important potential outcome on society at large. As I say in the conclusions of this post:

The final outcome might be that the shift in which we are, the beginning of an inescapable transition that is awaiting us might perhaps happen this time without too much toil. As more and more business enterprises increasingly discover that their purpose is to partake in the whole of society, as more and more espouse new paradigms, because it brings them value and success, a viral phenomenon might start. In other words, if the economy and business worlds are no longer seen as isolated from the rest of society moving, business might lead the way.  This is the insight I had, re-reading Brian Arthur. (see It became so clear to me, so surprisingly clear… How could I have discounted this aspect in first place, during my earlier readings?

So we are back to Umair Haque’s New “Constructive Capitalism”idea.

No harm done, my friends, sincerely believe, and I will structure my time and contribution in such a way as to enhance the possibilities of winning for all. Everybody should win, or I am not Charles anymore. Trust me, I’ve taken on this challenge because I believe I can contribute to its success, whilst at the same time increasing the value I can bring to you.

Read more about Cities as Forces for Good hereafter.

Feed-back more than welcome

Amplify’d from
Cities as Forces for Good Network

Is it possible to re-engineer the infrastructure of cities such that — in the popular metaphor of the urban ecological footprint (EF) — cities might “walk on air”? How might the infrastructure of a city be re-engineered so that that infrastructure can be used deliberately to restore natural capital and enhance ecosystem services?

These are the challenges that motivate our work on “Cities as Forces for Good in the Environment”, or CFG. They are grand indeed. They were first expressed in an essay on “Cities” by Paul Crutzen (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry), Bruce Beck (Engineer), and Michael Thompson (Anthropologist). The essay was prepared as a discussion piece for the US National Academy of Engineering’s (2006/7) Blue Ribbon Panel on “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century”.



About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 17 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe. I am now fully engaged alongside Gunter Pauli in the and the @myblueeconomy Networks as CEO of ZERI.EU vzw (Non for Profit association)
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2 Responses to Cities as Forces for Good: An Incredible Challenge, a Leap in the Unknown, and a Personal Message to my Partners

  1. RalfLippold says:

    Charles – so well said. A real pleasure to read your exitement of changing times. Nurturing the existing institutions, processes only to adapt in a flawless way to what the world is changing to: opening up and connecting across boundaries.

    A friend of mine is currently in Jordania on the following project:

    Myself I have to think about Richard Florida’s interview at Better Management in 2006 which sparked my interest in creating the places that enable people to live and work in joyful (it’s not really utopia, as I have seen it myself at several occasions, also at BMW Plant Leipzig, where I was part of the early team). He mentioned Jane Jacobs, his mentor, who has written great work about the questions that arise today.

    Warm regards, on a journey to a better future

  2. RalfLippold says:

    Well said Charles!

    Think & Do through combining arts, science, and business and on the sideline do a bit of education 🙂

    Time is ready to move. As we have taken action yesterday when handing over future concept of Dresden to one of the main stakeholders of the city, head over roughly 10.000 employees and 36.000 folks learning about what it means to become the leaders, inventors, innovators, rulebreakers, and facilitators of the future. It all happens here in Dresden, where three years ago I seeded the idea of “TEAM ACADEMY” which now seems to get out of ground 🙂

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