A megacommunity is a living entity. It is continually challenged to absorb new players; the current high turnover rate for heads of corporations and NGOs means that new leaders are always entering the system. There are also changes in government to assimilate and, perhaps most profoundly, changes in issues and goals. For example, once the requisite green coal plants are built in Veneto, will that be enough? Or will the leaders who came together for that project then use the relationships they built to turn their attention to other forms of economic and environmental development? Inevitably, the leaders of a megacommunity find ways to respond to change, rapidly and elegantly shifting their maps of the system to keep it up-to-date.
Participation in megacommunities will pose different challenges for each of the three sectors. Business leaders will have to align the imperatives of the outside world with their immediate agendas (such as profitability and shareholder returns). Successful corporate leaders will learn to explain to shareholders and stock analysts the ways in which a commitment to a megacommunity — for example, helping to build managerial capabilities among the schools and NGOs with which they work — is essential for realizing the company’s financial priorities. Farsighted companies learned long ago to develop better capacity for management along their supply chain; now they will be called to do the same with their megacommunity partners.
Businesses in sectors that have a great effect on the community at large — sectors such as energy, transportation, and media — may find themselves asked to join in conceiving and creating the infrastructure of the future. This is a rare opportunity for companies to not just comply with the public interest, but lead it. However, such an undertaking will also require a “listening and learning” orientation, and a kind of humility that is very different from the high-flying business ethic we saw in the last decade. “The end of the Internet era swept away the stereotype of the aggressive business leader who owned a sailing boat, who was very clever in buying and selling,” says Elio Catania, CEO and chairman of Italian railway company Ferrovie dello Stato. “That era has been replaced by a strong and urgent need for a different set of unchangeable values.”
Politicians and public-sector leaders, who in the past considered themselves uniquely positioned to act, must learn to acknowledge the fact that even if they have all the answers to a problem, they cannot fully control the solution. Government service, although still a magnet for ambitious people, no longer automatically attracts the most capable college graduates. In many countries, the best and brightest, attracted by larger salaries or greater independence, are turning to careers in the private sector or civil society. It has become fashionable in many circles to argue against government, but government still retains the role of mediating between the mercantile fallout of globalization (the fluctuations of prices and currencies) and the population’s need for stability and security. It is thus in everyone’s best interest, including the best interest of business and civil society, to have an effective, capable, and enlightened public sector. Fortunately, a new generation of political leaders is maturing, knowledgeable about globalization and ready for new solutions. In this type of cross-sector work, they will find their voice.
Many leaders of NGOs have spent years trying to be heard. But now they have unprecedented voice and influence. It is NGOs that often set the terms of public debate in both government and business spheres. For example, concerns about land mine safety, child and sweatshop labor, and government misappropriation of private land went largely unheard until NGOs took up those causes.